Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book 7: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale has a talent for updating and filling out lesser-known fairy tales. She first did it with 2003's Goose Girl based on the Grimm fairytale, and now has done it again with "Maid Maleen", another Grimm tale in Book of a Thousand Days.

Book of a Thousand Days is written in the form a journal. The "writer" of this journal is Dashti, a ladies' maid in "The Eight Realms", fictional time and place loosely based on Mongolia around the time of Genghis Khan. Dashti is peasant from the mouintainous region of the realm, but after the death of her father and mother, she sets out for the city of Titor's Garden, hoping to find a job. The healing skills she has learned from her mother help Dashti to acquire a spot in a training school for ladies' maids. She learns how to read, write, and serve. She is to be placed in the home of the most powerful family in Titor's Garden as the maid of the ruling lord's daughter, Lady Saren.

Upon arriving at the grand home of Lady Saren, Dashti finds that all is in a state of upheaval and Lady Saren is frantic. Lady Saren immediately makes Dashti promise she will not leave her, no matter what. Dashti, it turns out, has agreed to accompany Lady Saren when she is locked in a tower for seven years. Lady Saren is being locked away because she disobeyed her father's orders by refusing to marry Lord Khasar, the evil ruler of one of the other cities in the Eight Realms. Lady Saren instead wishes to marry the leader of yet another one of the cities.

Dashti is rather comfortable when they are first bricked in. Though there are no windows through which she can see the sky, there is ample food in the cellar, a comfortable bed, a warm fire, a well full of water, and fresh milk is brought by guards everyday. As the days stretch into months, then years, the food supply is depleted by rats, and the ravenous and an increasingly unstable Lady Saren. Events outside of the tower lead to further fear and confusion. It reaches a point where the only option for Dashti's and the mentally and physically depleted Lady Saren's survival is to break out of their prison, and forge their way by creating new lives for themselves.

When thinking of young adult novels, most peoples' minds inevitably turn to pop culture phenomenon's such as Twilight or Gossip Girl. While these books/movies/tv shows are entertaining and addictive, they are also vapid. I think it is a shame though to dismiss this whole huge area of literature based on these texts, because there is a lot of young adult literature that is fantastic. Book of a Thousand Days represents what a female character can and should be. Twilight's Bella is a co-dependent wet rag, and Gossip Girl's Blair Waldorf is a scheming bitch, but Book of a Thousand Days' Dashti was wonderful. She is strong under pressure, resourceful in times of crisis, compassionate, and still realistically imperfect. She does not depend on her looks, her sex appeal, her money, her social rank, or her stone cold boyfriend. Prince Charming will not always be able to break the princess out of the tower. Dashti shows that when it comes down to it, there are times in which you just have to be your own hero.

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