At the beginning of the year, you may recall my determination to read a wider variety of authors and protagonists in an effort to diversify my bookshelves and broaden my horizons. To that end, I picked up Ash by Malinda Lo, which is a lesbian retelling of the Cinderella story.
After the death of her father, Aisling (known as Ash) is put to work by her cruel stepmother in an effort to pay off her father’s debts. Trapped in an unfamiliar house in an unfamiliar city, Ash clings to the hope that one day she’ll be taken by the fairies on the slim chance she’ll get to see her mother again.
When she meets the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, Ash’s desires change, but it may already be too late. Because she’s made a bargain with a fairy prince, and he’s not so eager to let her go.
What I loved most about Ash was the writing. As I mentioned before, it had a very dreamlike, lyrical quality that fit perfectly with a fairy tale retelling. It drew me in immediately and kept a hold on me throughout the entire story.
Normally putting the history of a country in your second chapter is a guaranteed way to turn me off (see: Sword of Shannara), but Lo makes it work beautifully. I think it helps that she focuses on the changing role of magic in the world and how it ultimately ties into Ash’s life, rather than a complete history. It’s all important information and it all comes into play later in the story, with how different characters react to magic and fairy tales, and it adds an extra dimension to the world.
The entire story is third person limited, from Ash’s point of view, so we’re living inside Ash’s head and seeing everything through her eyes. We feel her pain and anger at everything that befalls her after the death of her father, her desperation to see her mother again.
It’s easy to see why she ignores the cautionary tales about the fairies: because she has nothing to tether her here. It’s not until she meets Kaisa that Ash starts to want something else.
I loved the slow build between Ash and Kaisa, and their relationship was very gentle in its progression. I wish they’d met sooner, or managed to have some more time together, because I loved their interactions and I desperately wanted more.
Rather than a fairy godmother, Ash has a fairy prince, Sidhean, who is not the bippity-boppity-bo type. He’ll help Ash, all right, but not for free, and her bargains with him are what drive a large part of the novel’s conflict.
Where Ash struggles is that there seems to be a lot of summary and narration and internal thoughts, and not as much dialogue, conflict, and actual character interaction. Because I liked the writing so much, this wasn’t something I noticed until I was well more than halfway through. However, I do wish it had been better balanced.
The ending was another weakness. It came across as abrupt, like the main problem was solved too easily, and I would have liked more of a denouement after the climax. It would have been nice to get a better sense of where the relationship was going and how they intended to make it work.
Overall, I really enjoyed Ash, and I look forward to reading some of Malinda Lo’s other work.