Diane Prather: 'A Thousand Days' a must-read

Diane Prather

Diane Prather's columns appear in the Craig Daily Press and Saturday Morning Press. You can call her at 824-8809.

This week's novel for young adults is based on "Maid Maleen," a little-known fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm way back when.

Newberry Honor author Shannon Hale says she "took many liberties" with the fairy tale when she wrote "Book of a Thousand Days." She reset the book to the Asian steppes. Hale re-imagined the plot and invented the Eight Realms.

The novel takes the form of a "book of thoughts," or journal kept by Dashti, a 15-year-old lady's maid. She's also a mucker (commoner) who knows how to heal with song.

Dashti came to the city of Titer's Gardens a year ago. That was after her mother died. Dashti was fortunate to become a maid to Lady Saren, a young woman of 16 years.

Lady Saren's father arranged her marriage to Lord Khasar. He is lord of "The Thoughts of Under," the most powerful of the Eight Realms. The problem is that Lady Saren already promised herself to Lord Tegus of a lesser realm.

Now Lady Saren's father has decided to punish her.

Lord Khasar is a cruel man; for that matter, so is Lady Saren's father. He doesn't hesitate to slap her around and the same goes for Dashti. Lady Saren's punishment for not marrying Lord Khasar is to be locked up in a tower for seven years.

Part One of the book, then, takes place in a tower that's set apart from the other buildings in the city. It used to be a lookout tower, but now the "lookout window" has been bricked up. After Lady Saren and Dashti are put in the tower, the door is bricked over, too.

The tower has three levels. The upper one is Lady Saren's chamber. The middle one is the kitchen with a hearth, one chair, Dashti's straw mattress and stacks of wood.

A ladder leads from the kitchen floor to the cellar where barrels of dried and salted mutton, sacks of flour and rice, dried fruit and peas, cheeses and raisins are stored. Seven years' worth of candles and writing parchment have been left there. A well has been dug in the cellar floor.

The only opening out of the tower is through a tiny flap. It opens just wide enough to allow for dumping wastewater and the chamber pot onto the ground below. The guards use the opening to give the young women milk each morning.

Lady Saren is depressed, but Dashti makes the most of the days, doing chores and writing a journal. Being a commoner, Dashti is impressed with the "mountain of food." She cooks meals such as salted mutton and onions, wrapped in dough, seasoned with cinnamon and peppercorns and then cooked.

And this is just the beginning. Before long, the rats show up. Lord Khasar and Tegus show up, too. The days number 932. And then ... ? There is a big twist at the end of this novel.

It's a must-read.

"Book of a Thousand Days" is published by Bloomsbury, 2007. The hardcover costs $17.95.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2007. All rights reserved.

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