Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Ash - Malinda Lo
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2009 (Hardcover)
Length: 264 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Started: June 9, 2010
Finished: June 9, 2010
From the inside cover:
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, re-reading 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.
It took me forever to get a hold of this book from the library, and I probably should have just bought a copy in the first place since it's so good I'll be buying my own copy anyway. This book has received so many accolades and awards, and once you read it you'll see why. To be blunt, Ash is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, I'll get that out right now. Some people will be immediately put-off by that, and that's okay, but for those of you that don't scare easily, you'll be in for an amazing book. Ash is about more than just a lesbian love story. It follows some parts of the Cinderella story fairly well: Aisling (pronounced ASH-ling) loses both her parents when she is 12, first her mother and then her father shortly after he remarries. Her stepmother is cruel and makes her work as a servant, she has a fairy godparent (of sorts, with a twist), and a love interest, though it isn't Prince Charming. Ash finds herself in love with the King's Huntress, Kaisa (pronounced Ky-sa). The romance is handled beautifully, it's very sweet, not overtly sexual at all, just very sweet but not in a saccharine way.
I love how the author handled the fairy aspect in this book. Ash's mother was a believer of the old magic and superstitions, so she believed in fairies. This was transferred to Ash, especially after her mother dies. She encounters Sidhean (pronounced "Sheen") while sleeping by her mother's grave. All the fairy lore suggests she'll be captured and consumed, but Sidhean just takes her home. Eventually we find out he is in love with her and grants her wishes to spend time with Kaisa in return that she give herself to him. This brings an added element to the story since Ash doesn't really meet up with Kasia until the second part of the book, so from the time she is 13 until she meets Kasia around age 18, Sidhean is the main relationship in her life (though not a romantic one). It's obvious to readers that Sidhean likes Ash and she at least feels something towards him, so you're never really sure if she'll end up going with Sidhean or with Kasia. Not to make it out to be a heterosexual vs. homosexual thing, it's just not obvious right off the bat, I saw it as she can choose either way, the fact that one love interest was male and one female never really mattered in my mind. Homosexuality seems to even be permissible in Ash's world, at least lesbianism. It's commonly accepted that the Huntress will take female lovers, there's even a tale Kaisa tells revolving around that. I don't know if it's just a special thing for the Huntress or members of the Royal Hunt, or if it's acceptable for everyone in Ash's world, but it seemed like nothing out of the ordinary.
The book is written beautifully, the prose reminiscent of older style fairy tales. The characters are very likable: Ash is comfortably headstrong and just a little bit vulnerable and naive. Sidhean is a good old-fashioned portrayal of a fairy, very cold and calculating except when it comes to Ash. Kaisa is a strong female figure, being the Huntress and all. The world building is established quickly and sufficiently, you really get a sense of the contrast between the belief in the old fairy legends versus the teachings of the philosophers.
Again, if you're not put-off by the lesbian aspect, you'll love this book. It has wonderfully well-developed characters, it's exquisitely written, and the author even stuck with the fireplace imagery for her heroine's name (Cinderella/Cinders -- >Aisling/Ashes). If you're open-mined, you'll enjoy this story no matter what your romantic preferences.
Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. Ash is curled up on the ground sleeping just like she is described so often in the book. I like how the cover is in black and white with title being the only hint of colour.