Ash by Malinda Lo

ashIn the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, she finds her only joy by the light of the dying hearth fire, re-reading 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 begins to believe that her wish may be granted.

But the day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s royal Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learn 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.

First published: 2009

Last week, I reviewed The Selection by Kiera Cass, and told you that I read it as part of my dissertation. The same is true for this novel – Ash by Malinda Lo. It’s an LGBT retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale, and I had never heard of it before I started looking for suitable YA novels for my dissertation. It was a fun read, and I really liked the queer part of the book, but overall I didn’t feel very invested.

First of all, let’s talk about Ash. To me, she was not an extremely interesting protagonist. She really grew as a character, which I liked a lot, but she only started to be her own person near the end of the novel. For the majority of the story she was just kind of dull, to be honest. She did her stepmother’s and stepsisters’ bidding and read her fairy tales, but I felt like there wasn’t that much else to her for the longest time. She desperately wants to be with her mother again, so much so that she goes in search of the fairies, which I thought was extremely stupid. What I also thought was a bit strange is that she seemed much younger than she was for most of the time. At eighteen, she acted like a fourteen-year-old girl. It didn’t seem all that realistic.

Wow, that’s a lot of negative things about Ash. She wasn’t horrible, not at all, just a bit… meh, I suppose. She was sweet, and at the end she became really confident and strong, which was good. I’d love to have read a novel about that Ash.

Then there’s Sidhean and Kaisa. Sidhean is a fairy, and basically a total creep. Kaisa is the King’s Huntress, and really cool. I love that Lo turned what is usually seen as quite a masculine profession into a feminine one in her novel – I’m all for defying gender stereotypes! There was something about Kaisa that felt a bit off, though. She didn’t feel like a fully rounded character to me (but neither did Sidhean), and that’s a pity because she seemed really awesome. Now, she just felt like she was supposed to be the complete opposite of Ash; strong, mature, capable. I can’t really explain it, but it didn’t feel entirely right to me.

While I didn’t think the world building was all that great (the capital of whatever country it was set in (we don’t know anything about it) was called “Royal City”, for Pete’s sake), what I did love about this book was the language. It was very fairy tale-esque, which fitted perfectly. What was also quite impressive was how Lo used completely different language when describing Ash and Sidhean together from when she described Ash and Kaisa.

All in all, Ash was enjoyable, but not much more than that. I really love how Lo changed the ending (and the fact that the prince in this story is a complete douchecanoe) and made it into an LGBT story, but I do think there were some things that could’ve been worked out a bit better.

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Hi! I'm Anne and I love reading, baking and writing about both of those things. Welcome!

9 thoughts on “Ash by Malinda Lo

    1. Ha, thanks Emmie! (then again, not dedicated enough to reply to comments within a month 😉 ) I have to admit it was difficult to take off the über critical thesis hat for these reviews!

  1. Oh oh I totally agree! I don’t understand this book at all, tbh, because I thought it was just absolutely repeating the original Cinderella story?! I loved that it was LGBT of course because I think we need more retellings like this. Buuuuut, where was the “RETELLING” part?!?!? Gah. I thought it was too fairy-tale-ish to actually be a deep and moving story. >_> So your review is spot on for me too!! 😜

    1. Exactly! It wasn’t a retelling at all, and I think the LGBT thing was handled very weirdly. They just changed the gender of the “prince” and didn’t go into anything at all. How did Ash feel when she realised she was in love with a girl in a heteronormative society, for example? And there’s still a very clear masculine vs feminine thing going on between Kaisa and Ash. Also: Sidhean?! GAH. And even though he’s AWFUL she still gives him credit for finding herself?? Went on a huge (academic) rant about all this in my dissertation :’)

    1. Sorry for the extremely late reply! Was busy with trying to get that dissertation done in time :’) It’s about the representation of girls in YA retellings of the Cinderella fairy tale. Turns out: things may seem like they’re pretty good, feminist-wise, but they really aren’t all that great. And I agree! Ash was a very boring character, and it was just the traditional tale but with an LGBT relationship…

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