Friday, 10 June 2011


Another case of me picking it up for the gorgeous cover and of the added bonus of it being a fairy-tale retelling of Cinderella. Specifically Malina Lo's "Ash" is a "lesbian-retelling" of Cinderella. But the story kind of fell flat for me - not brilliant - but good. 

Here is the summary of the book:

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.

Described as "Cinderella…with a twist," Ash is in many ways the familiar fairy tale about a girl's move from comfort to despair to true love (with a little help from fairies and magic). Standard Cinderella images set up the story: after losing her mother and later her father, Ash is treated as a servant in the home of an unkind stepmother and two unfriendly stepsisters. She has ties to the fairy world, attends the royal ball in an enchanted dress, catches the eye of the prince, and finds love by the end of the story. 

However, while structural similarities exist, ideologically Lo's beautiful and dark tale takes the story to a new place. It is not about Ash being found and saved by a charming prince; instead, it is about her courtship with Kaisa, the King's huntress, a relationship that burgeons over time and is based on more than just initial attraction. Despite Ash's grief, oppressive guardianship, and dangerous flirtation with the fairy Sidhean, who promises to steal her away from her sadness, the protagonist finds her own salvation and chooses to live and love in the real world and on her own terms.

I must say that has a whole the story dragged and went off into so many other fairy tales within the actual fairy tale to explain the actions and beliefs of the characters in the story being told. I found myself getting lost several times in the stories that Ash's or Kaisa would relate to one another of tales they had been told as children to teach them certain life lessons.... 

I found the original hook for the story to be a weak choice - 'it's like Cinderella, but for gay teens.' Even the blurb on the back of the book aggrandizes the character - it intimates that Ash learns how to 'hunt and track', but all she actually does is ride occasionally with the huntress; there is no real change in her character's actions. 

Lo has created an interesting premise in this reworking of Cinderella's story. There is absolutely no question of that. The problem is that there was too much going on. Was it a faerie story or was it a story about a girl awakening to the fact that she could be in love with another woman? The broad overview of both stories left me feeling as though Ash was disconnected from both potential romances; there wasn't any passion in either. Given that, I didn't feel the conflict Ash was supposed to be experiencing as she worked to decide which life and which partner to choose. The latter made me wish we'd had a story without that conflict at all; that it was either Ash in the faerie tale or Ash awakening to her lesbianism all the way through. I understood completely the reason for having both in the story but for me that conflict muddled the eventual love story. Particularly since we also dealt with the overpowering step-mother, the annoying plotting step sister, and bits and pieces of the prince choosing his bride from all eligible ladies of the land. As I said, lots going on. 

Clearly the author invested a lot of time and heart into placing the characters in the world of the story, but at the same time it feels like a gloss on a fairytale instead of a truly original work. I would have been far more compelled by a story where the protagonist was genuinely torn between love and societal mores, even if the societal mores involved the faery world. The slightly underdeveloped world - fantasy needs wholehearted involvement - and the reserve the author showed in really giving the reader richly drawn characters made me feel a little cheated. I wanted to know far more about the lineage of huntresses than I was given. I don't even really know what Ash looks like. And the villains in the story are virtually two-dimensional.

However, despite beautiful writing and new twists, this novel didn't create the impact I expected. I didn't feel Ash's connection strongly with either Sidhean or Kaisa, and her choice seemed obvious long before the end. In addition, while Lo's writing style provided a slow, realistic build, the novel felt sluggish due to the plot's predictability as a re-telling of a classic tale. Finally, the power of the main character potentially picking a female partner was not realized as strongly as it could have been. The book doesn't need to be a political or social treatise by any means, but this was an essential plot point and it felt underdeveloped in its significance.

Genre :      Fiction, Young Adult, Fairy tale re-telling

Publisher: Hodder Children's Books

Rate:              2/5 (It was ok)


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