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Literature / Book Of A Thousand Days

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A young adult low-fantasy novel by Shannon Hale, based on the lesser-known Grimm's Fairy Tale "Maid Maleen". Dashti is a recently orphaned "mucker" girl from the steppes, who accepts a job as lady's maid to highborn Lady Saren. Saren is in the midst of refusing an Arranged Marriage and gets herself (and Dashti) locked in a tower for her defiance. They're supposed to stay imprisoned for seven years, but although the first year passes as expected—with visits from both Saren's vicious would-be husband and the young, kindhearted lord she claims to truly love—their food stores begin to run out, and any trace of life outside vanishes. It is up to Dashti to rally their limited resources and save them both—but getting out of the tower is only the first step into a world that is frighteningly changed from what they knew before.

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This novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Saren's father slaps her, tries to force her into an Arranged Marriage with a monster, locks her in a tower when she refuses, and then basically invites her would-be fiance to carry her off by force.
  • Altar Diplomacy: Tegus is betrothed to the ruling lady of the neighboring realm to solidify an alliance against the conquering Lord Khasar.
  • Amicable Exes: Tegus and Saren, technically speaking.
  • Angry Chef: the cook who employs Dashti and Saren as pot-scrubbers in Song For Evella.
  • Ate It All: Saren, in the midst of her depression, eats almost all of the food stores in the tower, including all the fruit and sugar—causing the girls to run out of food and necessitating a jailbreak.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: a variation: in the Eight Realms, any woman who is officially betrothed has the right to demand justice from anyone who endangers her engagement. Usually this involves demanding reparation from, or even the life of, the other woman.
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  • Broken Bird: Saren.
  • Chekhov's Gun: or rather, Chekhov's yak.
  • Damsel in Distress: Saren, who would have 100% died several times over if not for Dashti (a contrast to Hale's typical Plucky Girl heroines).
  • Deal with the Devil: Lord Khasar traded his soul to the desert shamans in exchange for the ability to transform into a giant wolf at night.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Impersonating royalty is a serious crime, which Dashti knows. It's why she doesn't want to pose as Lady Saren. She nearly gets executed when her ruse is discovered, but Saren saves her by officially adopting her and making her royalty.
  • The Determinator: Dashti, who is able to keep both herself and Saren going. Her persistence and loyalty are grudgingly praised even by people who don't actually like her.
  • Diary: the novel is Dashti's in-universe journal of her and Saren's ordeals. Goes from being a framing device to a plot point when it's picked up by the very last person Dashti wants to read it.
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  • Driven to Suicide / I Cannot Self-Terminate: when they've been as Khan Tegus' in disguise for several months, Saren reaches a low point and stops eating. When Dashti confronts her, she says she doesn't want to live anymore and asks Dashti to kill her. Naturally, Dashti vehemently refuses.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: When Dashti and Saren escape the tower, they find that Titor's Garden has been completely razed; the don't meet another living human until they cross into Song For Evella.
  • Fallen Princess: Lady Saren, though the actual title of "princess" doesn't exist in their world.
  • The Famine: What caused Dashti's brothers to abandon the family in her backstory. Also brought up as a concern when Lord Khasar's troops are advancing on Song For Evella, which is already packed with refugees.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Eight Realms are based on medieval Mongolia.
  • Foil: Both Lord Khasar and Khan Tegus clamor for Saren's hand, and Dashti often highlights the despicability of Khasar's various cruel traits by noting that she can't imagine Tegus ever doing the same.
  • Get Ahold Of Yourself Man: defied; though Dashti sometimes thinks about how she would like to slap some sense into Saren, she never does.
  • Girl in the Tower: or two girls, since Dashti refuses to abandon her mistress when Saren's father locks her away for defying the Arranged Marriage he set up for her.
  • Grew a Spine: Saren finally speaks up when Dashti's life is in danger. And she acknowledges how much of a burden she ut on Dashti.
  • Healing Hands: Dashti, though it's really the songs that do the trick—her touch just helps guide the songs in the right direction.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Dashti often insists that she is unattractive, either because of her dark complexion and sturdy build or the birthmarks on her cheek and hand, but none of the other characters' behavior ever gives the reader reason to believe she's ugly or even terribly plain.
  • Just Following Orders: Saren tries to invoke this in Dashti's defense when Dashti is on trial for impersonating her mistress, but her crime is considered so extreme ("a great sin") that the defense doesn't hold up.
  • The Load: Lady Saren, who may range from "pitiful but sympathetic" to "please just smother her" at various points in the story before the final arc.
