Monday, May 25, 2009
Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days
Book of a Thousand Days is another fairy tale brought vividly to life by Shannon Hale. At the centre of the story is Dashti, a mucker girl from the Steppes, who finds her way into the city and takes a vow to serve as lady's maid to Lady Saren just in time to be confined alongside her in a tower for seven years—punishment for Saren's refusal to obey her father's order to marry the brutal Lord Khasar, ruler of a neighbouring realm. The lady in the tower is, of course, a fairy tale standard. But there's nothing conventional about telling the story from the point of view of the lady's maid, a character who gets only a passing reference in the Grimms' tale that first sparked Hale's imagination. And the rich universe that Hale creates as a setting for that fragmentary tale—partly inspired by her reading on medieval Mongolia, and partly her own creation—feels wholly fresh and original.
I won't say any more about the plot than I already have, as I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Dashti proves herself in a myriad of unexpected ways over the course of the book and, in so doing, earns a place among my very favourite strong and resourceful heroines of contemporary children's and YA fiction (alongside the likes of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching). I will tell you also that, much as I was enjoying the story, midway through I felt considerable unease, as I couldn't figure out how Hale could possibly end it in a way that would be both emotionally satisfying and true to the universe that she had created. Yet she did, and so I loved the book from beginning to end.
With this one, as with Shannon Hale's first novel The Goose Girl, rather than reading the book, I listened to the audio version produced by Full Cast Audio, and I must heap praise upon them again here. It's an unabridged reading, not an adapted dramatization. But the reading is performed using different actors to voice the narrator and the other characters in dialogue which avoids any confusion while listening and heightens the drama of tale. This made for a very enjoyable listening experience. So I highly recommend not just the book, but also the Full Cast Audio version of it.