Author: Malinda Lo
Genre: YA (Fantasy/ GLBT)
Publisher: Little, Brown / Hodder Children’s books
Publishing Date: September 1, 2009/ March 2010
Hardcover: 272 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Summary: 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, re-reading 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.
Why did I read the book: I first saw the cover and fell in love with it (the UK version, although I love the US one as well). Then I read that the book was a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. Then the positive reviews started pouring in and I just had to buy it.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Ana and she loved Fairytales and Fairytale retellings. One day, she heard that there was a new tale out there, a retelling of Cinderella with a twist: in which the girl falls for another girl and ditches the prince altogether and Ana knew she had to read it. And what a story that was:
Ash lived in a small town with her mother and father. In Ash’s world most people no longer believed in fairies and magic except for country folk like Ash’s mother who respected the old stories and read fairytales to her daughter. When Ash’s mother dies, it is only natural that they respect her wish to be buried in the Wood and have gold dust scattered in her grave so that the Fairy Hunt would not come for her. Ash is grief-stricken but life moves on. And it certainly moves on for Ash’s father who soon remarries. Ash now has a new family, a stepmother and two stepsisters and her life is completely altered when her father dies and she is left alone with her stepfamily. Ash’s father leaves a great debt and her stepmother decides it is Ash’s duty to pay for it with her own work. She becomes a servant at the beck and call of her stepfamily working from dusk till down from the age of 12 to the age of 18. Her only source of comfort comes from her mother’s Fairytales and from her friendship with the mysterious, seductive Fairy Sidhean who is everything she dreams of: perhaps soon he will take her and she will be part of the Fairy world. One day whilst walking in the woods, Ash meets the King’s Huntress, Kaisa and they become friends, spending time together hunting and talking.
And then there comes the Ball and Ash wanted nothing more than to attend it – Sidhean grants her wish, for a price, which Ash accepts.
She dances with the Prince who is looking for a bride but ends up having a great time with Kaisa who is turning out to be much more than a friend. Our girl Ash now realises that perhaps the Fairy world is nowhere near as fascinating as real life can be but can she break her contract with Sidhean so that she can live happily ever after with Kaisa?
Wow. I love this book. I LOVE this book. It has so many wonderful things about it. Starting with the prose: the book reads like a proper fairytale and it flows beautifully with an almost lyrical quality without ever becoming too much or so poetic as to detract from reality. From the description of the Woods or Ash’s daily life, the story is deeply authentic because it deals with touchy subjects never shying away from Real Life stuff.
For example, for most of the book Ash is a character who suppresses the grief and hope and is all anger and depression and how could she not? She is a victim of abuse. From a very young age she knows nothing of being loved or cared for. It is no surprise to me that she would wish to live a Fairytale, living forever with beautiful, enchanting beings. Her belief in Fairies is also a way to connect Ash to her mother and in ways what keeps her going after her death – perhaps her mother has been taken by the fairies and is not dead at all. Her relationship with Sidhean is one fraught with possibility and danger, her attraction to him and his world something that is all hers in a world she has nothing to call her own. At first, Sidhean seems to be all that she wants , he represents all the mystery of the Unknown. But really the world of Faries is not one suited for humans, and even though Ash reads all the horrible tales, and listens to old, terrible stories, her mind is flying, desiring all that she can’t have. Unsurprisingly her favourite Fairytale is that of the girl who wastes away in the Real World while her spirit is bound to the Fairy world.
Then Ash meets Kaisa and there is an immediate shift inside of her and she starts to pay attention to the world she actually she lives in. Kaisa is rooted in reality, and I love this parallel: she is a hunter, someone connected to the cycle of life in the human world….perhaps what Ash needed to get her out of her self-destruction cycle. In some ways she is reborn and reshaped when she meets Kaisa but not because Kaisa actively does something to help her but because she realises she can help herself. Ash is a quiet character that little by little develops the inner strength to do something about her circumstances. At first and very recklessly she asks for Sidhean’s help and that cannot come without consequences – he effectively acts as the Fairy godfather in this story but one that will collect payment when the time comes. Ash’s freedom from her life does not come without a sacrifice but it is great to see her not as a passive character that needs rescuing from the prince charming but as someone who is instrumental in her own rescuing.
Which brings me to the matter of her falling in love not with the prince, not with the seductive Fairy companion but with another girl. The twist is not about being politically correct and it is never an “issue”. Homosexually in Ash’s world is normal and Ash and Kaisa’s story was natural and beautiful and ever so romantic ( I almost swooned when they first kissed) . I read an article where the author says that Ash was written:
“as a fairy tale, not a coming-out story. That means that Ash only has to fall in love. When her love interest is another woman, it’s just as wonderful as it would be if she fell in love with a man. “
And yes, that is exactly how it felt, exactly how I read it.
Kaisa was actually my favourite character: feminine and strong, a young girl who had an important position within the Reign; a hunter who paradoxically cried whenever she killed the hunt because she knows she has a duty but the duty doesn’t come without a price. She was kick-ass and hot and it was easy to see why Ash falls in love with her. She also respected Ash and one of the scenes I loved the most is one that Kaisa offers to help Ash but understands why she wouldn’t accept it, because Ash needs to take care of her business, alone.
I loved the two of them together and I wished to see more scenes with them. I didn’t care much for Sidhean and I had warning signals going around my head that he was not Good News for Ash from very early in the book. But he was the embodiment of the Fairytale Love, the Dream, the Idealised Love as opposed to Real Life love. This was actually more groundbreaking for me than the lesbian relationship because it is the subversion of fairytales within a fairytale setting and I loved it all the more for it.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Ana and she loved the story of Cinderella until she read Ash and came to the conclusion that the retelling was better than the original because it is an empowering story where the girl saves herself and who needs a Prince Charming when you can have the Kick-ass Hot Huntress anyway?
Seriously, this book is totally worthy of sighing, book –hugging and keeper shelves.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: Ok, Ash and Kaisa’s first kiss? Made of awesome. Also, their mutual declaration of love was completely aw-worthy and sigh-enducing. But nothing beats Ash taking control of her life.
Verdict: Ash is a beautiful retelling of Cinderella, lyrical and very romantic. The best part: the main character saves herself instead of waiting for a knight in shinning armour to rescue her and then wins the heart of the woman she loves. Highly recommended.And one of my favorite reads this year.
Rating: 9 – Damn near perfection
Reading Next: Pastworld by Ian Beck