When a beautiful princess refuses to marry the prince her father has chosen, her father is furious. So furious he locks her in a tower. She has seven long years of solitude to think about her insolence. But the princess is not entirely alone – she can take her maid, Dashti. Petulant and spoilt, the princess eats the food in their meagre store as if she were still at court, and Dashti soon realises they must either escape or slowly starve. But during their captivity, clever and resourceful Dashti discovers that there is something far more sinister behind her princesses fears of marrying of the prince, and when, finally, they do break free from the tower, they find a land laid to waste and the kingdom destroyed. They were safe in the tower, now they are at the mercy of the evil prince. But this maid is a force to be reckoned with.
I know Shannon Hale's work from having read The Goose Girl a few years ago, shortly after it was published. I had to have it. I read it in a Saturday and loved it. I have re-read it a few times since then, along with its follow up novel, Enna Burning. The books are beautifully written with cross-over appeal and reworks age-old stories into something wonderful and new.
I was therefore very precious with my copy of The Book of a Thousand Days when it arrived from Bloomsbury a few months ago. I had to make an occasion to read it and our recent holiday was just such an occasion.
I was not disappointed. The young maid in The Book of a Thousand Days, Dashti, is courageous, funny, clever, resourceful, very young, innocent, but not stupid. She willingly joins her mistress in the tower and listens as all means of escape are blocked up by her mistress' ruthless father. She turns to look after her mistress, Lady Saren, with unfaltering loyalty, ensuring her wellbeing, whilst held prisoner in the tower.
It is, if you think about it, a horrible prospect. Locked up in a tower, with no means of escape, with guards outside to make sure that no one tries to break them out, for seven long years. Food was dumped in the cellar of the tower, just enough for seven years. If no one else ate of it...no one figured in the rats tunnelling their way into the tower and helping themselves to the two young girls' meagre supplies. Factor in the princess going slightly insane and gorging herself on bags of sugar and other dry goods, and your own stomach starts to roil a bit. Not at all a pleasant concept.
They do escape and find that the Lord the princess was almost betrothed to, has laid waste to the lands. Not just her father's lands, but also some of the lands belonging to the other kingdoms. The two young girls make their way to what they assume is safety. Dashti remains a steady companion to Saren and soon they are working as potscrubbers in a noble's house. But the way Ms. Hale writes, you just know the story does not end there.
In Dashti she created a noble and charming heroine. Through her book of days we learn about their hardships they endured in the tower, on the road to safety and what happens afterwards. The book serves as a testament to all of what Dashti is and it is used, towards the end, to mirror her character as she is called to judgement for her actions. I am not going to spoil the story, save to say, that Shannon Hale is one of the finest writers today in the young adult genre, especially when it comes to reworking classic fairy tales and myths. The Book of a Thousand Days is a luxurious read and written in a very intimate and beguiling style. Dashti is a fantastic heroine who fronts a beautifully thought out world so very close to what we would believe the Mongolian steppes to be.
You can find the author's website here. I am also thrilled to see that she is doing a graphic novel and reworking of the Rapunzel story. She has advice on scripting a graphic novel etc. on her site - a truly talented lady!