Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
This is a retelling of the little known Grimm Brothers tale "Maid Maleen,' but fairly drastically reworked. Dashti was born a mucker girl on the Asian Steppes, but when her mother dies and she has no family left, she finds work as a ladies maid for Lady Saren, daughter of the ruler of Titor's Garden. But when Dashti arrives to begin her work, she learns Lady Saren is to be shut up in a tower for seven years for disobeying her father and refusing to marry Lord Khasar; and Dashti must be shut up with her if she is to fulfill her vows as a ladies maid. What follows is the Dashti's telling (via a diary with brush-and-ink illustrations) of her entombment with Saren, and their adventures there after, from the terror of Lord Khasar to Dashti's healing mucker songs, to Khan Tegus, the nice, funny and out of reach ruler who may hold the keys to the girls' freedom.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I stayed up half the night reading it (just one more page-ing myself to death). There was a slight magical realism feel to it. Dashti ia an intersting character, very intelligent and strong, but also very meek and hyper-aware of her "place." It is enjoyable to watch her grow and come into her own. Lady Saren, who is very troubled and somewhat annoying, is also an enjoyable character, even in spite of her "unenjoyableness" because it is equally pleasant to watch her grow and heal as well. Lord Khasar is truly terrifying; so many of the characters are fully realized and engaging, as is the world.
Hale's reworking of the tale is fascinating, and expands beautifully on the original (which I looked up and read when I finished). The changes she makes make sense and add to the story wonderfully.
The only drawbacks for me were:
-- there are times when Dashti's storytelling is too sedate.
-- The Lord Khasar thread is tied up a little too quickly and conveniently. There are things I really liked about it, and I liked what it brought out in Dashti, and the choices she made, but I would have liked a little more build-up and tension in the actual resolution.
-- on a personal note, the names of places sometimes got to me. I don't know if they were traditional or made-up, but the constant repetition was a bit irritating.
Overall, though, I would definitely recommend this to fans of Hale, fairy tale retellings, strong female characters, etc