Bookclub Review: “Book of a Thousand Days”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Book of a Thousand Days” by Shannon Hale

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, September 2007

Where Did We Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment.

As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. With the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors–one welcome, the other decidedly less so–the girls are confronted with both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.

Serena’s Thoughts

I have read a good number of Shannon’s Hale’s books. Not only the Princess Academy trilogy that I reviewed for this blog, but a few of her other YA stories like “The Goose Girl” and such. I’ve always loved her simple, yet beautiful, writing style, and as a fan of fairytale retellings, her work is always a hit for me. However, I don’t particularly love epistolary stories, which was the reason I held back on this one. I always have a hard time turning off my brain and not thinking about how incredibly unrealistic it is that anyone would write out entire conversations in their journal. But, I admit, I have been proven wrong in the past, and there are several books I can think of (“A Brief History of Montmoray,” for example) that I have enjoyed despite of this.

For the first third of the trilogy, I didn’t even need to bother with this concern. Dashti and the Lady Saren have been locked in a tower. There isn’t much else to do other than write extensive entries in ones journal! While some readers might feel this section is slow, I particularly enjoyed this section of the book. Not only do we have tons of character development for Dashti that builds up a good foundation for her character which goes on to drive important decisions she makes later in the story, but I enjoyed the fact that the threat wasn’t really any sort of villain. The threat was simply the looming dark, isolation, and dwindling food that came with their imprisonment. Throughout this ongoing challenge, Dashti’s strengths are apparent. She is resourceful, optimistic, hard-working, and willing to find joys in small things.

As the story progress, we move beyond the tower. I also enjoyed these segments, but I do think they were made better by what we had learned of Dashti and the Lady Saren as characters from their time in the tower. Further, as the story progressed readers are given more opportunities to fully immerse themselves in this world. I particularly appreciated the setting that Hale chose for this story, placing it in a kingdom that is similar to Mongolia. After reading a million and one European-set fairytale retellings, this choice was a breath of fresh air.

This story is also a bit more dark than some of Hale’s other works. I thought this was another big point in its favor. While Dashti herself is an optimistic character, the challenges that she face are by no means simple or easy. The villain is truly terrifying, and the sacrifices that Dashti makes throughout the book are at times heart-breaking. This layer of darkness and seriousness provided a nice balance to Hale’s simple and clear storytelling.

Beyond Dashti, the characters were excellent. As I said, the villain was worthy of the story and quite creepy. And Lady Saren was the type of character you could enjoy disliking. This was made even better by the fact that she was also a realistic character whom you couldn’t help but sympathize with. She is what she was made to be, and while that was frustrating, it also portrayed a very honest take on a character. There was also a cat, My Lord, whom we all at bookclub probably obsessed about more than is healthy.

Kate’s Thoughts

“Book of a Thousand Days” was my first foray into Shannon Hale, and as an introduction to her work I found it to be pretty good! Though fantasy of this sort isn’t really my cup of tea, I was immediately taken in by the medieval Mongolia-like setting. Like Serena, I found it to be a nice change from the Euro-centric fairy tales and fairy tale re-tellings that the genre is kind of inundated with, at least in our culture and collective consciousness. I had never heard of the fairy tale that this was based off of, so I didn’t have the context of comparison, but ultimately that didn’t matter. Hale made this story her own, and she made the characters interesting in their own right.

Character wise, I really liked Dashti. Perhaps it was because of her first person perspective vis a vis diary entries, but the way that her character changed and progressed was a really nice story to follow. She goes from being absolutely and completely devoted to Lady Saren, to a well rounded and independent person in her own right who can stand on her two feet. The choices she made, while sometimes frustrating and upsetting, were within the realm of her character. And then there’s Lady Saren, who I found to be incredibly unlikable and obnoxious. But even that characterization was wholly believable based on the way that she had been raised, and based on the dark stuff that she had gone through. They both came from various kinds of hardship and trauma in their lives, and Hale did a good job of showing different ways that we cope (without casting judgement).

I did think that the tower part was a bit stronger than the time after. I will admit that I was kind of taken by surprise that they left the tower at all. That isn’t to say that the second part of the book didn’t have well done moments or was poorly written, I just liked spending a claustrophobic and tense time as Dashti and Saren started to wonder if their food supply was going to dwindle to nothing.

And don’t even get me started about My Lord the cat.

All in all I think that “Book of a Thousand Days” was a nice fairy tale retelling, and I see why Shannon Hale has the following that she does. I don’t know when or if I’ll pick up more of her stuff, but I’m glad that I can say that I have read her work.

Serena’s Rating 9: A bit darker than some of Hale’s other works, but better for it. An excellent re-telling of a lesser known fairytale and one that features an excellent leading lady in a unique location.

Kate’s Rating 7: The great location and the awesome protagonist made this book a worthwhile read. Even though fantasy of this type isn’t really my thing, I had a fun time reading this book and give props to Hale for creating this world.

Bookclub Questions:

  1. This book is divided into three sections. How did you feel about each of these sections? Did you have a favorite? A less favorite?
  2. This book is set in a world based on Mongolia. What aspects of the world-building and the cultures of Dashti’s world spoke to you?
  3. Towards the middle of the book, Dashti makes a decision with regards to My Lord, how did you feel about this? (Like I said, we at bookclub were a bit fixated on this question!)
  4. What did you think of Khan Tegus as a character? How did his relationship with Dashti compare to romances you usually see in fairy tales?
  5. What did you think of the mucker vs gentry dynamic?
  6. What did you think of the end? Did it feel believable? Should it feel believable as a fairy tale retelling?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Book of a Thousand Days” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Lesser-Known Books” and “Best Princess Tales.”

Find “Book of a Thousand Days” at your library using WorldCat

Next Book Club Pick: “The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman

 

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