The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale is one of my absolute favorites. I’ve spotlighted it before, because of Hale’s amazing prose and ability to turn what might be considered a mundane story into something amazing and beautiful. As in many of Hale’s books, Dashti, our heroine, is from humble circumstances and doesn’t think much of herself. She is also self-sacrificing and loyal. These are traits that are never stated, but portrayed so well and so often that we gain a deep understanding of her character.
Dashti is also a bit of a condescending snob. That seems counterintuitive with everything else I’ve said about her, but that’s part of the beauty of Hale’s complex characterization. Though Dashti thinks little of her beauty or social standing, she inwardly scorns the princess she serves. As the narrator, Dashti’s thoughts reveal her confusion at the princess’ lack of basic survival skills, her mental instability, and her selfishness. This character flaw fits Dashti, makes her more real, and more interesting. As with any good character flaw, Dashti eventually learns to temper it, seeing the world from the princess’ point of view.
What I particularly like about Dashti is her strength. It’s a different kind of strength than we typically read in our fantasy and science fiction novels. With so much emphasis on strong female characters, we sometimes forget that inner strength and be even more definitive than physical prowess. Now, I tend to write a lot of female characters with kick-butt fighting skills, but that’s a two-edged sword. There’s usually a reason they felt it necessary to focus on this aspect of their skill set, and those reasons leave them somewhat damaged. My books focus a great deal on how they create healthy relationships in spite of their emotional scars. In Thousand Days, Dashti doesn’t have this physical prowess or fighting skill. She has some small amount of magic that helps them survive, but her real power lies in her determination. The fact that she will not give up, that she’s willing to do hard things, and that she is so religiously loyal is what eventually saves them all. This is the kind of strength that makes for interesting characters, if not the most flashy.
There are a couple of moments in which I think Hale almost made Dashti a bit too loyal to her princess. There are times when it’s a bit ridiculous that such a strong character would let another woman, no matter how royal, push her around the way the princess does. That is somewhat justified by Dashti’s strong moral and religious dedication, but a woman of her character would probably push back a little more. All in all, those moments are far overshadowed by Dashti’s rich personality and Hale’s ability to get us so emotionally attached to the character that we forgive her every mistake.
I love my kick-butt characters, but sometimes inner strength without physical prowess can make for an even more admirable persona. I strongly recommend reading some of Hale’s books for a look at a more down-to-earth kind of heroine.
Colette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net