Friday, August 30, 2013
Educate Emma: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
"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."
Characters: Dashti is a remarkable character. She's intelligent, honorable, strong and incredibly loyal. She may be a devoted servant, but she does experience a great deal of anger and sadness. Just as I adored Miri in Princess Academy, I fell in love with Dashti in much the same way. She's the kind of girl I love seeing in teen literature, because I aspire to be like her and I want her to succeed. I'm all for anti-heroes, but it's nice to have a protagonist you can root for.
Her relationship with Lady Saren is also very fascinating, as it's not always affectionate, and it's never simple. I loved seeing Lady Saren develop more as a person, and I appreciated how Dashti struggled with her frustration and concern with her. Their relationship is unusual for YA friendships, and I liked how it evolved in an unsteady way. They lived in incredibly close quarters, with only each other for company, but they still managed to keep emotional barriers with each other. The alternating experiences of vulnerability and isolation were fascinating to read.
And Hale's male characters are just as well written as her female ones. While they don't have nearly as much depth, they did foster intense emotion within me. Lord Khasar is one of the best villains I've read all year, as he personifies a very familiar kind of power and misogyny. He made my skin crawl. Khan Tegus may not seem as awesome as Dashti, but he did instantly feel safe and endearing as a character. As the two main masculine personalities, they gave me polar opposite reactions. To me, that showed Hale's exceptional ability. 4 and a half flowers.
Writing: Dashti's voice is not necessarily as fiery or rebellious as the typical YA heroine, but her perspective is still very strong. I loved slowly learning more about her past, and noticing her feelings before she even acknowledged them herself. Hale also does a beautiful job of maintaining a fairy tale-esque tone, and she explains the various settings in a beautiful and detailed manner. 5 flowers.
Plot: I think I'm officially a Shannon Hale. Not only does she seem to have a habit of focusing on working class perspectives in her novels, but she retold a Brothers' Grimm tale and set it in medieval Mongolia. Mongolia! No boring European or North American setting here. Instead, Hale used a fantastic setting with POC, and she earned even more of my respect in the bargain.
The pacing can feel very slow in Book, as it spans several years, but I like how it gave me more insight into long captivity. I felt like it had a very strong, well plotted arc, and I loved seeing the ways in which Dashti had to test her strength and become more in tune with her emotions. The conflict presented with Lord Khasar was also well managed, even if I wasn't always sure of how Hale would keep Dashti both active and in character. It all evolved organically and with plenty of interesting bumps along the way. 5 flowers.
End: Very sweet, and while a little convenient, perfect for this fairy tale retelling.
Dust Jacket Description: While the writing is decent, I found it pretty misleading to not acknowledge how early on in the novel Lady Saren and Dashti escape from the tower. A large part of the book occurs outside of their imprisonment, and thought that would have been good to note. 3 flowers.
Cover: I like the font, the colour tones, the strong-but-quiet pose of the model, and how it's not a white person on the cover. It also stays true to the fairy tale roots of the story. 5 flowers.
Overall: I really need to get my hands on more Shannon Hale novels. Book of a Thousand Days is gorgeously written, and filled with complex characters and an exquisite culture. If you love fairy tales, empowered women and elaborate worlds, pick this one. 5 flowers.