Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale
Talk about bad timing. Fifteen-year-old Dashti has barely survived a rough life on the steppes of pseudo-Mongolia, but by a combination of luck, perseverance, and skill, she’s landed a plum job as a lady’s maid in the palace of Titor’s Garden. Minutes after she meets her new mistress, Lady Saren, she learns they’re about to be bricked up in a tower for seven years. Saren has just been seriously grounded for refusing the fearsome lord her father wants her to marry.
Dashti is surprisingly cheerful even as workers are bricking up the windows around her. Nothing about her hand-to-mouth existence so far prepared her for such good fortune — seven years without having to worry about starving to death! Her natural optimism and practical nature serve her well, as her traumatized mistress, wary and tearful at the best of times, is reduced nearly to catatonia by imprisonment. While Saren falls apart, she orders Dashti to impersonate her and negotiate with a rival suitor who may be able to help them escape. And Dashti, raised to obey and know her place, instead finds herself falling in love with the man who’s in love with her mistress.
Shannon Hale was inspired to write this romantic fantasy by one of the Grimms’s lesser-known fairytales, but she’s reworked it with khans and yaks and other details from medieval Asia. Hale’s version remains just enough of a fairytale to make the happy ending pretty much a given. But Dashti and Saren follow a long, adventurous road from the dark confines of their incarceration to the final legal twists and turns that will determine who lives, who dies, and who gets to marry the khan.
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