Ash by Malinda Lo
*Slow Clap* Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. Of course, that means the publisher did change it for the paperback.
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.
No, although there is a companion volume set in the same world. It’s several hundred years later, though, so there is absolutely no need to read them in conjunction.
Yes: it’s a lovely fairy tale retelling that doesn’t deny the darker side of the tales, and adds a twist.
Cinderella and Huntress, sittin’ in a tree…the jacket copy mostly gave it away, but it’s not a huge surprise that Ash develops feelings for Kaisa. The suspense comes from not knowing which potential partner Ash will choose.
This was the best non-Deviant Art picture I could come up with to represent Fae of Uncertain Motivations. Sidhean does profess to love Ash, but there are rules to accepting his love. This kind of fae is always much more interesting than the happy Disney Fairies ™ kind.
Female Leadership Tradition! Lo has created a fantasy world where there is a traditional position of authority that is always held by a female–in addition, this is a role (Huntress) which, in at least European tradition, would unfailingly have been held by a male. Now, I personally think that talent should win a position, regardless of gender, but it is nonetheless interesting to see something different than the norm, as even many fantasy worlds tend to be mostly patriarchal. The picture, BTW, is Frances Perkins, first woman to serve on a U.S. President’s Cabinet.
As I’ve said before, I love a good fairy tale retelling. Ash is interesting for its worldbuilding, for its creation of Ash as a real character (as the most popular versions of Cinderella never were), and, of course for its change to the Cinderella character’s sexuality. The love story (and Ash’s choice) is central, but there is food for thought in many other details of the book. I only discovered Lo as an author a few months ago, and this is clearly her first published work (there is much more polish in Adaptation), but it is still worth reading, especially for fans of rethought fairy tales.