9 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

Title: Ash

Author: Malinda Lo

Genre: YA (Fantasy/ GLBT)

Publisher: Little, Brown / Hodder Children’s books
Publishing Date: September 1, 2009/ March 2010
Hardcover: 272 pages

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

Summary: 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, re-reading 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.

Why did I read the book: I first saw the cover and fell in love with it (the UK version, although I love the US one as well). Then I read that the book was a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. Then the positive reviews started pouring in and I just had to buy it.


Once upon a time there was a girl named Ana and she loved Fairytales and Fairytale retellings. One day, she heard that there was a new tale out there, a retelling of Cinderella with a twist: in which the girl falls for another girl and ditches the prince altogether and Ana knew she had to read it. And what a story that was:

Ash lived in a small town with her mother and father. In Ash’s world most people no longer believed in fairies and magic except for country folk like Ash’s mother who respected the old stories and read fairytales to her daughter. When Ash’s mother dies, it is only natural that they respect her wish to be buried in the Wood and have gold dust scattered in her grave so that the Fairy Hunt would not come for her. Ash is grief-stricken but life moves on. And it certainly moves on for Ash’s father who soon remarries. Ash now has a new family, a stepmother and two stepsisters and her life is completely altered when her father dies and she is left alone with her stepfamily. Ash’s father leaves a great debt and her stepmother decides it is Ash’s duty to pay for it with her own work. She becomes a servant at the beck and call of her stepfamily working from dusk till down from the age of 12 to the age of 18. Her only source of comfort comes from her mother’s Fairytales and from her friendship with the mysterious, seductive Fairy Sidhean who is everything she dreams of: perhaps soon he will take her and she will be part of the Fairy world. One day whilst walking in the woods, Ash meets the King’s Huntress, Kaisa and they become friends, spending time together hunting and talking.

And then there comes the Ball and Ash wanted nothing more than to attend it – Sidhean grants her wish, for a price, which Ash accepts.
She dances with the Prince who is looking for a bride but ends up having a great time with Kaisa who is turning out to be much more than a friend. Our girl Ash now realises that perhaps the Fairy world is nowhere near as fascinating as real life can be but can she break her contract with Sidhean so that she can live happily ever after with Kaisa?

Wow. I love this book. I LOVE this book. It has so many wonderful things about it. Starting with the prose: the book reads like a proper fairytale and it flows beautifully with an almost lyrical quality without ever becoming too much or so poetic as to detract from reality. From the description of the Woods or Ash’s daily life, the story is deeply authentic because it deals with touchy subjects never shying away from Real Life stuff.

For example, for most of the book Ash is a character who suppresses the grief and hope and is all anger and depression and how could she not? She is a victim of abuse. From a very young age she knows nothing of being loved or cared for. It is no surprise to me that she would wish to live a Fairytale, living forever with beautiful, enchanting beings. Her belief in Fairies is also a way to connect Ash to her mother and in ways what keeps her going after her death – perhaps her mother has been taken by the fairies and is not dead at all. Her relationship with Sidhean is one fraught with possibility and danger, her attraction to him and his world something that is all hers in a world she has nothing to call her own. At first, Sidhean seems to be all that she wants , he represents all the mystery of the Unknown. But really the world of Faries is not one suited for humans, and even though Ash reads all the horrible tales, and listens to old, terrible stories, her mind is flying, desiring all that she can’t have. Unsurprisingly her favourite Fairytale is that of the girl who wastes away in the Real World while her spirit is bound to the Fairy world.

Then Ash meets Kaisa and there is an immediate shift inside of her and she starts to pay attention to the world she actually she lives in. Kaisa is rooted in reality, and I love this parallel: she is a hunter, someone connected to the cycle of life in the human world….perhaps what Ash needed to get her out of her self-destruction cycle. In some ways she is reborn and reshaped when she meets Kaisa but not because Kaisa actively does something to help her but because she realises she can help herself. Ash is a quiet character that little by little develops the inner strength to do something about her circumstances. At first and very recklessly she asks for Sidhean’s help and that cannot come without consequences – he effectively acts as the Fairy godfather in this story but one that will collect payment when the time comes. Ash’s freedom from her life does not come without a sacrifice but it is great to see her not as a passive character that needs rescuing from the prince charming but as someone who is instrumental in her own rescuing.

