Ash by Malinda Lo - 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. From Goodreads
I have wanted to read Ash for longer than I can remember. I loved the cover, and I love the idea of fairy tale retellings. However, when I discovered it was actually a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, I wanted to read it all the more. How different it would be! When I came up with the idea for LGBTQ YA Month, I knew it was finally time to give it a go. Unfortunately, I wasn't that impressed.
Ash is a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters, and is badly treated. She lives in a land where some people still believe in magic and fairies, and she wishes a fairy would bring her mother back or take her away - even if it means she can never return. When she meets beautiful fairy Sidhean in the woods, Ash believes she will get her wish, but he keeps telling her she's not yet ready. Sidhean becomes her only friend, Ash finding him in the woods whenever she can manage to get away. But one day, instead of Sidhean, it's Kaisa, the King's Huntress, that she bumps into. The two strike up a tender friendship, and Ash soon discovers she has feelings for Kaisa. Ash starts to realise life might actually be worth staying for after all, but Sidhean has claimed her for his own.
There are some aspects of the story that are the same or similar to that of the fairy tale we all know. The main differences are the LGBTQ aspect, and the involvement of Sidhean and fairies in general. As a fairy tale retelling, Ash feels much like a high fantasy, but the fairies feel a lot like the fae you would read about in folklore, or in some YA urban fantasies and paranormal romances, just a little subtler. We still have the girl who is a slave to her stepmother and stepsisters, we have a prince and we have a ball where he is to find a wife. We have magical clothes, a carriage and footmen, but instead of a Fairy Godmother, we have Sidhean, and the wishes he grants come with a price. (I would like to point out that although shoes come with the clothes, they are neither made from carpet as in the original story, or glass from the more modern version - despite the shoes Ash is holding on the cover appearing to be made of glass).
Ash is a sweet story, and a very good retelling, but it's kind of slow paced, and even at it's highest and lowest points, the tension seems to stay on one level really, or it felt that way to me. There just wasn't really much to get excited about, unfortunately, simply because the tension didn't always match the events taking place. And the ending really annoyed me. It just felt much too easy to me. I finished reading it thinking, "Really? That's it? That's how it ends?" I was really disappointed, and felt kind of let down.
The romance is sweet, but very slow to build. Most of the time, Ash has feelings she doesn't really understand, and doesn't know what to do with. The fact that she's a lesbian isn't made too much of a big deal out of in regards to what other people might think. There is some hint that it may be a bit controversial, but the story doesn't focus on it, it focuses on Ash and Kaisa. The actual realisation of Ash and Kaisa's feelings for each other doesn't come about until we're nearing the end, so it's more of a self-discovery and discovering the emotion of love than about an actual romantic relationship.
I love the idea behind Ash, and I think LGBTQ retellings of fairy tales could really work. Sadly, this particular story didn't work for me personally. Be sure to read some other reviews of Ash before deciding whether to read it or not; don't decide not to based on my review alone.
Published: 4th March 2010
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
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