Wednesday, March 9, 2011

YA Book Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash (UK/Kindle cover image)
Ash is an award-winning retelling of Cinderella, with a lesbian spin. Portraying a more naturally developing relationship than standard young adult romance crushes, this is a haunting and descriptive coming of age tale of a young woman trying to figure out her head and her heart.

The protagonist, Ash (Aisling), begins as a beloved child, then suddenly becomes an orphan and servant girl. Initially the same old fairytale, it changes after the childhood backstory is over, and Aisling starts to actually play a real person.By the age of eighteen, she's flirting with danger, in the form of her only friend - a fairy cursed with love, who threatens to steal her away once she's old enough - and is slowly developing a real friendship, blossoming into love, with Kaisa, the King's huntress.

Traditionally, women always lead the hunt - and nobody looks askance at two girls together. While it is assumed that Ash might chase a prince, there are a few glimpses of female couples throughout the story.

Ash by Malinda Lo
It reads a lot like a fairytale - all about what happens to the characters, rather than being character driven, and it feels unfinished due to the tight focus on Ash, ending as soon as she gets her 'happy ever after' moment. (For example, there are glimpses of interesting characters that are never properly explored (after reading her next book, Huntress, it's clear Malinda Lo is much better at describing people from the outside), and various promises of backstory and plot hook we never hear about again - cheerful Gwen, her mother, her father's alleged debts, the scar-faced prince, ). The world itself feels quite real, although the mythology appears limited, what exposure we have to it (the fairy world, scorn for old traditions) is well realised. Overall, it is an entertaining read, and a good one for teens - consider it a vastly improved alternative to Twilight!

The descriptions probably have more life than the characters, but overall, Ash is more magical than the original Cinderella, with more of the unpredictable fairyworld than a convenient and safe fairy Godmother, the stepfamily is far less over the top - with no chopping off of heels and toes (but still believably unsavoury), and the prince does not get the girl.

Oh, and the cover of the New Zealand/UK version was prettier. It had shiny metallic foil colours which aren't really visible in the photo above.

Huntress by Malinda Lo
Malinda Lo published another young adult fantasy in May 2011 - Huntress. Another sweet lesbian romance fantasy, ostensibly a prequel to Ash, Huntress is much more original and features more action and adventure.

The people are suffering from famine and two girls (Kaede and Taisin) are sent on a quest to find the Fairy Queen and ask for help with the weather. Rather than a Celtic-Cinderella story, Huntress is a mix of English and Asian fairytales.
    Having now read it, I can say that Huntress is a much, much better book than Ash and I would definitely recommend it.
    Further Reading

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