Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash by Malina Lo
Young adult: fairy tale, fantasy, LGBTQ+ romance
September 2009; Hodder Children's Books
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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.

Ash is an atmospheric, richly mythologised queer retelling of Cinderella. This isn't about coming out, it's a fairytale. Ash, the Cinderella character, falls in love, as Cinderella does; within the narrative it's never an issue that it's another woman that she falls in love with, not a prince. Ash embeds a lesbian Cinderella, traditionally such a iconic heterosexual heroine, within a world that doesn’t require the justification of homosexuality. The result is a refreshing addition the YA landscape in which coming out doesn’t result in emotional trauma or narrative conflict.

The normalisation of homosexuality within this world makes way for a central conflict focused away from Ash’s lesbianism, but unfortunately Ash fails to deliver the soaring drama that the fairytale genre promises. Ash’s alternate love interest Sidhean was never developed beyond his symbolic function in her character arc. (So, you know, what a gaggle of male authors have done with reductive, symbolic female characters since the beginning of literature.) This underdevelopment of Sidhean meant that central conflicting was lacking: there was never any danger of Ash not having her happily ever after, so the stakes just weren’t there. Having said that, the organic development of Ash and Kaisa’s relationship was quiet, unassuming and quite lovely.

Punctuated throughout with original fables from Ash's own delightful book of stories, the scrumptious imagery and luscious worldbuilding are the unequivocal highlights of this novel, and I would recommend Ash to fairytale fans on the strength of those aspects alone. Pick it up for a fairytale fix as you await for the next instalment of Sara J. Mass' A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

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  1. I had been planning to read this, because it does sound like such an interesting retelling and I love the fact it's LGBT+, but I get the feeling, from your review and what a friend told me, that I wouldn't enjoy it enough to get through. I do tend to me more a fan of fast paced things and I feel as if this might drift more? Although perhaps if I ever see it on the shelf at my library I'll pick it up just to see what I think.
    Lovely, lovely review! And nice to meet you, too! xx

    1. You too! And thank you! There are definitely positive elements to Ash but it was like, I discovered I loved the atmosphere and the worldbuilding within the first chapter or so, but then nothing else really impressed me for the rest of the book? Maybe? I wouldn't say DON'T pick it up; if you're looking for fairytales do try to get yourself a copy - but, yeah, maybe library it first to see what you think. :)