Sunday, 20 September 2015

Review: The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

4 stars

Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days takes its title from a saying of the main character's mother: that you have to spend a thousand days with someone before you can truly know who they are. And yet, the heroine of Book of a Thousand Days, Dashti, has such a strong character voice that I felt I knew her long before our time together was up. 

In Book of a Thousand Days, Dashti commentates her transition from being a 'mucker' peasant to a lady's maid, followed by years of darkness as she is imprisoned in a tower with her mistress, who refused to marry the lord her father had chosen. As her lady slips further and further into depression, Dashti realises their food stores will run out long before the seven years of their prison term and must discover a way to escape before they both succumb to hunger.

The synopsis left me a bit doubtful about how the author would maintain the reader's interest when the characters and setting were so static and isolated. However, Dashti's reminiscences from her childhood and her sketches of their surroundings, as well as the occasional interaction with the world outside, stopped the reader from becoming bored. In fact, if I was to find fault with any part of the plot, it would not be that part of the book at all, but rather the ending. I felt like everything was stitched up too neatly and quickly at the end; Dashti's fate turned on a sixpence, somewhat devaluing the previous complications with her love interest.

From Dashti's descriptions and sketches, the setting of the Eight Realms is lyrically developed as a fictional version of medieval Mongolia, but it is only since I finished the book and did some googling have I come to realise that aspects of Dashti's world that I assumed to be fictional were in fact true parts of traditional Mongolian culture. 

Thanks largely to the strength of Dashti as a character and Hale's Mongolian-inspired world, The Book of A Thousand Days managed to simultaneously be whimsical but authentic, simple but moving. It's meant for an early-teen audience, but it makes a breath of fresh air for anyone looking for something a little bit outside the box.  

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