Author(s): Malinda Lo
Genre: YA Fairy Tale Retelling
Page Count: 264
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
The Summary:Cinderella retold
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.
The Review: Hmm, after having finished reading the novel, my feelings were mixed and I mostly felt torn. One side of me was all super gushy and melting over the Kaisa/Ash pairing, and my other half was left ambivalent about the rest. Thinking back, I think it’s due to my lack of love for the Cinderella tale in general, and the whole pseudo-white medieval setting Lo had going on. I’m not sure how much I was affected by the fact that I read this post by Malinda Lo wherein she said that she imagined her cast as Asian before having read the novel. I tried, and I tried to buy it, that the cast were Asian but I just couldn’t. I wrestled with this in myself and wondered why can’t I imagine this fairy tale world with people who look like me. It’s most definitely not because one of the girl has green eyes and the other girl is a brunette because I know Asians who have such features and they are most certainly not mixed. And I think, after reading Zetta Elliott’s review of Ash, a large part of it had to do with the way beauty is described in this novel. It felt to me like a very white standard of who is considered beautiful, from the “jeweled” glittering, awesomely coloured eyes to the “golden” silken hair to the “ethereal” paleness of the skin, all used as examples of beauty. This, plus the European-inspired pseudo-medieval setting made me equate the general populous of this novel as white. I’m so resigned and used to medieval fantasy excluding all non-white persons from their stories, and this novel failed to show a “medieval” fantasy that can include non-white characters.
[...Though, as an aside, if I streeeeeeeeeetch my imagination, I can kind of picture Kaisa as Asian, due to her name and the bit about her being from the “South” which I may be reading too much into it. (Even I feel like I’m grasping at straws over this.) Though, any of these tiny little hopes were largely crushed by the eyes thing; her Very Awesome Green Eyes of Awesome is off-putting. (Not that I don’t think green eyes are nice, but it’s such a white beauty standard thing, to emphasize Awesomely Coloured Eyes.) I could picture a short haired!Kuroki Meisa as an Asian Badass Huntress Kaisa. (Kuroki Meisa is SO BUTCH. *bricked*)]
Apart from all that, another thing I felt torn about is the writing. This shocked me, because I’ve seen rave reviews on the writing in Ash so I didn’t think it’d be a problem for me… But it was! Yes, I see that she has a lovely way of describing nature and the world around her, and her phrases would on occasion take me by surprise by the sheer beauty of her words, but it bogs down a little for me because she keeps dragging out her sentences with ‘and’s. (I’m almost positive I’ve seen her use the word “and” over six times in a sentence and that should just not be allowed.) Seriously, I bet I could find a sentence that lasts like, five lines long. It’s nowhere near as awful as Hemingway gets with his carry-on sentences, but it does put me off a little. I’m a fan of the short, concise sentences in the fictional writing school and Lo is anything but. So the whole time I was reading, I would spend half the time wrestling with her neverending sentences and the other have gasping at her beautiful descriptions (the ones of the Wood are my favourite.) This was especially so with the first half of the novel (by the second half I was invested in the story to the point where I just stopped caring
Going back to my reservations on the Cinderella story itself: When I read retellings of stories that I’m not particularly fond of, the more they turn away and/or subvert the original source, the more I like it. Unfortunately for me, the first half of the novel was pretty much sticking to the original source like glue, with slight deviances over the Sidhaen thing. I must have started Ash like, 5 times over before I finally got past the first part of the novel and barreled through to the end. (I think the only way I got through the first half was my weaknesses for the insert fairy tales sprinkled in. I suspect I may have liked some of the fairy tales told more than the storyline of the novel itself, but that’s another thing altogether.) I wish I liked the first half more, because I like the conception of Sidhaen as a character, but he was a bit too distant for me to get a good feel of him and I stopped liking Sidhaen as a character by his own right the second they mentioned the whole Sidhaen knowing her mother and waiting for the right time to “claim” Ash thing. At that point I was like, way too sketch and pedo for me there, have to run away from that ship while the good gets going.
