I don’t often read young adult books. As a general rule I find the characters (understandably, but nonetheless irritatingly) juvenile. The romances are half-weaned, the general fixation on burgeoning sexuality is tiresome, and these novels don’t tend to tick the box when it comes to intellectual challenge.
But cynic though I am, I grant that there are exceptions to my sweeping disregard.
The Book of a Thousand Days is one such. Subtle and fleeting, like a sugar wafer melting on your tongue, this book is an experience worth savouring.
Thousand Days is a fictional diary, following the adventures of the lovable Dashti, a ‘mucker’ maid, as she cares for her reticent mistress, the Lady Saren. The setting is fictional, but bears some parallels to Medieval Mongolia.
In essence, this is a Cinderella story, about a humble girl refusing to be beaten down by bad luck, but there are deeper layers flickering in the background. For once, romance takes the back seat, falling in behind the main themes of selflessness and friendship.
Being what it is, there’s no denying that Thousand Days is predictable, but the sugar is tempered by a poignant mixture of sisterhood and sacrifice.
Something about this book got me invested as a reader, and whilst its small page count can hardly be called a test, I finished Thousand Days in one sitting.
I think this is in part because the writing is so good.
‘I let my head fall back, and I gazed into the Eternal Blue Sky. It was morning. Some of the sky was yellow, some the softest blue. One small cloud scuttled along. Strange how everything below can be such death and chaos and pain while above the sky is peace, sweet blue gentleness. I heard a shaman say once, the Ancestors want our souls to be like the blue sky.’
Shannon Hale is a hit-and-miss author. The Goose Girl remains one of my favourite children’s books, but its sequels had considerably less wow factor. The Book of a Thousand Days is Hale back on top form.
Maybe it is the fact that Dashti never sulks and pouts, but for a YA book, this book is surprisingly adult. I found myself unusually sympathetic towards the young protagonist, and devouring the flowing prose with greedy haste.
This book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and if you don’t care for fairytales I’d advise you to steer clear, but for the rest of us, it’s a good ‘un. Subtle and sweet, this is no magnum opus or literary masterwork, but it is a delightful retelling, and a pleasant read.