Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (Sep 1 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316040096
ISBN-13: 978-0316040099

From the Publisher:

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.
(To continue reading the synopsis, click here

From what I'd heard around the blogging world, this book is considered LGBT-friendly. I'll admit, I had to research the term (I know, right? It seems so obvious now...) So, once I gleaned meaning, I was curious how this new-to-me theme would play out.

As Ash began, I could already sense a darkness to it. Aisling's mother has just died and her world has been torn apart. With her father often away, Ash lies on her mother's grave at night, hoping the faeries will come so she can bargain with them to bring her mother back to life. While this does not happen, things begin to change drastically for Ash.

Much like Cinderella, Ash's father remarries a Lady with 2 daughters, then he also dies. The circumstances surrounding this, though, are emotional and draining for poor Ash, in this retelling of the classic story. Full of the medical treatments of (and I'm only guessing here) the 1600-1700's, including bloodletting, it's frustrating for the reader to relive such a gross amount of stupidity in our history.

As Ash's stepmother relocates them closer to town, away from the faery-fearing folk of her childhood, Ash becomes the indentured servant, working to pay off her father's debts. Unlike the original, Ash becomes enamored with the King's Huntress, Kaisa, though her life is unknowingly intertwined with a faery's also. This strange love triangle is the true focus of the story, but having no Prince to rescue her from servitude, it is left till the bitter end of this story to see how/if Ash will somehow manage her happy ever after.

Okay, call me a traditionalist, but I was rooting for Sidhean, the poor faery that's painfully in love with Ash even though his past acts were fairly distasteful (faeries are notoriously fickle and sometimes cruel.) But that was not Ash's wish, so I had to defer to the character and the author here. In truth, this aspect of the story was not as uncomfortable as I thought it might be. I think this "LGBT" version was handled tastefully and with respect, making it enjoyable for all readers.

The Fairy Tales that Malinda Lo weaves in through the story are also excellent, while not being the "happily ever after" type that we are accustomed to. Lo's tales all seem to share the "be careful what you wish for" moral and are, again, quite dark, blending well with the rest of the story.

I very much enjoyed reading Ash despite any reservations I may have had initially. It was beautifully written and haunting. It's a different kind of "classic story" with a theme relevant in society today.


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