But once I hit the second half, I finally started enjoying this novel. (YAY the positives in this review are finally here, lol.) Because, Kaisa and Ash? Too dork-ily adorable. (They bond over telling each other fairy tales and go horseback riding! *gushes*) In fact, by the end of the novel I was like, “come on, that was it?! I need more Kaisa and Ash date scenes!” I liked them not so much because there was a lot of passion behind their budding romance (in fact, it’s the exact opposite), but because of the interesting juxtaposition with the relationship between Ash and Sidhaen, and just, the sweet fairy tale romance of a woman falling in love with a woman and it didn’t matter one whit to anyone. (Huh, so I guess that kind of means I like the idea of Kaisa/Ash more than I like the couple themselves? *sadface* I would totally have liked this couple by their own right if they had more SCENES THOUGH, I’m sure.)
Another thing I loved about the second half was that the subversions in Cinderella finally shone through! I loved the role of Sidhaen as the revamped fairy godmother. So many interesting things about that aspect that I really, really don’t want to spoil, so I’ll just say that fairy godmother as now the dark, sexy and very creepy fairy prince letting Cinderella go to the ball in exchange for having her as a “bride”? Is awesome. Also, the way Ash just did not care about the Prince at the ball and spent all that time looking for Kaisa instead made me grin. (This is starting to feel spoilery… I can’t help it! All the things I like that I want to talk about are in the second half!)
Okay, so since I can’t talk about the ending without spoiling, I will have spoiler here MAJOR SPOILERS FOR ENDING DON'T READ IF YOU HAVEN'T READ BOOK YET: [I liked the concept of Ash saving herself when she confronts Sidhaen, but it was a bit of a letdown because we didn’t actually see it happen. In fact, there was just not enough of the fairy world in general. But then, you know, we got hot huntress makeout scene at the end so I was alleviated from this minor disappointment.]
Some other tiny quibbles: How women of high born status who weren’t Ash were EVIL EVIL EVIL (unless they’re motherly and dead) and only those who like Ash are Good. I was really frustrated with Lady Isobel because she was just this awful 2D villain. Honestly, by the end of it, Isobel’s villany was pushing on comical. Also, you’d think that with the Cinderella premise you could push at the whole class thing a little more but that was mostly unexplored here.
By the end of the novel, I was left feeling gushy Kaisa/Ash shippy but also wanting more out of the story as well. It’s like, I felt that the novel had a lot of potential to go further than it did, but it didn’t take that extra step. And I wanted more on the Huntresses! Not just tidbits here and there from fairy tales! Oh well, I guess this means I’ll be scavenging for a copy of Huntress. Malinda Lo said something in her blog (if I'm remembering this correctly) about making the characters in her next novel more distinctly Asian, and I’m being cautiously optimistic about this. Very, very cautious. With sprinkled bouts of pessimism here and there.
The Verdict: Mixed feelings, and I'm still not a fan of the first half. But things got going during the second half and to be honest, when I got to the last page and watched Kaisa and Ash end up together, I was grinning like a fool. Good endings that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside can get me to forgive almost everything about the novel. Also! The random fairy tales told! I liked that a lot~
Title and Cover Discussion: Ash is one of those covers and titles wherein I look at it and actually have nothing to critique because it fits the novel beautifully AND it's incredibly gorgeous. ♥ Seriously beautiful, the kind of cover that just draws you in. Also, not entirely related, but I loved the decorated first letters of every chapter. The whole look of this book added to the fairy tale feel. *grins*
[WILL INSERT MR. LINKY LATER]
Discussion Question For Readers: lol because I'm curious, for those who've read the novel, which was your favourite fairy tale insert? There's a lot that I liked, but I have a special fondness for that Niamh one, the huntress fairy tale Kaisa told Ash.