On the surface, Malinda Lo’s debut novel seems like a classic Cinderella tale, and in a way, it is. However, it doesn’t turn out the way you’d expect, and if you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll know that that makes me wildly happy!
Ash is both the name of the novel and of the title character, whose name is Aisling, and Ash for short. This is an obvious play on the Cinderella/Cinders character from the fairytale, and the way Ash progresses from the start is the story we all know from our childhoods.
When Ash’s father remarries and then dies, leaving debts behind, her stepmother demands that Ash becomes the family servant to repay them. Ash longs to run away to join the fairies in the nearby woods – fairies that most people have come to deny the existence of in these modern times.
One in particular bars her passage to Taninli, the fairy realm. His name is Sidhean, and he insists that she isn’t ready… yet. Replacing the fairy godmother you’d expect from a Cinderella story, he grants her favours that come at a price – that one day, she will be his.
Unfortunately, before he spirits her away to Taninli, Ash falls for the King’s Huntress, Kaisa. On her website (http://www.malindalo.com/), Malinda Lo explains, “In the first draft of Ash, the Cinderella character falls for the prince. It wasn’t until my good friend Lesly read it and said, ‘You know, the prince guy is kinda boring,’ that I realized that Cinderella was gay.”
Nice subversion, don’tcha think?
The story is told from an emotional distance a lot of the time – the same way the fairytales I read as a child were. More emphasis is put into the events than how the character feels about them, although Ash is far from devoid of emotion. It’s an interesting approach to take, and one that diminishes the LGBT element of the story a little.
Nothing about Ash is voyeuristic – it’s told on a much more innocent level than most young adult novels, and I’d say it’s aimed toward readers in their early teens rather than their later years. Reference is made toward romantic feelings, but sexual desire is barely mentioned.
The only complaint I’d have about the book is that it only skims the surface of something that could have been a lot deeper. There are references to village greenwitches, and mentions that Ash’s mother knew something about the subject and would have wanted Ash to study it, too. The fairy godmother substitute, Sidhean, is barely in the book, despite his claim to Ash’s future, and he had the potential to be more menacing and possessive, which would have made Ash’s plight that much more interesting.
For the most part, though, I enjoyed the story. It’s definitely worth a read, for its originality and for the authentic fairytale feel. The prequel, Huntress, should also be worth checking out when it’s published in April 2011. Watch this space!
Ash – Malinda Lo
$16.99 – Paperback