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.

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