Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash is a gay retelling of the Cinderella tale that challenges the assumptions underlying many fairy tales—namely, that all girls merely yearn for their princes to come rescue them from their lives.  While the protagonist Ash does wish she can escape the clutches of her cruel stepmother, as the story progresses, she discovers that her dreams may lie with the King’s Huntress rather than any prince or even her handsome fairy godfather.   Will Ash be able to realize her dreams?

Melding of the worlds
While undoubtedly cruel stepmothers and cruel stepsisters exist, their cruelness in the typical Cinderella tales usually reach caricatural heights.  Malinda Lo, however, paints Ash’s circumstances in believable and grounded strokes.  We discover how a girl beloved by her parents can end up an orphan controlled by a matriarch who strives for understandable goals with less-than-noble means.

As grounded and as realistically difficult as Ash’s home life is, Lo also manages to describe the wonders and eeriness of the fairy world to great effect.  The setup is such that it’s easy to understand how the human world came to coexist with the fairy world, and how humans—but not Ash—can be ignorant of the fairy world.

An organic romance
Based on the book description and promotional literature, it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Ash falls for another woman, Kaisa, the King’s Huntress.  Despite this foreknowledge, the romance still manages to develop naturally and organically.  In fact, it may not even be clear that a romance is brewing, in part because Ash had never fallen in love before and may not be completely cognizant of identifying or recognizing her feelings.  But Ash still knows her heart well enough to follow it, and when she realizes her love for Kaisa, the realization is so powerful and beautiful that I consider Ash one of the better books to describe the act of falling in love.  A lot of young adult novels rely on the mere existence of an amazingly gorgeous male love interest and neglect justifying the female protagonist’s romantic feelings.  Ash takes no such shortcuts.

In forgoing these shortcuts, Ash remains fair to the potential male love interests.  Ash may not necessarily feel the need to marry a prince or even a rich noble man, but she is also presented with an amazingly gorgeous male love interest who seems intent on catering to her wishes (as well as his own, of course).  She doesn’t spurn his attentions, and she is justifiably drawn to his world.  That all this temptation does not immediately win over her heart completely is a testament to the power of true love and the beauty of Ash.

Why should you read this book?
Ash pushes the boundaries of reader expectations.  This push is administered not as a forceful cramming-down-the-throat of anti-clichés, but rather as the push of a river down an unexpected, but natural, path.  The only potential shortcoming of Ash is the ending, which came a little abruptly.  But the sweetness of Ash is guaranteed to linger.

About Benni Amato

Benni was born in a theater playing Star Wars, and has loved science fiction and fantasy ever since. She did go through a non-fiction phase, but now that her 50-70-hour/week job keeps her plenty occupied with non-fiction, she escapes when she can into the world of fantasy. Though clinically cleared of ADHD, Benni requires constant engagement, whether through good pacing, character development, or world-building. And while she would like to believe that she has more discerning taste than a child, she considers herself otherwise a good measure of whether a book will hold a child’s attention and do well if the movie rights are sold.

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