The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (2007)
I thought from the title that this might be a retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights, but it’s actually a retelling of a lesser known Grimm’s fairy tale: Maid Maleen.
In the Grimm’s recorded tale, Maid Maleen is a princess. She is in love with a prince, but is forbidden to marry him, and declares to her father she will marry no one else. Her father punishes her by locking her and her servants in a tower for seven years. Eventually they escape, but only to find their kingdom has been utterly destroyed.
They travel to the kingdom of Maleen’s prince - who is now about to be married to another princess - and there they find work in the palace kitchens.
I won’t give any more plot spoilers, but the fairy tale has some recurring fairy tale motifs - the girl locked in a tower (Rapunzel), the princess/noblewoman forced to work in the kitchens (King Thrushbeard, Catskin).
Shannon Hale tells her version from the point of view of the princess’s maid, Dashti. In Shannon’s novel, Dashti is the real heroine who enjoys her own rags to riches story.
I enjoyed the exotic setting of this book; it has a flavour of medieval Mongolia. It’s told in the form of a diary written by Dashti - first-person narration is a compelling way to draw a reader into a character, and Dashti is a particularly wonderful character - how can the handsome prince not fall in love with her? She is both humble underdog and brave heroine. She is earthy and very funny; her diary entries had me laughing out loud at times.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable story, and as much as I can never get enough of the best loved fairy tales, it is really nice to come across a retelling of a lesser-known one.