Built To Outlast

The Books


Book of a Thousand Days

Author: Shannon Hale

Genre: YA; Fairytale Retelling; epistolary

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Published: September 18, 2007

Number of Pages: 336

A retelling of the Brothers Grimm story “Maid Maleen,” related through the journal entries of Dashti, a young servant of Lady Saren of Titor’s Garden. When Lady Saren’s father arranges a marriage for her, she refuses the match explaining that she is already engaged to another. Furious, her father locks both Saren and her servant Dashti away in a tower. He sentences them to life in the tower for 7 years or until Saren agrees to his own choice for her marriage. So begins Dashti’s next 1000 days.

Devil in the White City

Devil in the White City

Author: Erik Larson

Genre: Narrative Nonfiction; History; True Crime

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Published: February 11, 2003

Number of Pages: 447

In the summer of 1893, Chicago played host to the World’s Fair. The Fair was full of wonders and curiosities—from electric lights to Juicy Fruit gum to the very first Ferris Wheel.

In the summer of 1893, Chicago was also an unknowing host to one H.H. Holmes and his “Murder Castle.” This architectural feat was full of wonders and curiosities of a very different sort.

**Trigger warning: This book pieces together the violent murders of several women and children.

The Ties That Bind

These two books actually have a lot in common.

Let’s start with architecture. In Book of a Thousand Days, Lady Saren’s father commissions a building with a very specific purpose: imprison his daughter, her maid, and any supplies they may need for 7 years. In Devil in the White City, the focus on architecture is two-fold with Daniel Burnham and his colleagues designing beautiful yet functional structures for the Chicago World’s Fair while H.H. Holmes was employing several tricks and subterfuges to finish the building later called “Murder Castle.” Though Larsen’s book definitely has a greater emphasis on the actual design and construction of the buildings, the buildings themselves are pivotal in both books.

On a darker note, both books talk about the realities of ladies who have been kidnapped, or at least imprisoned against their will. In Book of a Thousand Days, Lady Saren and Dashti are forced into the tower on the whim of her powerful father. In Devil in the White City, Larson chronicles many, many mysterious disappearances of women (and some children) within the vicinity of H.H. Holmes over the course of several years. It was later revealed that they were all gruesomely murdered by Holmes.

And then of course, there’s the “crazy” factor. The further you get into Book of a Thousand Days, the clearer it becomes that Lady Saren suffers from some type of mental illness, though it is not clear exactly which illness. She is extremely anxious and makes very questionable decisions. (To be clear, I am NOT counting the, “fine, lock me up in a tower—you can’t force me the marry this awful man” thing as one of her questionable decisions. Those come later.) Meanwhile, the actions of H.H. Holmes as conveyed in Devil in the White City, definitely depict that though terrifyingly brilliant, his mental faculties definitely would not be considered normal or safe.

Although one is a YA fairytale retelling and the other relates real-life events from the late 19th century, these books both tackle circumstances concerning architecture, kidnapping and violence, and undiagnosed mental illness or abnormalities.

Up Next

Belonging by Nora Krug and The Lunar Chronicles (series) by Marissa Meyer

Belonging-Lunar B

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