The Book of a Thousand Days is a young adult fantasy novel by Shannon Hale. The story is based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Maid Maleen, although the author took some liberty with the basic plot, and Maid Maleen does not offer major spoilers to Book of a Thousand Days. It is also set in medieval Mongolia, although the book does not attempt to be a historically accurate account of this time and place any more than Cinderella represents an accurate picture of medieval Europe. It is not too far removed from the tradition of Ella Enchanted and other books by Gail Carson Levine, although it is perhaps a bit more gritty and cynical. She has written a number of other books of this sort, including the popular Princess Academy, but I have not read them and so cannot say how this one compares, except to say that it quite good.

When Dashti's mother dies, she is left without any family and with next to no possessions. She loads up the family ghar on the last remaining yak and heads to the capital. She fully expects to endure a life of drudgery in the kitchens or stables of the Khan's household, but when it is discovered that she knows the healing songs of the nomads she is quickly put into training to become a ladies' maid. This is the last piece of luck that she has for a long time, as she is assigned to be the princesses' maid on the day that she is to be exiled for refusing to marry a neighboring prince. Her father, in his infinite wisdom, has declared that she is to be locked in a tower for seven years. Dashti is given a choice as to whether or not she wishes to accompany the princess, and chooses to go into exile with her -- after all, the guarantee of food and a warm bed for seven years is nothing to scoff at.

From here on out, nothing seems to go right. The princess appears to be suffering from a mysterious mental illness that no healing song will help, the tower has rats, and the prince that the princess had refused to marry keeps coming around to torment them. And then they are abandoned by their guards. And then they run out of food.

While this story has many interesting hooks, Dashti's character is the driving force. She is a strong and interesting character who doubts herself constantly but handles everything, no matter how difficult. The writing style is direct and straightforward, and the plot, despite what you might expect, is reasonably fast moving and continues to throw new adventures into the mix. Despite the story being somewhat geared towards female readers, I recommend this book to any young reader, male or female, and not just those interested in fantasy stories.

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