Review: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

By Shannon HaleI was in Junior Kindergarten when I got my glasses for the first time; say, around 4-years-old.  From about that point on, those gobs of muddled characters on the pages beside pictures began to make sense, and I began to devour anything I could get my hands on.  While my reading level was incredibly high, I had a special love for fairy tales.  The more obscure the fairy tale, the better.

One day, I found a tattered volume of fairy tales in one of my usual weekend trawls of local garage sales.  It was a book of Brother Grimm fairy tales.  There were a few tales I already knew, and one I had never heard of before.  It was called “Maid Maleen” and it became, and has remained, my absolute, all-time favourite fairy tale. I read it so many times that I knew every word by heart and that poor abused (although not by me) book fell apart.  Whenever I would have classes in school about fairy tales, I would tell the tale, even though often my teachers had never even heard of it.  Later, I bought a book of “The Complete Brothers Grimm” mostly to have a more durable copy of “Maid Maleen” in my possession.

That’s why when a friend told me that there was a book called “Book of a Thousand Days” written by Shannon Hale that she highly recommended, and I read that it was based on “Maid Maleen”, I knew I had to read it.  I went to the library and borrowed it and had it read in a day.  Later, I went and bought myself a copy and read it as if it were the first time.  Every time I’ve re-read it, it draws me back in with the same sweetness.The basic plot of “Maid Maleen” is that a young princess is shut up in a tower with her maid for seven years by her father for refusing to marry his choice of husband in favour of her own choice.  “Book of a Thousand Days” tells that story, but not from the princess’ point of view, but from her maid’s.  Ms Hale, much like my childhood self, said she was drawn to the maid, and how the maid felt about following her mistress into that tower, knowing that she’d be there for seven whole years, having committed no crime worth that kind of punishment.

Now, other than telling the part of the story I had always really wanted to hear, there is also the brilliance that is the setting.  Instead of putting this story in the standard “typical” setting (chalk full of almost identical Anglo-Saxon archetypes), Ms Hale put this story in a Mongolian-inspired, Asian setting, with a rich, multi-layered culture.  For a story told as a entries in a diary, the sheer amount of illustrating detail shared is simply perfect. By the end of the book (and it is one of those “can’t put it down” sort of fast reads) you know the world like the back of your own hand, and certainly want to read more about it.

I went into reading this book concerned it wouldn’t do my favourite story justice.  No one could more critical of a story like this than that five-year-old girl inside my head holding that precious, tattered volume to hear chest, tapping her foot with a scowl on her face.  However, once I had read “Book of a Thousand Days”, that little girl in my head gleefully hugged a new book to her chest and skipped around before finding a corner to curl up with it.  It’s a book that became an immediate part of my Book Horde (my personal favourite reads locked away in the cabinet of my antique writing desk).  It’s snuggled up against my huge volume of “The Complete Brothers Grimm”.

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