Funny, this week's Once Upon a Time pick absolutely fits because it is a fairy tale reconsidered! Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days takes it's inspiration from a Brothers Grimm tale, from Shannon Hale's website (a cool place to browse around):
One night in the spring of 2003, I lay in bed reading the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. I was drafting my second book, enna burning, and wanted to seek inspiration from the old tales. That was the first time I discovered “Maid Maleen.” It’s the story of a noble lady who refuses to marry a rich king because she’s in love with a prince. In anger, her father locks his daughter and her maid in a tower for seven years (read the rest here).
I loved this book so much that I feel possessive. Stephenie Meyer has a front cover quote saying, "My very favourite recent read", and in its simplicity it says exactly what I feel about it. Here is how it opens:
My lady and I are geing shut up in a tower for seven years.
Lady Saren is sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, and hasn't moved even to scratch for an hour or more. Poor thing. It's a shame I don't have fresh yak dung or anything strong-smelling to scare the misery out of her.
The men are bricking up the door, and I hear them muttering and scraping cement. Only a small square of unbricked sky and light still gape at me. I smile back at its mean grin to show I'm not scared. Isn't it something, all the trouble they're going to for us?
My reading experience:
When I read this book last year I had already read Princess Academy and Goose Girl. So I was struck immediately by the maturity of this story. Which is absolutely not to say that Shannon's other books are immature in any way; both PA and GG deal with a few darker themes and the way that magical ideas are written in is inspiring and very insightful. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Book of a Thousand Days to an 18 or 19 year-old; this is fairy tale magic-making at its deepest gravity.
One of the things I enjoyed the most was that Dashti, the narrator and maid of Lady Saren, chronicles the verging insanity of being locked up for such a long time with no windows and very little else. Lady Saren deals with this worse than Dashti and Dashti watches her lady sink deeper into misery. Dashti is also a healer of a type. She can feel where people have a sickness or illness and heal it through her songs. But with Lady Saren, Dashti doesn't know what song will heal her. Only later does she understand what her lady needs.
And there's some romance, of course. Only not between the two people its intended for! I'll leave this secret for the reader to discover.
Remembering now, there is so much going on in this book. And you wouldn't think it since the main characters are trapped in a tower! But everything just really works in this book, and I am still chilled by Dashti's nemesis, the man Lady Saren refuses to marry.
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