Hale (River Secrets) delivers another winning fantasy, this time inventively fleshing out the obscure Grimm tale, Maid Maleen, through the expressive and earthy voice of Dashti, maid to Lady Saren. A plucky and resourceful orphan, Dashti comes from a nomad tribe in a place resembling the Asian Steppes, and is brought to the Lady's house in the midst of a crisis. Lady Saren, having refused to marry the powerful but loathsome Lord her father has chosen, faces seven years' imprisonment in an unlit tower. Initially, Dashti believes her worth is tied to her ability to care for her "tower-addled" lady until she can join Khan Tegus, to whom she is secretly betrothed. When the gentle Tegus comes to the tower, Dashti must step in for her traumatized lady, speaking to him as Saren through the one tiny metal door. Hale exploits the diary form to convey Dashti's perspective; despite her self-effacing declaration that "?I draw this from memory so it won't be right," the entries reflect her genuinely spirited inner life. The tension between her unstinting loyalty and patience and burgeoning realization of her own strength and feelings for Tegus feels especially authentic. Readers will be riveted as Dashti and Saren escape and flee to the Khan's realm where, through a series of deceptions, contrivances and a riotously triumphant climax, the tale spins out to a thoroughly satisfying ending. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Jenny Ingram
Dashti, a fifteen-year-old peasant girl from the Central Asian steppes, documents her time in service to Lady Saren through journal entries. When Saren, sixteen, refuses her father's choice of bridegroom, her father locks both girls in an isolated tower with provisions for seven years. Dashti's earlier life in the steppes has prepared her to live with hardships, and she is able to care for Saren until the food runs out. After nearly three years in the tower, Dashti finds a way out, and the two girls discover that the kingdom is in ruins and that they have been forgotten. They journey to the next kingdom, and disguised, find work in the household of Saren's beloved, where Dashti's resourcefulness and talents blossom into initiative and leadership. The story is based loosely on Maid Maleen from the Brothers Grimm. As with her other books, Hale creates a female character who succeeds because of her intelligence, integrity and hard work, and who is eventually rewarded for it. Dashti, relying on her upbringing on the steppes, appears educated and independent, in contrast to Saren's helplessness as a member of the nobility. It is a refreshing change from the typical princess story, and a nod to democracy. Smith's illustrations enhance the story, which is well-written and fast-paced, and which will captivate readers.
VOYA - Kristen Moreland
Readers will be swept away into the brilliant world of this fast-paced fairy tale. Hale's colorful language and descriptive storytelling bring the story of friendship, love, and discovery to life. As in many fairy tales, the ending and many events are predictable, but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless. Fans of Ella Enchanted (HarperCollins, 1997/VOYA August 1997) and Hale's previous works will welcome this book with enthusiasm.
Princess Saren is in love with Khan Tegus but betrothed to the dark Lord Khasar. Saren fears him, for good reason, and rejects the match. As punishment for her rebelliousness, her father locks her in a windowless tower for seven years. As the novel opens, Princess Saren is alone, except for the companionship of her mucker maid, Dashti. In this recasting of Grimm's classic fairy tale, Newberry Award winning author Shannon Hale once again delights modern audiences with a feisty, female protagonist, who not only must come into her own but also protect the fearful, insecure Princess from herself as well as from others who would do her harm. Young adult girls, who are also on their own journeys of self-discovery, will be enchanted by this tale about female friendships, healing, and coming of age amidst the real-world tensions of betrayal, abandonment, deception, and loss. Discussion of literary elements, such as the narrative structure of fairy tales or the traditional use of character types, will make this book a productive companion to a study of classic tales in the ELA classroom. Reviewer: Phyllis Thompson
School Library Journal
When Dashti the muckermaid from the steppes region throws in her lot with Lady Saren, little does she expect her loyalty to be tested by being bricked up in a tower with the Lady for seven years as punishment for Saren's refusal to marry the evil Lord Khasar, rather than her own preference, the handsome and gentle Khan Tagis. A series of first-person journal entries chronicle the differences between Dashti's resourceful, optimistic, and pragmatic personality and that of Lady Saren-a 16-year-old girl/woman who is prone to depression, fearful of the world, and unable to function independently. The full cast production of the fantasy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2007) captures the lyricism of the author's language, although the voice of Dashti seems extremely young and naïve. The inclusion of many snippets of "healing songs" detracts from, rather than adds to, the story. Fans of Hale's previous books will enjoy this latest offering. Despite the somewhat predictable plot, the story is one of inspiration and hope.-Cindy Lombardo, Cleveland Public Library, IL
A rousing, even spellbinding tale-with outlines in the Grimms' Maid Maleen-is set in medieval Mongolia and told in journal form. Dashti is maid and scribe to Lady Saren, whose father has bricked both of them in a tower for Saren's crime of refusing to be married to vicious lord Khasar. Dashti knows healing songs from the steppes, and she needs them, as Saren is what we would now call schizophrenic. The girls' captivity is eased at first by visits of the Khan Tegus, but the Khasar visits, too, and threatens to burn the tower with them inside. The rats that have eaten their food supply also tunnel a way out, so they escape-and find Saren's father's city destroyed. They make their way to Khan Tegus, where both girls serve hidden in his kitchen. Dashti's healing songs are needed in a war between Khasar and Tegus, and who she is, and who they are, come forth in a strongly presented climax. Dashti's voice is bright and true; Hale captures her sturdy personality, Saren's mental fragility and Khan Tegus's romantic warrior as vibrantly as she limns the stark terror of the Mongolian cold and the ugly spirit from which Khasar draws his strength. (Fantasy. 12-15)
Children's Literature - Michael Jung PhD
Shannon Hale's celebrated novel comes to glorious life in this audio book, which holds its readers in a spell of words, music and evocative voices. When Dashti, a simple Mucker maid, becomes servant to the beautiful but troubled Lady Saren, she learns Saren is to spend the next seven years locked in a tower for refusing to marry the cruel and mysterious Lord Kahsar. Unwilling to let her lady suffer alone, Dashti joins Saren in the tower's dark confines, keeping a journal that records the daily solitude of their existence. At first, her entries are positive. They have plenty of preserved food and even receive unexpected visits from Khan Tegus, a kind lord whom Dashti becomes attracted to when Saren, afraid of any gentry, orders Dashti to pretend to be her. Soon, things take a turn for the worse. Rats begin eating their food reserves. Khan Tegus stops visiting. And Saren's mind slowly degenerates from the solitude and trauma. Desperate to save her lady's life and sanity, Dashti unexpectedly discovers a way out of the toweronly to learn that the world has changed in terrible ways since their imprisonment. Will the girls be able to survive in a world now held in the grip of warring families and powerful enemies? A masterful fantasy in its original narrative form, this gripping story is enhanced in the audio book version thanks, in part, to a competent voice cast that portrays all the characters of the book and, primarily, due to an excellent performance by Chelsea Mixon as Dashti. Mixon's voice is ideally suited to the Mucker maid as she conveys not only Dashti's inherent selflessness, but also her sense of ironic humor and even anger as she questions the justice of the split between servants and gentry. As an added bonus, readers will actually get to hear Dashti sing the healing songs she uses to try and soothe her lady's troubled psyche and mend Khan Tegus' physical ills. This is a great example of how a good novel can be enhanced by an excellent audio cast. Reviewer: Michael Jung, PhD