13) Book of a Thousand Days

By: Shannon Hale

Date Finished: 08.14.12

By Shannon Hale

Once upon a time a lady chose her own betrothed against the wishes of her father.  As punishment, her father imprisoned the lady and her maid in a tower for seven years.  No one expected the girls to survive, but they managed to escape only to find their country in the midst of a devastating war.  Seeking refuge in the home of the lady’s beloved, they discover he is betrothed to another and must conceal their identities.  But as the war draws closer, the lady holds information that can stop the slaughter and only the maid knows how to act upon it.

I adore the title.  Book of a Thousand Days; it has such a melodic quality.  The book covers more than a thousand days, with the title referring to the concept, “you have to know someone a thousand days before you can glimpse her soul.”  In a sense, that’s what the book is about — the maid, Dashti, discovering the truth of Lady Saren’s soul.  The story is written as Dashti’s diary, and Hale stays very true to the journal form.  Dashti often documents the conditions in which she is writing, notes that conversations are likely inaccurate, and sometimes forgets what she intended to write altogether.  While it’s impressive that Hale maintained the pretense the entire time, it made me enjoy the book less.  That is to say, I prefer third person writing and since the journaling was so realistic, the first person-ness was never diminished.

The author’s note mentions that the book is based on a Grimm’s fairy tale called “Maid Maleen” (or “Princess Maleen” in some versions).  Naturally, I was compelled to read the original version, and while Hale took many liberties with the story, the inspiration is clear.  As a nice twist to the story’s German roots, Hale’s setting is based on medieval Mongolia and infused with a mythology of her own creation.  I loved the backdrop and the culture.  I loved the romance, which is an unusual thing for me to say since I tend to prefer action.  And yet…

I never got used to Dashti’s voice.  She comes off as naive and apologetic throughout with only a few moments of epiphany.  I admire Dashti’s character and actions, but I tire of her commentary.  This is another reason the journal format didn’t work for me.  Since Dashti records the events some time after they happen, she documents her regrets as well.  A more traditional format or a less realistic diary would have streamlined the story and accentuated the wisdom in Dashti’s instincts.

The mythology Hale created involves a deeply cultural religion and certain magics.  This religion emphasizes balance and a strong code of honor, both of which deeply influence the choices of all the characters.  One of the magical elements is the concept of healing songs — music which reminds the body how to be whole again and encourages it to mend.  Dashti knows these songs very well, which allows her to be close to the important people and events in the book.  However, the religion seemed like merely folklore and the magic like superstition at the beginning.  Turns out, they were both real, and I wish I had believed much earlier.

There’s a bit of deus ex machina in both leaving the tower and the resolution of the book.  Their escape from the tower is logical, it just takes Dashti a long time to think of how to do it.  Once she does, it’s quite easy for them to leave.  I don’t fully understand the end — it requires more of a suspension of disbelief — but at least Dashti had developed real relationships with her rescuers.  And it is a fairy tale, after all.  Even the Brothers Grimm version ends happily.

At the end of the day: For my younger self, perhaps

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