by Shannon Hale
Dashti didn\’t know what she was getting herself into when she swore to serve as the lady Saren\’s maid, but she promised to stick to her duty. Lady Saren has refused the lord her father wished her to marry- she loves another. As punishment she is locked in a tower for seven years, Dashti along with her. The first part of the story is about the darkness, the boredom, the taunts of soldiers who guard their tower. Then they find rats, and silence outside, and fear starvation. So after several long years they break out of the tower, discovering that the world outside has changed… The two young women make their way through a demolished kingdom to a new land, where they find work in a castle as kitchen scullery-maids. Only to find, to their surprise, that the Lord of the castle is the same man Saren had loved- and he\’s now betrothed to another. Dashti begs Lady Saren to admit her identity but Saren is too timid, commanding Dashti (a mere commoner) to act in her place. How can Dashti choose- to go back on the oath she took to obey her Lady Saren, or to impersonate one of the gentry, which is a punishable crime?
The setting of this tale is medieval Mongolia, which was new for me and there\’s a delightful amount of detail about folklore, superstition and beliefs woven into the story. The main character sings healing songs. And I love the cat. One of the most poignant scenes in the book involves the cat. For a relatively short, YA novel it has a good amount of character depth and development. There were a lot of things I didn\’t expect- the appearance of skinwalkers, for example. The subtle contrast of good and evil. It\’s nice to see a change in roles- the princess was really a shirking, unpleasant person and her maid Dashti is the real heroine of the story. When the end was near, I saw what was coming but couldn\’t imagine how the author would work out all the details in a believable fashion. But it worked out amazingly well. Very clever.
I didn\’t know a lot about this story going into it, and that\’s part of the fun. It\’s based on a fairy tale I\’d never heard of- the Grimm\’s Maid Maleen. The author reworked this tale into something unique, and I enjoyed it very much.
Rating: 3/5 312 pages, 2007