'Traditional' fairy story takes an unexpected turn

'Traditional' fairy story takes an unexpected turn


The Book of a Thousand Days
By Shannon Hale
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 0 7475 9781 0

Shannon Hale established herself as a clever re-imaginer of fairytales with her debut novel The Goose Girl, an intriguing retelling of a classic Brothers Grimm tale. Hale's new story, The Book Of A Thousand Days, also takes a Grimm fairy tale as its starting point.

But this time, the talented storyteller moves further away from her source material, resulting in another fast-paced story that will captivate readers with its setting, lively characters and helter-skelter plot.

In Hale's latest take on the traditional fairy tale, the prince isn't charming, the princess is a bit of a drip and as the story develops, so does the feeling there might not be a happy ending.

Dashti is a 15-year-old peasant girl from somewhere in the Central Asian steppes. She managed to escape the small community where she grew up and get to the nearest town. She thinks she is lucky when she gets the job as companion and maid to the daughter of a rich nobleman. But Dashti's joy soon turns to despair when her obstinate mistress gets them both in a bit of a bind.

Lady Saren is a year older than Dashti. She is in love with Khan Tegus, but her father doesn't like him. He wants her to marry the powerful Lord Khasar, but she refuses. Her father devises a terrible punishment which he hopes will make her change her mind.

Lady Saren and Dashti are imprisoned in a dark tower for seven years. If Saren relents, the two girls will be released. Otherwise they're stuck there until their sentence is up.

Dashti is loyal to her mistress, and determined to look after her until they are released and Lady Saren can marry her true love. The first part of the book documents the girls' imprisonment through Dashti's personal journal. Writing down her thoughts and feelings helps Dashti hold on to her sanity.

After almost three years in the tower, Dashti manages finds a way for the pair to escape. The town they knew is in ruins, and no one remembers them. Something terrible has happened, and there is more danger lurking.

Hale is a persuasive story-teller who transports readers effortlessly into her characters' world. It's very different from what you might be expecting, thanks to the author's fertile imagination.

The Book of a Thousand Days is a pleasure, offering something new to readers who think they like fairytales and something unexpected to those who think they don't.

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com



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