Ok, this is the Hebrew cover, but it’s just stunningly symbolic, so that’s what you get this time.
Book of a Thousand Days has just about everything I have come to love in Shannon Hale, in abundance. She brings a surprising depth, even a kind of ache, to her fairy tales. She creates admirable main characters who struggle for identity and love. The kind of love may vary (familial love, friendship, the adoration of a pet, romance). Each book delights and frightens the reader with a strange new magic, power, creature, etc.
This book has that distinctive Hale flavor. But if you were somehow able to take a picture of the soul of a book, this one would be desaturated, more stark, more evocative, and intensely focused.
It is a book that takes very small, deliberate steps, like a clever, careful cat sneaking past a predator in a confined room. It is a book that squeezes through cracks.
Lady Saren’s father seals her in a tower for 7 years as punishment for her refusal to marry the powerful Lord Khasar. Her only companion is her new maid, Dashti, who serves as the novel’s narrator in this diary-style story. The psychological terror the two girls experience trapped in the tower is excellently written, oddly page-turning, and believable. Lady Saren is hiding a secret, and I have to think that Hale did some solid research to depict a literary version of medieval PTSD. The emotional and mental states of the two girls shift as they hover between madness and boredom. Can they trust each other? Will they ever escape their prison?
There is so much of the plot, both romantic and horror, I can’t describe for fear of giving it away. Suffice it to say the quest for identity is once again key in this novel of Hale’s. Saren is not an admirable heroine, but like Dashti, the reader learns to empathize even in the midst of annoyance. Dashti is an admirable heroine, flawed mainly in that she doesn’t have enough flaws. Her boundless loyalty and humility is almost superhuman.
That said, Dashti is a compelling character. She is from a happy but impoverished background on the steppes. She has learned to help others heal with her songs. And her stubborn self-sacrifice, taken to such extremes, traps her into a kind of self-delusion as she refuses to acknowledge her own deepest desires. Will what could be a virtue prove the trait she most needs to overcome?
What is missing from the book is much of Hale’s humor. It’s there, but in limited doses only. The book is lyrical (sometimes literally). It is psychologically suspenseful. It is one long ache. But since the setting is a dark, isolated tower, this tone is fitting.
I most admired the level of suspense Hale is able to create out of limited setting, props, and characters. Her depiction of isolation, threat of madness, and bare survival reminded me of Tom Hanks’ masterful performance in Cast Away. Small things take on disproportionate and touching meaning. There is no single Wilson-the-Volleyball moment in the book, but there are animals and moments and objects that echo the spirit of Wilson.
It’s a book about isolation, identity, and the choices we make in the face of adversity.
The full-cast audio version starring Chelsea Mixon is well-done. Her voice deftly captures the many healing songs Hale incorporates throughout the book.
I recommend listening to it in the dark.
I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.