Monday, March 17, 2008

Book of a Thousand Days

I cannot recommend this title enough! Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale is a near perfect fantasy--gorgeous writing; a narrator with heart, integrity and courage; damsels locked in a tower; ferocious villains; a handsome and kind love interest; war; a touch of magic---this novel has it all. What an incredibly satisfying read, the kind that leaves you wanting more of the beautiful world the author created. This is definitely going into my Top Five Favorite Fantasy Books list.*

The book begins with this chilling line: "My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years." Our narrator is Dashti, the book the diary of her confinement. Dashti is a "mucker," or peasant in the land of Titor's Gardens of the Eight Realms. The day Dashti becomes lady's maid to Lady Saren--and swears an oath never to abandon her--she learns that Lady Saren is sentenced to spend seven years locked away in a tower for disobedience. Lady Saren has refused to marry the man her father has selected for her, claiming she is already bethrothed to Khan Tegus, ruler of Song of Evela. Both girls--only fifteen and sixteen years old--are promptly bricked up in a tower, left with seven years worth of food and a small hatch through which they can throw out their waste and see a sliver of the world. Though Dashti has the opportunity to refuse this confinement, she stays true to her oath, knowing her lady, who suffers from an unnamed and paralyzing fear, would never survive alone. Throughout the book, Dashti is a woman of her word, true to her vows.

Which is why it's so hard to lie when Khan Tegus shows up at the tower, and Lady Saren refuses to speak to him, insisting instead that Dashti impersonate her. For reasons Lady Saren won't reveal, she is afraid to speak to Tegus herself. So, against her better judgement, Dashti becomes Lady Saren's double--and begins to feel things for the Khan that she knows are dead wrong given her lowly status as mucker and his as lord of a realm. But she figures the harm can be undone when Lady Saren's father forgives his daughter and the two betrothed can meet face to face for the first time. Khan Tegus wants to break his lady out of the tower, but before he can do so, the evil Lord Khasar appears, furious that Lady Saren has refused to be his bride. That night a pack of wolves descends on Titor's Gardens. The women in the tower hear a ferocious battle. . . and afterwards no guards appear to bring them fresh milk, no father comes to free them. . . only an eerie and unnatural silence prevails.

At the risk of giving away too much, all I will say is that the lady and our narrator heroine do not remain in the tower for the entire book. Their journey only begins in the tower, then carries on through different realms of the kingdom. The impersonation game is not left behind, and Dashti must wrestle with falling in love while pretending to be a lady, a crime for which she could hang on the south wall. War sweeps through the Eight Realms, and it seems that the brutal Lord Khasar cannot be stopped. But a mucker maid with a strong heart, a gift for the healing songs, and a brilliant idea might hold the key to toppling Lord Khasar's iron rule.

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous read.

*Other titles in my Top Five YA Fantasy Books would have to include The Minister's Daughter, Poison, and The Hollow Kingdom. I have to leave at least one slot open for future reads. Perhaps I should make a Top Seven or Top Ten list instead. . .

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