Shannon Hale is one of the most popular Utah authors I know of, and she is incredibly nice and so funny. Her warm personality and sense of humor often come across in her writing, but Book of a Thousand Days seemed to lack some of the sparkle I have seen in her other books. Based on the Grimm’s fairy tale “Maid Maleen”, it is a short and sweet tale of gentry and peasantry, love and friendship, and most importantly–loyalty.
When Lady Saren refuses to wed Khasar, her father locks her away in a tower. Knowing that her lady will never survive on her own, Dashti (Saren’s maid) agrees to remain by her side in the tower for those seven years. During their time in lock up, Dashti writes everything down in a journal. Some journal entries are mundane; Dashti talks repeatedly about fighting off rats who are eating away at their food supply, or complains about Saren’s unwillingness to do any sort of chores. The brightest days for Dashti are when a second suitor of Saren’s comes to visit. Saren pleads with Dashti to pretend that she is Saren, and during her brief conversations with Tegus, Dashti falls head over heels in love with him.
When Dashti finds a way out of the tower, she tricks Saren into coming with her to Tegus’s land, discovering that their own realm was destroyed by Khasar during their travels. Posing as servants in Tegus’s house, Dashti once again comes in contact with the object of her affection. Soon Khasar comes to take down Tegus and his army, and once again Dashti must do her lady’s bidding and pretend to be someone she is not.
I have not actually read “Maid Maleen” and I’m not sure I want to after reading Book of a Thousand Days. I can only imagine how much more I would despise Lady Saren in the source material (note: Hale mentioned she took huge liberties with this retelling, so Saren’s character may go by a different name). I hated listening to Dashti whine about Lady Saren and how she never did anything to help herself, but Dashti also never stood up for herself, either. Thankfully there was some character growth in Saren, and she redeemed herself at the end of the novel. It seemed slightly out of character, however, since Saren isn’t particularly clever.
I think perhaps I did not like the journal entry style of Book of a Thousand Days. I wanted more points of view than just Dashti’s; it would have been interesting to see what Saren was thinking about during their time in the tower and also how she felt when they were taken into Tegus’s house. I cared less for the romance between Dashti and Tegus than I would have liked to, and possibly having his thoughts too might have warmed me more to their story.
I recommend Book of a Thousand Days for those who simply cannot get enough of fairy tale retellings. It was refreshing to read something that wasn’t another Cinderella tale, at the very least. I don’t recommend reading it if you are looking for fluff, though. It’s a bit darker than I’d expected due to the conflict between Khasar and Tegus, and it’s probably likely I was not in the right mood to read it. I wish I’d held off a bit longer before reading it; perhaps I might have liked it more if I had.