This book had me from the first line: "My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years." How can a reader resist a beginning like that?
Written in the form of a diary kept by Dashti, lady's maid to a young noblewoman, the book is set in a fictionalized ancient Mongolia. Dashti is a peasant girl, a "mucker," from the steppes, and upon the death of her mother she travels to the city, looking for work. She knows songs of power, and can sing them to heal, soothe, and for other useful purposes. This gift allows her to obtain the necessary education and training to serve as a lady's maid, and she gladly swears fealty to Lady Saren - even offering to accompany her to the tower when Lady Saren refuses to marry the man of her father's choosing.
At first Dashti is astounded by the sight of seven years' worth of food, unable to believe her good luck at knowing she won't be going hungry. But after a few months of the dark, windowless tower, never being able to catch the slightest glimpse of the sky, and Lady Saren acting depressed, hardly even talking to her, Dashti yearns to be outside in the fresh air. Still, she does not sit around complaining, but does her best to comfort her lady and keep as active and engaged as she can. She learns that Lady Saren lives in absolute terror of Lord Khasar, the man her father has ordered her to marry, although Dashti is unable to find out exactly why. When the young man Saren wishes she could marry instead shows up at the tower one night under cover of darkness, Lady Saren orders Dashti to speak with him - to pretend she is Lady Saren. Dashti is reluctant, but eventually finds herself talking and laughing with him through the tiny hatch at the bottom of the wall, as if she's known him all her life.
But then he leaves. Winters come - they are dark and cold; summers come - they are stuffy and unbearably hot. Worst of all, Lady Saren's dreaded Lord Khasar comes, and Dashti quickly discovers he is indeed a man to fear.
Dashti's intelligence and compassion color all that she writes in her book of a thousand days. I enjoyed the unusual setting, including the evocative names of the kingdoms ("Goda's Second Gift," "Thoughts of Under" and "Song for Evela," among others) and the way Dashti's mucker heritage informed how she perceived the world around her - but did not prevent her from forming her own opinions based on new experiences. I truly enjoyed this book, as I have all the books I've read by Shannon Hale, and this retelling of the Grimm brother's story "Maid Maleen" is inspired and memorable.
This is my final book read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge II - which makes my challenge complete! Don't forget to stop by the review site for this challenge - there are over 300 reviews posted there so far, so it's definitely worth a look.
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2007)
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