  • Loophole Abuse: When saying that she ordered Dashti to impersonate her doesn't work in saving Dashti's trial, Saren takes the opportunity to adopt her, saying that Dashti is her sister and the only person who stayed with her when everyone else abandoned her, including her living family. Dashti couldn't have impersonated royalty if she was royalty. This and Tegus pointing out that Dashti prevented a war did the trick.
  • Love Letter: Saren and Tegus exchanged several of these between Saren's first meeting with Khasar and her betrothal (though they never actually met in person and their love is not particularly sincere).
  • Loyal Animal Companion: "My Lord" the unusually empathetic cat, who saves both Dashti and Saren's lives on multiple occasions.
  • Magic Music: the mucker songs.
  • Matchmaker Crush: Dashti is absolutely set on making sure Lady Saren and "her khan" end up together, all the while in denial of the magnitude of her own feelings for Tegus.
  • Meaningful Name: Khasar, from a Mongolian root meaning "terrible dog". In-universe, there's a whole naming language, and Dashti periodically speculates on the significance of various characters' names.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: Lord Khasar's exact age is never given, but he's certainly at least middle-aged, and he begins to pursue Lady Saren when she is only eleven.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: The whole reason Dashti was ever involved in any of this is because she was forced to travel to find work after the death of her mother, whose loss she is still grieving.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Lord Khasar traded his soul to the desert shamans in exchange for the ability to assume the form of a huge wolf at night.
  • Parental Abandonment: Dashti's father died when she was a toddler; her brothers, who took their father's place as providers for the household, abandoned them during a harsh winter; then her mother died.
  • Picky Eater: a subversion; Dashti treats Saren as if she is this, thinking it would be wildly inappropriate to let gentry eat "vulgar" (read: ordinary) food, when Saren actually turns out not to care that much.
  • Playing Cyrano: Saren is too terrified to speak to Khan Tegus when he appears outside the tower, and commands Dashti to impersonate her. They repeat this charade again much later when living in Tegus' house, with the result that Dashti is almost executed for impersonating gentry. Predictably, Tegus has no idea Dashti is not the insipid Lady Saren of her letters and falls head over heels for her. Saren wants it to go as far as a Bride and Switch, but this is the point where Dashti finally hits her limit.
    • Briefly (and touchingly) inverted when Saren accepts Tegus' marriage proposal on Dashti's behalf because Dashti is crying too hard (with joy) to speak.
  • Princess for a Day: Dashti declares herself as Lady Saren and gets less than a week to wear expensive deels and be attended by a lady's maid before giving it up because she can't bear the thought of having to pull a Bride and Switch.
  • Princess Incognito: Lady Saren works in Tegus' kitchens as "Sar", Dashti's "clan-sister", in order to hide her whereabouts from Lord Khasar.
  • Ruling Couple: strongly implied that Khan Tegus and Dashti will be this once married.
  • Sadistic Choice: Lord Khasar presents Khan Tegus with one: watch a hundred innocent hostages be murdered, or give up "Lady Saren". (Or surrender himself, which is the option Tegus is most inclined towards but also the least feasible.) Dashti saves him from having to make the choice by snekaing into Khasar's camp herself in the guise of "Lady Saren".
  • Savage Wolves: it's a wolf attack that kills the guards outside the tower, though it later turns out to have been just one Lord Khasar in his horrible wolf form.
  • Secret Relationship: Lady Saren and Khan Tegus in backstory and the story's first arc though it turns out that they've never actually met and, although they are really betrothed, exchanged love letters more out of desperation (on her part) and glamorous ideals (on his part) than actual attraction..
  • Shameful Strip: Dashti deliberately humiliates herself, including stripping naked, when she confronts Lord Khasar in order to get close enough to him to sing the wolf song.
    • A different version of this trope comes up when Saren recounts the story of when she saw Khasar transform into wolf form—he took off all his clothes in order to embarrass her.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: The next-to-last scene is mostly taken up with Lady Saren and Khan Tegus machinating to make Dashti an acceptable bride for Tegus.
  • Trojan Prisoner / Impersonation Gambit: Dashti surrenders herself in the guise of Lady Saren to Lord Khasar, firstly in order to prevent him from attacking Song For Evella and secondly to get close enough to force him into wolf form in front of his men.
  • The Wise Prince: Khan Tegus (though he starts the story somewhat ignorant of the wider experience of his people; he grows wiser through the last half of the book as a result of his relationship with Dashti).
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