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Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash (edition 2010)

by Malinda Lo

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1,0131278,339 (3.63)84
Authors:Malinda Lo
Info:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 272 pages
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Ash by Malinda Lo

2010 (11) ARC (12) Cinderella (83) ebook (18) faerie (19) fairies (30) fairy tale (41) fairy tales (99) fairy tales retold (34) fantasy (162) fiction (95) glbt (28) hunting (13) lesbian (57) Lesbian Fiction (10) lgbt (27) LGBTQ (31) library (9) love (20) magic (18) orphans (9) queer (21) read (19) retelling (33) romance (45) teen (16) to-read (41) YA (98) young adult (102) young adult fiction (12)
  1. 20
    The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Another old story (this time, the Greek myth of Persephone) retold as a romance between two young women.
  2. 10
    Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Kerian)
  3. 00
    Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey (FFortuna)
    FFortuna: Both Cinderella reimaginings with similar atmospheres, although Ash is more fairy-ish and Phoenix and Ashes is about magicians and WWI.
  4. 00
    Silver Kiss by Naomi Clark (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Deftly told fantasy narrative (in this case dealing with werewolves), in which a lesbian relationship is done right.

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A Magical & Subversive Retelling of 'Cinderella'

Twelve-year-old Aisling - Ash for short - is having the worst year imaginable. In midsummer, her beloved mother Elinor died suddenly and mysteriously; and, before the last of autumn's leaves turned brown and blanketed the ground, her merchant father William had remarried. To give Ash a mother, he said.

To the marriage, Lady Isobel Quinn brings two daughters: twelve-year-old Ana and her ten-year-old sister Clara. From the more "cultured" town of West Riding - located just a stone's throw from the Royal City - Lady Isobel has grand designs for her daughters: they are to marry well and become gentlewomen like their mother. The wild Ash, with her love of books, fascination with fairy tales and magic, and still-fresh grief for Elinor, isn't much more than a minor annoyance to her new stepmother. She provides neither comfort nor sympathy to the grieving child.

Shortly after the marriage, William falls sick; rather than allow "superstitious" greenwitch Maire Solanya attend to him, Lady Isobel uproots the family and moves them from Ash's home in Rook Hill to the Quinn House. William dies just two weeks later, and Lady Isobel wastes little time in claiming Ash as a servant - to pay off her father's (alleged) debts. (I love how Lady Isobel recounts bitterly to Ash how her father spent Lady Isobel's money to prop up his failing business, while openly admitting that she married William for his money. Hypocrite much?) From orphan to slave in less than six months.

For the next six years, Ash spends her days stoking the fires; toiling in the garden; scrubbing the floors; washing and mending the laundry; and tending to her cruel stepmother and husband-hungry stepsisters. Psychological abuse is a daily occurrence, and impertinence is met with physical violence. The one day Ash tries to run away, she is locked in the cellar for months, allowed out only when supervised to perform her chores.

Ash's only escape is the Wood, the one place where magic still lives. When she was thirteen, Ash stumbled upon an enchanted path that led her back to her home in Rook Hill - and her mother's grave, still fresh then. There she met Sidhead, a beautiful fairy; and, though she begged him take her to his world, he returned her to the Quinn House instead: it's "not time yet." During the next five years of her indentured servitude to Lady Isobel, Ash escapes to the Wood whenever she can. Sometimes Sidhean meets her, and they walk the forest paths together. Though he occasionally acts as her protector, Sidhean is not entirely a kindly fairy godfather: his designs on Ash are much more sinister and self-serving.

During her travels in the Wood, Ash also meets and befriends Kaisa, the King's Huntress. Like many villages, Royal City has a hunting party; but because it is the King's, it's much grander than any other. Though many of the hunters are men, the party is led by a woman: always a woman.

This year, Prince Aidan - newly returned from war and ready to choose a bride - will be joining the opening hunt, so it's to be an even more majestic and opulent affair than ever. Kaisa invites Ash to the hunt, and the Yule ball after that; in order to escape her stepmother's notice, she asks for two favors from Sidhean, which she must pay for dearly.

Malindo Lo's Ash is a retelling of Cinderella that's as subversive as it is magical. Ash differs from Cinderella in two key ways: Sidhean isn't your average fairy godmother. (In fact, fairies are integral to the story, and Lo spends the first half of the book explaining fairy society, and its changing role in human life.) And Prince Aidan's quest for a bride takes a backseat to Ash's own budding feelings for Kaisa, the King's Huntress.

With Ash, Kaisa, and Sidhean, Lo introduces a "queered" love triangle that's neither boring nor contrived - no small feat considering the popularity of love triangles in the YA genre. Refreshingly, Prince Charming has no place in this romance, as his search for a broodmare is eclipsed by Ash's opposing friendships with Kaisa and Sidhean, and her eventual sexual awakening. (Parents, take note: Ash is rated PG-13 at worst, with zero sex and just a few rather tame kisses.)

There are some wonderful feminist elements in the story as well, most notably in the conflict between "old world" superstitions - personified by greenwitches, most of whom are women - and more cultured "philosophers" (all of them men), which at times reads as a code for organized religion. This battle is played out on William's body: while Maire Solanya advises (begs) Lady Isobel to let her treat him with herbs and potions, Isobel elects to take him to the more urban town of West Riding, where he can be properly treated (read: bled) by physicians. William's own beliefs - which stand in stark contrast to those of wife Elinor (who was at one time an apprentice to Maire Solanya) and daughter Ash, who inherited a little bit of the old magic from her mother - prove to be his downfall.

