Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors so I was thrilled to see the glowing reviews rolling in for her latest book, The Book of a Thousand Days. I picked it up at the library, and I’m sorry, but it must be said, this is my least favorite of Shannon Hale’s novels! Of course her other books meant for the young and young-at-heart were so wonderful, that to say this is my least favorite doesn’t mean that it was horrible or even bad; I just won’t rush out to buy my own copy to highlight and cherish. I hesitated to review the book because I thought maybe it was just me, but the reality was confirmed when three other bookclubbers agreed it was definitely their least favorites too.
It’s loosely based on the Grimm fairy tale Maid Maleen (and if you’re saying, “Huh?” you are not the only one). The best I can explain it is part Rapunzel, part Cyrano De Bergerac, part Little Red Riding Hood set in country loosely based on Mongolia.
The main character, a fifteen year old girl named Dashti, approaches the castle seeking a job after being orphaned. Because Dashi knows the healing songs of muckers (a nomadic people) she is hired to be the maid to Princess Saren. Unfortunately for Dashti, she finishes her training and approaches the Princess the same day the King declares the Princess must live in a sealed tower without light for seven years as punishment for refusing to marry the suitor he selected for her. The Princess convinces Dashti to volunteer to be imprisoned with her and their solitude and boredom begins. As you might imagine, it’s hard to describe a few years of tedium without becoming a little tedious. While in the tower, two suitors visit Saren, Lord Khasar, who strikes fear in both Dashti and Saren; and Saren’s secret betrothed, Khan Tegus. Saren is “tower-addled” and forces Dashti to talk with Tegus while pretending to be the princess, and Dashti falls for Tegus’s tenderness.
After a few years they manage to escape from the tower only to discover the King’s land has been conquered by Lord Khasar, and all the people have fled or been slain. Dashti resorts to dragging the Princess to Tegus’s home, where she refuses to identify herself as royalty so they resort to finding work scrubbing pots in the kitchen.
This is one of those books where everything would be quickly solved if everyone was just honest and open in the beginning instead of avoiding the truth, a premise that drives me nuts! If Dashti would reveal that she wasn’t the princess and the princess was posing as a dishwasher, she would avoid much heartache. If Saren would tell Dashti the truth about who Lord Khsar is, she wouldn’t seem crazy and wimpy and he could be easily conquered. But of course neither will share their secrets and the book goes on and on.
I did find in interesting that Hales continues her theme of the strength of language. The Goose Girl could speak to the elements, in Princess Academy, they could communicate through stone, and Dashti can heal people through song. While I didn’t love this book, I did enjoy it and I hope Hale continues to entrance us with her lyrical language.