Ash is the first book by new author Malinda Lo, a retelling of the Cinderella story with the dark influence of Celtic faerie mythology and several new...moreAsh is the first book by new author Malinda Lo, a retelling of the Cinderella story with the dark influence of Celtic faerie mythology and several new twists.
Aisling, called Ash for short, is the Cinderella analogue of the story, and the book begins traditionally with Ash beside her mother's grave. The first few chapters establish a world locked in an ideological battle between reason and the old ways of magic and fairies; Ash's mother was firmly on the side of magic, and passed along to her daughter a fascination with fairy stories. Against the lessons of every fairy story she's heard, Ash goes to her mother's grave in the middle of the night and meets Sidhean, a dark and seductive prince of the fairies.
As the rest of the Cinderella elements fall into place, complete with evil stepmother and stepsisters, Ash clings more and more tightly to memories of Sidhean and the fairy world. She begs the prince to take her away to the fairy kingdom where she can live the life of songs and dancing and escape the clutches of her stepmother. His response is always the same: "It is not the right time."
Enter Kaisa, the King's Huntress and a strong young woman who begins to heal Ash's wounded heart. They become friends slowly over several chance encounters, and Ash soon finds herself torn between the woman who pulled her out of her downward spiral and the fairy prince she is beholden to.
Lo's first novel is dark and atmospheric, with lush prose that fully draws the reader into a world of dangerous magic. Though the writing is lovely, the storytelling is hollow; the book lacks momentum, the characters are largely undeveloped archetypes, and the dialogue is stiff and awkward. Ash does not seem to mature at all over the course of the book, despite aging by several years. By the end, she still has the mental maturity of the twelve-year-old we met at the beginning, which dims the believability of the love triangle.
Despite the novel being highly anticipated for its treatment of same-sex relationships, the romance between Kaisa and Ash falls flat. The moments of chemistry between the two women were few and far between, and by the story's resolution they still feel like nothing more than acquaintances. By comparison, Sidhean has a dark magnetism that keeps Ash coming back. The language used to describe their encounters is smooth and seductive, and the reader feels drawn into their dance.
Ultimately, the book's largest failing was Ash herself. In addition to her lack of maturity, she was weak-willed and dominated by the other people in her life. While this is a natural part of the Cinderella story, it made it impossible to relate to her or feel anything but pity. As identification with the protagonist is especially critical in young adult fiction, this flaw is crippling. By the time Ash finally decides to take matters into her own hands, she seems incapable of carrying out a decision on her own, thus diluting an already weak ending that broke the established rules of the world.
Despite its flaws, Ash is a worthwhile read. The messages of redemptive love and the danger of taking the easy way out are valuable tokens for young adult readers and adults alike. Malinda Lo shows promise, and her future books will be worth picking up to watch her talent develop.(less)