Saturday, November 24, 2007

Book of a Thousand Days (Shannon Hale)

I wasn't acquainted with the Brothers Grimm's Maid Maleen until I encountered Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days, which uses the said tale as jump-off point for her latest YA novel. Someone told me it was her best one yet, but while this was well-written, I think I'll still award the superlative to her The Goose Girl.

The fairy tale is set in a world that has a Central Asian feel. Dashti is a mucker, more at home with yaks and goats than with nobility. By a twist of fate, she becomes handmaid to Lady Saren, whose refusal to marry a powerful lord has resulted in her being locked in a tower for seven years. Dashti included. It's enough to make a girl cry, but not our heroine. Instead, she keeps her wits about and tries to make life easier for her and her mistress. Lady Saren's spurned suitor makes threatening visits to their little tower, but so does her betrothed, the gallant Khan Tegus. But the tower walls have broken Lady Saren's spirit, and she insists that Dashti answer for her when confronted by both lover and enemy. It is not long before Dashti falls in love with the Khan herself and figures out a way out of the tower. But Saren's home is no more, and Dashti leads her to -- surprise, surprise -- Khan Tegus' kingdom.

Ms. Hale takes liberties with the original tale, of course, and I enjoy where she takes the story. Perhaps what keeps me from heaping praise on this novel is the fact that I found the first part of Thousand Days, when Dashti and Saren are still imprisoned in their tower, quite tedious. And to think this was the part that was most faithful to the Grimm's story, minus the visiting suitors. I certainly had fears that I would be reading a thousand days that detail the decreasing inventory of grain and cheese in the girls' larder.

Thankfully, the story picks up when they escape and progresses with an almost Cinderella-like (read: rags to riches) development. Dashti is a quintessential Hale heroine, admirably determined and resourceful, but after some time I suppose I would like to read one of her stories where the heroine isn't. Still, Ms. Hale loses none of her lyrical prose with Thousand Days. It carries with it the flavor I love best about her works: quietly told, observant and deliberate.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Dark Horse (Marcus Sedgwick)

After being sorely disappointed with Marcus Sedgwick's The Book of Dead Days, I wasn't too keen about reading his other works. But somehow, I couldn't resist the appeal of The Dark Horse, and I'm glad for it.

Mouse is a foundling. When Sigurd's tribe saves her from wolves and adopts her into their own, they grow to be brother and sister, content with their peaceful way of life. But this all changes when they come across a mysterious box and the strange man who comes with it. Mr. Sedgwick's novel may read like an archetype but in the end, it gave me one of the most unexpected developments I've encountered, right up there to finding out who four of the five last Cylons are. Maybe even more.

I'm often at a loss for words when I encounter a book that I truly enjoy, and this is one of those times. I found that Dark Horse didn't have that self-aware air that I disliked so much about Dead Days. It moved at such a brisk pace, with each plot point equally important to the unravelling of the mystery. The language is as sparse and stark as the setting, and it serves to underscore the story's themes.

Mr. Sedgwick proves that there's still something unexpected and original present in young adult fiction. This made me even want to give Dead Days another chance, if only I didn't give my copy away as a Christmas present. Come to think of it, if all his books were this good, then I'll be filling my shelf with his works pretty soon.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


If you feel the need to write music, or play it, then do so, but believe me, your creativity is of no interest to anyone. Write something--then it's there. If it's what you wanted to write, if it exists, then leave it. If it doesn't, throw it away. Your beautiful state of mind is totally irrelevant. - Marcus von Altenburg, A Song for Summer