By Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Fantasy/LGTBQ+
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.
Bestill my bookish heart Malinda Lo! While Ash was not without a few minor challenges, it accomplished something I rarely encounter, and that was a queer protagonist portrayed in the most natural and beautiful manner. I am so thankful to have included this retelling among my current Pride Month reading (which has been fantastic and will be carrying over into July ❤ ).
This is a Cinderella reimagining that begins like most with the death of the Ash’s father, leaving her to reside with a heartless stepmother. Her only means of escaping her unfortunate circumstances happen to be found within the fairy tales passed on by her mother. But when Ash finds herself in the company of a real fairy, Sidhean, it seems she may have found an answer to her problems as he claims her for his own. However, an encounter and unlikely relationship with the King’s Huntress Kaisa soon stirs a desire for love and life within Ash that she thought all but gone. Now she will have to choose between the dreams that she has always escaped to and possibly true love.
“For in the depths of grief, sometimes one cannot tell the difference between illusion and reality.”
What I appreciate.. (aka reasons to fall in love with Ash)
- As I mentioned above, perhaps the most shining aspect of Ash is that it beautifully explores and captures a queer protagonist in the most natural, subtle way. Ash’s sexuality is not described or thrown to the forefront of the story, it just simply is. And that is why it works incredibly well.
- The prose is simplistic at times yet fluid, guiding the reader on a seamless journey that unfolds with great ease.
- While at times feeling almost one dimensional, the characters were still highly successful in achieving their roles. I mourned for Ash with her losses and her anger was viable. The wicked stepmother was just that, and the heavier fae elements melded wonderfully into the Cinderella theme.
- Malinda Lo has successfully incorporated the themes of loss and grief that have always been a part of this timeless tale but often lost in the romance and magic of it all. I admired the more realistic and raw approach that held true to these aspects of the story.
- One of the more gratifying conclusions I have encountered in some time!
“To charge someone with love is a great responsibility; there will be an equal yet unexpected reaction.”
Challenges some may encounter..
- Ash will feel very familiar when held in comparison to the tale of Cinderella at times. Many of the original, key elements have been left in place.
- The pacing slows during brief periods due to decreased dialog and some may struggle with the lack of depth in many characters.
- There are heavy themes of loss and grief throughout.
In the end, Ash won me over and easily made its way into my favorite Cinderella retellings. With a protagonist that fell elegantly into the underlying themes, I found myself enchanted. Malinda Lo has a way of weaving a subtle magic throughout the pages the slowly unfolds before you even realize it is happening.
Savor over a nice cup of your favorite hibiscus or herbal brew.
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