2011 Book Reviews #1: Ash by Malinda Lo
Ash is the story of Aisling (Ash), a girl who is raised on fairy tales and eventually finds herself in one. After her mother dies, Ash’s father remarries a cold woman with two spoiled daughters – and then dies himself. Uprooted from her family home and forced into servitude over her father’s debts, all Ash has to keep her connection to her old life is her mother’s books of fairy tales. It’s a rewrite of the Cinderella story, with a twist: instead of falling in love with the handsome prince, Ash finds herself in love with the king’s beautiful huntress, Kaisa, and instead of a fairy godmother, she has a fairy named Sidhean who wants her for his own.
Ash’s story is different from other Cinderella stories I’ve read and watched because it deals so heavily with grief. At its heart, this story isn’t about the romance – it’s about a girl learning to survive a great loss. Dispossessed, robbed of both her parents, and reminded daily that she’s worth next to nothing by her stepmother, Ash turns to her mother’s fairy tale books for solace. She daydreams about being trapped in the fairy world so she won’t have to face real life, and when Sidhean becomes a regular fixture in her life, she aims to follow him.
A romance with Kaisa is harder for Ash to believe in than the fairy tales, because for her the real world has only ever caused pain. Taking the leap of faith that love requires, for Ash, will be a step in the healing process.
Combine this fresh take on one of my favorite fairy tales with some genuinely creepy fairy imagery (the Fairy Hunt! Gah!), a storytelling style littered with pockets of other fairytales, and the fact that for once, the queer heroine’s sexual orientation is treated as a normal thing instead of a Big Issue, and I was hooked.
Writing lesson learned: The narrative voice in YA doesn’t need to come from the characters. So much of YA lit is teen characters telling their own stories, either in first-person or third with a character-driven narrative voice, that Ash struck me as odd. It’s told from a distance, with rich language, and feels very much like reading a classic book of fairy tales. In the end, that storyteller voice was one of the things I loved most about the book.
You might like this book if you enjoy… Fairy tales and stories that play with fairy tale tropes. YA novels that don’t talk down to their audiences. Beautiful prose, haunting fantasy elements, and romantic GLBT stories that use sexual orientation as a character trait rather than an obstacle.
Would I recommend this to friends? Absofreakinglutely. I already have.