Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Dashti's mother has died on the steppes. Leaving the other muckers behind, she takes refuge in the city of Titor's Garden. Dashti's ability to read and write makes her a valuable servant, not to mention her knowledge of the healing songs of the muckers. She is trained to be a serving maid to Lady Saren, the illiterate daughter of the city's leader. Dashti's first day of work is more than she could ever have bargained for. Arriving at Saren's home, the house is in an uproar. Lady Saren is to be locked up in a tower for her refusal to marry Khasar, the leader of nearby Thoughts of Under. Whence her lady goes, there goes Dashti, even if they just met. The days pass slowly in the tower. But with food for seven years, Dashti feels more secure than she did starving on the steppes wondering where her next meal was to come from.
But her lady is not well. Dashti sings to her and tends to her every need to no avail. Saren is holding onto a dark secret to do with Khasar that nothing can relieve. Their only hope comes one day when Khan Tegus secretly arrives. He is the leader of nearby Song for Evela and Saren's secret fiance. He brings them news from the outside world, even if Saren refuses to talk to him and Dashti must pretend to be her mistress, for which she hopes the Gods won't strike her down. They communicate night after night through the little hole in the base of the tower, till one night, Khasar attacks. They hear no more of Tegus, no more of their guards, and their food supply is in danger. The rats have found them. Which is not so big a worry as Saren's overeating.
Facing a slow death or finding a way out of the tower are the only options left to them. But the outside world has changed. Khasar has started a war with all the eight realms. Titor's Garden is no more. The two girls slowly make their way to Song for Evela, hoping that Khan Tegus can protect them. But once their Saren refuses to make herself known and asks Dashti to once more pretend to be her, despite there being a new fiance from Beloved of Ris. There is more war on the horizon. Dashti is but a mucker faced with hard decisions and a Lady who she is respecting less and less. Could a lowly mucker save all the eight realms and get the prince? Or will evil win?
The fact that our heroine is locked in a tower should be the first hint that this is a tale from the Brothers Grimm. Those brothers sure did like their maidens bricked up in out of the way locales. Shannon Hale writing it is another good sign. Shannon Hale has made her name with her retelling of fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm, from The Goose Girl to Rapunzel's Revenge, she has taken the weak, put upon women, and strengthened them and given them new life. The retelling of Fairy Tales is a popular pastime in fiction, especially in young adult fiction. Fairy Tales are the building blocks we all played with as children. They are simple stories to teach us right from wrong. They are stories that, as we age, we see the flaws and the wrongs. But still, they resonate with us. Book of a Thousand Days is based on one of the lesser known stories by the Brothers Grimm, "Maid Maleen." The story of "Maid Maleen," unlike the title suggest, is not about a maid at all. We follow the brave princess locked in the tower who one day escapes and flees to the country of her beloved. Once there, she finds work in the kitchens and as begged by the ugly fiance of the king to pose as her during the wedding ceremony, the rightful princess and the rightful prince are reunited and cue the happily ever after.
Here we see the themes that Hale will employ in her retelling, disguises, imprisonment and resolution of woes. But what of the actual maid? What of "Dashti"? In the original story there is but one mention of the maid being locked into the tower with her mistress. Shannon Hale latched onto this simple line. To be imprisoned for a crime that is not yours, to be locked up with someone you don't know. Someone who is illiterate and woebegone. The day to day life that Dashti narrates, with the good as well as the bad, the growth as well as the set backs are what make this book so wonderful. While it is said that it takes a thousand days to know someone, by reading this book you know Dashti. A simple story about obedience from hundreds of years ago has brought forth a story of one girl's struggles to find herself and her place in the world. And it's totally empowering. Sometimes the old needs to infused with the new to make it relevant in today's world. Retelling a tale is all it takes.