Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ash by Malinda Lo

In the world of ASH, fairies are an older race of people who walk the line between life and death, reality and magic. As orphaned Ash grows up, a servant in her stepmother’s home, she begans to realise that her beloved mother, Elinor was very much in tune with these underworld folk, and that she herself has the power to see them too. Against the sheer misery of her stepmother's cruelty, greed and ambition in preparing her two charmless daughters for presentation at court, and hopefully Royal or aristocratic marriage, Ash  befriends one of these fairies–a mysterious, handsome man–who grants her wishes and restores hope to Ash's existence, even though she knows there will be a price to pay. But most important of all, she also meets Kaisa, a huntress employed by the king, and it is Kaisa who truly awakens Ash’s desires for both love and self-respect...Ash escapes a life with her grim and self-serving stepmother and finds her beloved one...

ASH is a fairy tale about possibility and recognizing the opportunities for change. From the deepest grief comes the chance for transformation.
Ash is on first reading a very quiet book.  There are no blazing battles, no in your face moments of shock and horror.  It is as you sit through the story that you realise that what you're reading is far more than what you expected and also more unusual.  
Obviously, reading the above synopsis you will notice that instead of Ash falling in love with the handsome prince, she instead is captivated by the King's huntress.  I loved this!  Such a wonderful spin on the usual tale which really lifts this lovely story into its very own. 
The author, Malindo Lo, has this ability to draw you into the story as it is deeply atmospheric, making use of what is to hand: the forest near Ash's house as well as the weather.  
Ash's character emerges slowly as she comes to realise her own self worth and that she can make her own fate and that, yes, there is a price to be paid. The question is: are you prepared to pay it to gain your heart's desire or are you going to refrain from following your heart and just give in?
As she learns more about who her mother was, Ash gains more knowledge about her own abilities.  Her meetings with the mysterious fae lord becomes very poignant, especially when his story is revealed, later in the novel.  It is one that immediately creates empathy for him, yet it awakens concern in you as the reader for Ash's future. 
The fact that Ash feels attracted to the vibrant and slightly wild Kaisa is never played down.  Kaisa is a rich, roiling character that I immediately felt drawn to.  She is sweet, charming, wild and clever.  She brings to Ash and she brings to the story, another element, the one of change and danger.  She is the catalyst and the one I felt very strongly towards.  
Their relationship is sweet and hesitant and it takes Ash some time to figure out that this can in fact be something she can reach for.  Being the servant in her stepmother's house she is treated with careless negligence and called upon to do awful menial tasks.  I have read some Cinderella reworkings in which the girl's homelike is so over the top bad, you actually stop caring.  Ms. Lo reigns in the excessive mistreatment and allows us a few pertinent glimpses only.  This really works in that we feel deeply for Ash and her situation.  She characterises the stepmother and her daughters with a few bolds strokes through their actions - these are wonderful examples of show not tell moments and really, it moves the story along without a glitch. 
There is much to love about Ash.  The ending is bittersweet and just perfectly fresh and different. It really surprised me and I will definitely recommend this retelling of Cinderella for older teens and adults who are fond of fairytale reworkings.  There are several of them out at the moment but Ash is unique on this front because we have a main character that genuinely does go through the mill and comes out stronger and with a true heart at the end.  
Find Ms. Malinda Lo's very excellent website here.  She has written some amazing pieces about LBGT characters in fiction for YA readers on her blog.  Do stop by her website - she really is an amazing writer.  Also, she is currently showcasing the cover of her new upcoming novel: Huntress.  Ash is out at the moment, available from all good booksellers. 


Lauren said...

This is such a lovely review - I actually read it once earlier today and then decided I had to come back and read it again because it's so interesting. I completely agree that the way Ash is treated by her stepmother is somehow really effective without being overdone - you get this every clear sense that there's an injustice going on, and that's enough.

(You've also introduced me to a new word in 'roiling', so thanks for that too.)

Liz said...

Lauren, that is so cool - thanks for the lovely complement. It's so hard to really come up with fresh ways to say:omg, this book is just brilliant! :-)

But really Ash shows how you can write something very unique from something old and well know. Also, it obviously helps that Ms. Lo is stupidly talented! *jealous face*