The framing of hunting as a feminist endeavor (as evidenced by the female Huntresses traditionally chosen to lead mixed-gender hunting parties) is a little more difficult to swallow. Lo appears to anticipate her target audience's likely ambivalence towards a heroine who kills sentient creatures for fun and sport (BAMBI!) - so she instills in Kaisa a sense of remorse and sorrow for the nonhumans she's paid to hunt down and slay. Kaisa justifies her actions with a trite line about the circle of life - never mind that, in nature, predators single out the old, the young, and the weak - not the healthiest animals in the prime of life. (In the opening season hunt, an entire team of hunters, trackers, and hounds spends the day chasing down a buck until he collapses from exhaustion.) But a baby's head just wouldn't look as majestic hanging above the King's throne now, would it?

Also interesting is the Fairy Hunt, which plays out alongside the King's Hunt. Just as the human hunters (and their benefactors) sustain themselves on the meat of those animals they killed, the fairies feed off the souls of enchanted humans. Certainly, we're meant to mourn the humans used and consumed by the fairies; but what of the nonhumans similarly exploited during the human hunts?

Ash tells Kaisa that most fairy tales are dark and frightening because they're meant to impart an important life lesson: "Do not be seduced by false glamour; do not shirk your duties; do not wander off alone into the Wood at night." Breaking with this tradition, Ash is an uplifting story about the transformative power of love.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2014/04/25/ash-by-malinda-lo/ ( )
  smiteme | Apr 17, 2014 |
Like a lot of the other reviews of this book, I had really high expectations after reading what it was about, but the novel ultimately fell short. I am not much into fairy tales, but the idea of "Cinderella" not choosing the prince and falling in love with a woman instead was pretty appealing to me. I felt bored most of the way through and was just waiting for it to get interesting. I think the second half (when the Huntress has a bigger part) is better, but it never really gaged my interest. The language was beautiful, no doubt about it, but the characters and plot were pretty dull. I think I am harder when judging female characters, but I was disappointed that Ash was so passive and kind of wimpy through most of the novel. I never really felt like she did anything. I did enjoy the Huntress' character much more and while overall I was not satisfied with this book, I may read Lo's next novel, The Huntress, because I feel as an author that she has talent, but Ash just wasn't for me. ( )
  CareBear36 | Mar 8, 2014 |
Lovely storytelling. There was a classic fairy tale quality about the book. The fairy folk are remote and mysterious, chillingly beautiful and a bit cruel. The stepfamily is (mostly) disdainful and mean-spirited, giving the reader something to be passionately indignant about. Since I have a serious addiction to detail in my texts, I loved the descriptions of food, fabrics, dresses, the forest, and so on.

But a fairy tale quality has its drawbacks. As in many classic fairy tales, the reader never felt the full presence of any of the characters. They weren't dull, exactly, but they seemed to play appointed roles without much explanation or motivation. This reminds me of the tales which simply state things like, "the prince fell in love at that moment" or "the queen was angry that the girl was more beautiful than she herself." No need to explain these feelings, in a fairy tale. I kept waiting to know the characters better. For example, Ash must choose between two lovers. One loves Ash because of a curse, the other falls in love with Ash in a presumably ordinary human way, yet I saw no difference in how they acted, nor in how Ash acted toward them, right up to the last ten pages of the book.

The ending was so abrupt, and there was no final confrontation with the stepfamily. There are hints that the younger stepsister is not past redemption, but we have no clue what the future holds for her.

And I was irked that Ash is warned over and over, by stories she reads, and by the fairies themselves, that time in the fairy world does not run the same as time in the human world. But other than a little bit of traveling-farther-than-possible-in-one-night, time is ALWAYS equivalent in the two worlds, even at the most important moment of the book. ( )
  Turrean | Feb 15, 2014 |
This is a subtle retelling of Cinderella, where author Malinda Lo has taken the backstory and bones of the traditional tale and woven them into an entirely different cautionary tale about fairies, and about a girl who loses her mother and then her father entirely too soon and who wants to retreat into the forest forever, but by the time she finds a way to do that, she has finally moved beyond her loss and is starting to want to live again. That makes it sound dark, and in many ways it is, but it's also a tale of finding love and moving into the light.

Incidentally, I picked this up because I heard it was a finalist for some LGBT award (and many other young adult awards besides [1]), so I was expecting there to be some social strife regarding relationships in there as well, but actually relationships just were relationships, regardless of gender, and the strife came from other sources. I found it kind of refreshing.

[1] http://www.malindalo.com/fiction/ash/ ( )
1 vote terriko | Dec 7, 2013 |
Ash is a fun read with its charming fairytale voice and understated, elegant romance. It was just the right mix of familiar and reinvented, and I enjoyed all the twists in the age-old story. The description of fairies called back very nicely to traditional folklore, and I appreciated the sense of realism about the world. There was a lot of lovely, sensual imagery and great tension without the story being purely about the romantic elements. The end events felt a little rushed for me, but altogether, I found the resolution highly satisfying. I can't wait to dig into Lo's other novels! ( )
1 vote AddisonLane | Oct 26, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 126 (next | show all)
Malinda Lo’s somber and lovely “Ash” is a lesbian retelling of “Cinderella”... It features a beautiful orphan — Ash, short for Aisling, and a perfect play on the name “Cinderella” — a ­cruel, social-climbing stepmother and two sneering stepsisters. Lo gives us a vaguely medieval setting, royal hunts, grand balls and an unquestioned class hierarchy. Not until the introduction of Kaisa, the king’s gorgeous young huntress, do we get a spin on tradition.
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In memory of my grandmother,

Ruth Earnshaw Lo

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Aisling's mother died at midsummer.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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SynopsisIn 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.
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In this variation on the Cinderella story, Ash grows up believing in the fairy realm that the king and his philosophers have sought to suppress, until one day she must choose between a handsome fairy cursed to love her and the King's Huntress whom she loves.… (more)

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