Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand Days

Shannon Hale
Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2007   ISBN: 978-1599900513

When Dashti was a just eight years old, her older brothers left home and she and her widowed mother had to fend for themselves, scraping a living from the Steppes as best they could on their own. It was a hard time, but the girl and her mother managed, and there were moments of happiness as well as moments of worry and empty bellies.

A year ago Dashti’s mother died and the teenager had no choice but to leave the wide open spaces for life in the city of Titor’s Garden. She sold the one asset she had, the family horse, so that she could purchase employment. When the lady who placed prospective workers found out that Dashti could sing the mucker songs of healing and comfort, and that she could sew beautifully, she decided that she would arrange for Dashti to be trained to become a lady’s maid “for the most honored house in Titor’s garden.” Once her training and education was complete Dashti would work for Lady Saren, the lord’s second daughter. And so Dashti was taught to read and write, to draw, and how to take care of a lady belonging to the gentry class.

Now fifteen years old Dashti is ready to begin her new role in life. She arrives at the Lord’s house full of hope only to find that all is not well. No one welcomes her, the servants are running around in a frantic manner, and when Dashti finally finds her new mistress she learns that the young woman is going to be punished for refusing to marry Lord Khasar, the man her father has chosen for her. Lady Saren insists that the only man she will marry is Khan Tegus, whom she was promised to. In a fury her father announces that Lady Saren will be bricked up in a watchtower for seven years. Dashti agrees to go with Lady Saren. After all, she promised to stay with her no matter what and Dashti is not the type of person to break her word.

Now Dashti and Lady Saren are in their windowless prison. There is a well and stores of food in the basement, and Dashti has paper, ink and brushes so that she can write down the story of her imprisonment. Diligently Dashti takes care of her mistress and tries to sooth the illness of the soul that seems to afflict her, though she is not sure what the illness is. She sings her mucker songs of healing, and hopes that Lady Saren will heal in time.

Then Lady Saren’s Khan Tegus arrives. Saren will not speak with the young man through the waste hole, and so Dashti, pretending to be Saren, talks to him. The young people chat, laugh, and tease one another, and when Khan Tegus hears that the cellar is full of rats, he brings the girls a cat that will protect their food stores. Then he leaves, for he has responsibilities to take care of, but he promises to return.

Dashti hopes that he will come back soon, but before he can do so Lord Khasar arrives. He taunts and threatens Lady Saren, terrifying her. He throws burning chips of wood into their home, which they are luckily able to put out before much damage is done. The guards who are supposed to be watching over the tower disappear during what sounds like a battle with wolves. The much loved cat tries to protect the girls when a wolf shows its face at the waste hole and he too disappears. Dashti can only hope the wolves did not get him and that he is safe somewhere.

The months go by, Lady Saren eats too much of the food stores, the rats multiply, and things start to look very bleak indeed. Then, one day, Dashti realizes that the rats must have some way to get into the tower and she starts looking for their entry hole. The hole is in the cellar and she gets to work enlarging it until the hole is big enough that she can escape. After being bricked up in a tower for almost a thousand days, Dashti and Lady Saren are free. What they don’t know is that the world they left all those months ago is gone, destroyed by war, and they are going to have to start anew.

This remarkable tale takes readers to a region of the world that most of us have never even seen pictures of. Throughout the tale there is an exotic flavor that gives the narrative a unique feel. Dashti’s journal entries allow us to get to know her very well, and we cannot but feel in awe of her courage, her loyalty to her mistress, and her determination to survive in spite of the dangers that threaten her from every side.

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