A young girl is a servant to a weak-minded and weak-willed Lady and ends up fighting her fights for her and leading her people for her until she is unwittingly revealed as the true servant in the relationship. This story is set in an alternate fantasy land similar to the Mongolian Steppes region of our world. The main character, Dashti, lives a simple life on the plains, learning the songs and ways of her people. She is part of a group of people called the "Muckers" because they are often doing lowly jobs like mucking out the animal stalls or kitchens of more civilized places but they are well known for their magical healing songs. Dashti, being a good-natured girl never feels ashamed to do good hard labor and she has a lively voice. Dashti is not a beautiful girl (she is marked by a huge discolored birthmark on her face) but her free-spirited personality wins everyone over.
Click here to see the rest of this review
When her mother dies, she finds a job working as a servant for the Princess of the kingdom called Titor's Garden - Lady Saren. But it is soon revealed that the reason she got the job so easily is because Lady Saren is about to be locked up in a tower for disobeying her Father, the King who wants her to marry Lord Khasar from the Kingdom of Thoughts of Under. Lady Saren and Dashti are locked up in a Tower until Lady Saren changes her mind. The Tower has no windows, but is well furnished and stocked with food. The only link to the outside world is one tiny metal flap where Dashti is supposed to dump out the waste bucket.
Dashti and Lady Saren live comfortably at first. They are visited by a young Prince called Prince Khan Tegus, from another Kingdom called Song for Evela. It is revealed that before her imprisonment, Lady Saren had been sending letters to Prince Khan and wanted to marry him not because she truly loved him but because she thought he was much nicer than the fearsome Lord Khasar. When Prince Khan shows up at the Tower, Lady Saren refuses to talk to him, feeling too shy and ashamed - she forces Dashti to pretend to be her since the Prince can't see her face anyway. Dashti and Prince Khan immediately connect, both of them sharing laughs. The Prince is impressed by the girl's spirit and sincere forthrightness which he finds hard to reconcile with the personality he imagined from the letters. He promises he will help convince Lady Saren's father to release her and let her marry him.
A few days later the two girls are visited by Lord Khasar. Though he cannot physically reach them inside the walls of the tower, he proves his brutal and relentless personality through his confident threats. He vows he will have Lady Saren whether she likes it or not and that her pathetic father can't protect her in the tower. The girls are relieved when he finally leaves.
Many weeks and months pass without any further human interaction. Lady Saren develops odd mannerisms and ticks, and an unhealthy antisocial-ness, dispirited-ness and general disinterest to move from her pallet for days, all of which both annoy and concern Dashti. Dashti sings her songs of healing to Lady Saren so that the Lady can sleep. She manages to keep her spirits high by singing other familiar songs and playing with a cat which was gifted to the girls from Prince Khan. The food begins to run out and they soon have a rat problem. Dashti and Lady Saren become more and more desperate to get out of the tower, wondering why the King has not returned to free them for so long. One day, Dashti follows a rat out a hole in the tower's wall and with determination, makes the hole wide enough for her and Lady Saren to escape out of the Tower.
The girls find out that Lady Saren's Kingdom, Titor's Garden, has been completely ravaged and destroyed by Lord Khasar. Lady Saren, already catatonic and near insane from her time in the tower, starts behaving like a little child, forcing Dashti to make all the decisions and to care for her. Dashti takes them to Song for Evela where she hopes Prince Khan can help them. When she gets there, however, no one believes she is the servant to a Princess of Titor's Garden because Lady Saren refuses to behave normally and prove her identity. So, Dashti starts work in the kitchen to support Lady Saren and herself. She often sees Prince Khan however he does not recognize her (having never seen her) and she feels she should not intrude into his life until Lady Saren is ready to reveal her identity.
Dashti slowly works her way out of the kitchens and into doing scribe-work. She finally gets to meet Prince Khan one day, when he requests the healing songs of a mucker. Slowly, she and Prince Khan get to know each other. Eventually, Dashti has to tell everyone the truth about who she and Lady Saren are and confront the evil Lord Khasar who reveals he has the power of transforming into a terrorizing wolf. She sacrifices her life to protect Lady Saren and earns the respect and love of Prince Khan and those around her.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like how Dashti and Lady Saren effectively switched roles and identities, showing how roles should not necessarily be assigned based on blood rights but on capability.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when Dashti and Prince Tegus show each other their feet through the metal flap of the tower during the first time they "meet".
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Dashti is unafraid and unashamed of who she is, though she is looked upon society as part of the lowest rung.