Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

Published: 2009
Pages: 291
Series: N/A
Read: 4th January 2011
Challenge: A to Z Title Challenge
Status: Owned Book
Reason I Read It: It's a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, and it mixes the fairytale with fey.
Synopsis: With her parents both gone, Ash finds herself a servant in the house of her ruthless stepmother and there seems no hope of finding happiness again.  But Ash is unaware of her mother's legacy, and that it will lead her to a magical place.  A place where love, identity, and belonging are all waiting... (back copy)

First Line: "Aisling's mother died at midsummer."

Review: I first heard about this book here, and I have to admit my initial reaction was "a lesbian retelling of Cinderella?  Awesome, I must read it!".  The Cinderella expectations may have influenced me as I read it, because it doesn't play out as Cinderella - it isn't Princess Charming, for example (God awful as such a phrase sounds in my head) - but borrows elements and plays with them.  I've seen some reviews that dislike that it doesn't follow the pattern of the fairy tale exactly, and I admit that this was something I wasn't especially enamoured by, but this is a retelling: meddling with the format is part of it.  Once I got over that, I enjoyed it.

For prose alone, this book is phenomenal.  The language is so beautiful I was frequently wanting to shake my book in jealous writer fury.  The lyrical dreaminess exactly fits the story, as do all the interludes in which people tell tales (historical and fairy) to flesh out the world and to demonstrate the danger that Ash could fall into. The world feels fully realised, and I'm curious to know how many of the tales are entirely created by Lo, and how many variants of folk tales that we have*.  It all fits together to create an idea that there is a much richer history here, which only makes me very eager to get my hands on Huntress.

Saying all that, there were elements that didn't seem to mesh as well for me.  Again, it might be because of the Cinderella expectations, but there were times when the plot felt a little jarred.  Possibly my biggest issue (potential spoiler) is that there was no real comeuppance for the evil stepmother.  I wasn't expecting her to be made to dance in red hot boots, as in the original tale (thanks for that info, QI), but I would have liked a little vengeance.  I kept expecting it to turn out that she was lying about the debt Ash's father had left her in, and I wanted some sweeping legal retribution or something.  It fits that this doesn't happen - the book is about Ash finding her own identity and power - but I'm vindictive about things like this in fiction.  This is possibly just me, though.

The main love story plays out gently and subtly, though I would say that, even if I hadn't known it going in, I would have realised this was a lesbian story almost as soon as Kaisa appears.  It is perfect for a young, inexperienced 'first' love - I say 'first' like that because it's more about Ash's first experience with it rather than the first of many - with the uncertainty and the lack of realisation on Ash's part as to what she feels.  The ending didn't feel rushed, even if I flagged how it was going to play out before it did.

All in all, I enjoyed Ash but didn't love it.  Beautiful as it was, it didn't grab me in the same way as some books I adore.  Saying all that - which possibly sounds more critical than I intend it, damn lack of tone in the written word - I highly recommend it, and am definitely going to read Huntress.

Rating: 7/10

*Flashback to spending an hour translating a friend's medieval poem/saga/thing of a man going to Fairyland or some such.  There were a lot of descriptions of what the fashion hound fairies were wearing.

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