Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ash by Malinda Lo

Cinderella retold

In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.
(Amazon description)

I really loved Ash for a variety of reasons. I’m always a fan of fairy tale retellings, and this is one of the better ones. It retains many of the hallmarks of the original tale, yet flouts some of the more annoying tropes, particularly the Prince Charming aspect. While there is a Prince character, he is peripheral to the story at best. The true love in the story is Kaisa, the Huntress, and she is so much more satisfying than the powerful Prince would have been in that role. It is exceptionally rare for fairy tales to center around non-heterosexual relationships, so I hope this is a trend that continues in this type of literature. This story’s Prince is present, but distant and far more unreachable, whereas Kaisa is very present in Ash’s life. She teaches Ash many things, but also allows her to make her own choices and plans without attempting to jump in and ‘rescue’ her.

I particularly love the characters. They are interesting, realistic, and full of surprises, even the secondary ones. Ash’s grief and despair as an orphan is compelling, as is her rebellious impetuosity. She grows and changes, learning to cope outwardly with her situation, whatever her inner turmoil may be. Lo also manages to avoid the usual broad-strokes, cookie-cutter evil in the step-mother and step-sisters. Each is an individual, and each has a different relationship with Ash, depending on her personality. I always appreciate well-rounded villains, even if that just makes me hate them more.

But my favorite part was the ending, both because I wanted Ash to be happy, and for the ways she changes and grows in order to achieve that happiness. Ash’s character is darkened by the death of her parents and she starts to walk dangerous paths (sometimes literally). But as she grows up, she begins to try and change her circumstances. She is ultimately her own heroine, and one of the most independent and self-sufficient female protagonists I’ve ever read.

The style is somewhat literary, which isn’t usually my cup of tea, but Malinda Lo makes it work for Ash. Perhaps my biggest complaint about this book was that it was a little slow. This is definitely a book to be savored over the course of days, rather than devoured in a single sitting. Despite this, it retains the feeling of a timeless fairy tale, the sort told in sections at bed-time and returned to night after night. That is exactly how I read it, every evening just before bed, a few chapters at a time. It is, ultimately, a bed-time story.

I highly recommend Ash, particularly for those looking for a story with a compelling queer main character.

About the Reviewer

Lia Wolff is a writer and stay-at-home-mom currently exiled to the backwoods of Florida. She achieved a Master's degree in Classics from Durham University in England, which she finds comes in handy for getting out the tough stains of Motherhood, and also in her Historical Fiction writing. She writes Egyptian Historicals and Steampunk Fantasy, and is currently unpublished, though ever hopeful of finding a good home for her stories, long and short. She has been an avid reader since age 3, and recently discovered the exciting new world of reading while nursing a baby. She will read anything once, but prefers Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Historical Novels and Cozy Murder Mysteries. Lia currently blogs erratically at, Tumbles at, and Tweets @LiaWolff. Stop on by and say 'Hi', the comments are always open to her fellow readers.

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