As always, this book review is spoiler-free!
Book of a Thousand Days is a fairy tale novel by author Shannon Hale. It is based on the Brothers’ Grimm story “Maid Maleen.” I liked the story for a lot of reasons, but here are my thoughts:
Fairy Tale Spirit—Shannon Hale has figured out the recipe for writing a full-length novel that feels like a short fairy tale. While she manages this effect in part through setting and character, I think her choice of figurative language really does the trick. She peppers animal descriptions and comparisons throughout her story, which makes it feel both magical and grounded. Shannon Hale also uses this technique in other works, like The Goose Girl.
Slow-burn Magic—Shannon Hale’s world is rich with magic, but you might not notice at first. The magic is introduced so subtly and naturally, that it feels completely fitting. It is not heavily rule-based, but works well to create a sense of wonder, and in some places, a sense of horror. Because the magic is connected to the religious aspects of the story, there is little a simplicity and an unknowable-ness in the lore. I found this highly enjoyable.
Mongolian Flare—Author Shannon Hale did her homework to add Mongolian cultural, geographic, and mythic elements to the story. The Mongolian elements lend a freshness to the story that I really liked, and put a nice twist on what otherwise might have been a rather traditional feeling story. While I am not Mongolian myself, I felt the Mongolian culture was tastefully incorporated and paid an honest tribute to the people and stories of the region. The story is written in a first-person epistolary style, bringing the story personally to the reader so that the reader comes to understand that people from other cultures are not as different from themselves as they may have thought.
Overall, I give the story 4/5 stars. It was a wonderful fairy tale with a consistent and beautiful style. While the story moved slowly at times, it was full of fun details and beautiful prose. Although the story is appropriate for all middle school-aged children and older, it is written in a traditionally feminine mode, which might not appeal to boys. (This is due to a cultural norm. Shannon Hale herself has a long-standing campaign against the double standard that girls can read any books, but boys are encouraged to avoid books marketed to girls.) If you are a fan of fresh takes on fairy tales and enjoy atypical settings, Book of a Thousand Days may be for you!
Have you read it? What did you think?
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