Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury 2007) has been on my TBR list for years. It got rave reviews, won tons of awards, and I already knew that Shannon was great because I’d read Princess Academy. As usual, I am behind the times and so I’m just now getting around to reading it 4 years after all the hoopla. I might still be behind if the library had not thoughtfully put this one faceout the last time I was there, thereby reminding me of the aforementioned general awesomeness. Plus, I’ve been watching Once Upon a Time, and I’m into fairy tale spinoffs right now. I haven’t read the original Grimm’s tale that this is based on, but I will definitely get around to that after the holidays.
Book of a Thousand Days is the diary of an extraordinarily loyal lady’s maid, Dashti. Dashti comes to the big city from the steppes looking for work after her brothers abandon her and her mother dies. She trades her yak for training to be a maid, which includes lessons in reading and writing since the princess is illiterate. (We find out later that she is not the sharpest tool in the shed, so this is not as surprising as I originally thought.) Dashti arrives in the midst of some hubbub, but she doesn’t know anything about palace life, so she isn’t aware that there is anything odd about it. She pledges her loyalty and service to Lady Saren. Unfortunately for Dashti, Lady Saren’s father has just banished her to be boarded up in a tower for seven years to think about her decision not to marry the man her father has selected, and now Dashti will join her there. When I told Rhymenocerous about this, she said that it sounded like Tangled. There’s actually not much resemblance since Dashti and Saren are in a dark, rat-infested tower without the companionship of a lovable chameleon, but since I love that move, I will pretty much use any excuse to watch a clip.
Forewarned – the part in the tower is loooong. Remember when Harry and Ron and Hermione are wandering in the woods for ages in Deathly Hallows? It’s like that. I’m assuming that it’s also supposed to be kind of dull so that you know how Dashti and Saren feel. It was really making me wonder what all the fuss was about, though. This was okay and all, but it didn’t seem like anything to get all worked up and throwing around awards and starred reviews about. You have to POWER THROUGH because it gets good once they escape (again, much like Tangled).
Dashti is a great character. I love a good female protagonist who makes smart choices and is allowed to make a difference in her world. Sometimes she gets bogged down in being lower class, but since she was raised to believe that she was inferior, I cut her some slack while she figures it all out. It’s a very satisfying paradigm shift when it happens. In case this isn’t enough for you, there is also a bit of magic AND a nice little romance. Khan Tegus is kind of too perfect to be real, but as someone who once had a crush on Gilbert Blythe, I can get behind it. Realism is low on my list of things that make a book enjoyable.