Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Review: Ash

Malinda Lo
2009; Little, Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-04009-9 (hardcover)

Summary: The death of her mother totally changes the life of Aisling, also known as Ash. They're the best of friends, and the loss of her mother's love leaves Ash bereft. But Ash at least has the fairies to comfort her--as much as fairies can. As her father remarries then dies, leaving her in the care of her stepmother, Ash seeks someone to belong to. She thinks she's found that someone in Sidhean, a remote fairy. Ash hopes that he will carry her away. But then she meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, and Ash finds herself questioning what she wanted.

Two Things to Know about Ash

#1: Fairy tales are timeless.

Thanks to their roots in oral traditions, fairy tales, myths and legends seem to adapt to any time. You can retell, reinterpret, or reimagine them, and the original message still has power. After all, fairy tales are about rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. That message will always have appeal. In Ash, the fairy tale of Cinderella is adapted in two ways, by heightening and expanding the links between humans and dairies, and by having the love story be between girl and huntress, not girl and prince. These changes, though, still allow Ash's goodness and heart to shine through, while giving her character depth.

#2: A love triangle is partly about the person in the middle.

Ash finds herself torn between two very different people. On the one hand, there is the coldly beautiful Sidhean, the fairy who can give her fantastic jewels, beautiful dresses, and fine horses. As Ash deals with her grief over the loss of her parents, and adapts slowly to serving her stepmother and stepsisters, it's no wonder Sidhean is very attractive. But when Ash meets Kaisa, the wise, warm woman who leads hunts for the King, Ash begins to change. Kaisa teaches her about nature, about the woods and the animals. This knowledge sparks something in Ash, making her see the world with new eyes. The perfect life that Sidhean could give her suddenly begins to pale for Ash. Her choice at the end of the novel reflects how Kaisa has changed Ash, while Sidhean has not sparked such a reaction.

Lyrically told, Ash does not shy away from darkness. Yet this version of Cinderella grounds the story, removing the cliched, cutesy elements and choosing a more grown-up take. Beautiful language and a slowly unfolding plot let us see Ash's world, making us understand her dilemma. Malinda Lo gives us a modern story with old roots, and does it with great talent. Ash will be popular with those readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings, from Beauty by Robin McKinley to Beastly by Alex Flinn.

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