Which brings me to the matter of her falling in love not with the prince, not with the seductive Fairy companion but with another girl. The twist is not about being politically correct and it is never an “issue”. Homosexually in Ash’s world is normal and Ash and Kaisa’s story was natural and beautiful and ever so romantic ( I almost swooned when they first kissed) . I read an article where the author says that Ash was written:

“as a fairy tale, not a coming-out story. That means that Ash only has to fall in love. When her love interest is another woman, it’s just as wonderful as it would be if she fell in love with a man. “

And yes, that is exactly how it felt, exactly how I read it.

Kaisa was actually my favourite character: feminine and strong, a young girl who had an important position within the Reign; a hunter who paradoxically cried whenever she killed the hunt because she knows she has a duty but the duty doesn’t come without a price. She was kick-ass and hot and it was easy to see why Ash falls in love with her. She also respected Ash and one of the scenes I loved the most is one that Kaisa offers to help Ash but understands why she wouldn’t accept it, because Ash needs to take care of her business, alone.

I loved the two of them together and I wished to see more scenes with them. I didn’t care much for Sidhean and I had warning signals going around my head that he was not Good News for Ash from very early in the book. But he was the embodiment of the Fairytale Love, the Dream, the Idealised Love as opposed to Real Life love. This was actually more groundbreaking for me than the lesbian relationship because it is the subversion of fairytales within a fairytale setting and I loved it all the more for it.

Once upon a time there was a girl named Ana and she loved the story of Cinderella until she read Ash and came to the conclusion that the retelling was better than the original because it is an empowering story where the girl saves herself and who needs a Prince Charming when you can have the Kick-ass Hot Huntress anyway?

Seriously, this book is totally worthy of sighing, book –hugging and keeper shelves.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: Ok, Ash and Kaisa’s first kiss? Made of awesome. Also, their mutual declaration of love was completely aw-worthy and sigh-enducing. But nothing beats Ash taking control of her life.

Verdict: Ash is a beautiful retelling of Cinderella, lyrical and very romantic. The best part: the main character saves herself instead of waiting for a knight in shinning armour to rescue her and then wins the heart of the woman she loves. Highly recommended.And one of my favorite reads this year.

Rating: 9 – Damn near perfection

Reading Next: Pastworld by Ian Beck

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  • Stacy ~
    October 5, 2009 at 5:56 am

    Another amazing review! At first this didn’t appeal to me, but I love how you describe the story the way it’s told – in a lyrical fashion. And how homosexuality is not a huge issue but just a natural inclination here.

    And of course who doesn’t love it when the heroine can take care of herself and not need anyone, most certainly not a guy, to save her? I think I must read this one now!

  • KMont
    October 5, 2009 at 6:00 am

    I can see why you feel the retelling is more powerful. The traditional story of Cinderella, or rather, the Disney-ized version I’m familiar with most, is very idealistic and quite antiquated for our day and age. I do feel that Disney’s Cinderella took charge of her own life though. After all, the prince didn’t really come to her – she went to him, and not once, but twice. She broke from her prison and chose a prince. He didn’t really rescue her. Now, Sleeping Beauty – yes lol.

    But I do see what you mean, and I’m smacking myself for not grabbing this book when I saw it on Amazon Vine (wonders if it’s too late…). I chose Snyder’s second Glass book but that’s cuz I had the first and blah blah.

    I’m so glad you reviewed this. It sounds refreshing and just good. Going to go see if I can still snag it. 😉

  • Ana
    October 5, 2009 at 6:07 am

    Kmont – you know, I have no recollection of the Disney movie? I remember much more the written version. In any case, the impression that I have is that in the original tale, the prince had to come for her first and that if there wasn’t a prince, she might never have left her situation. In Ash, I felt it progressed differently although it was love that motivated her. I don’t want to spoil..so I will shut up now. *ninja*

    Stacy – yes, this one is a gooder! :mrgreen:

  • Ana
    October 5, 2009 at 6:10 am

    Also, because I am anal like that: did you know that there is a Cinderella Complex?


  • Daya
    October 5, 2009 at 6:28 am

    I am so looking forward to this book! I heard about it a while back (probably from one of you) and have been biding my time since then 🙂 I love retellings!

  • KMont
    October 5, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Ana, and I’m the opposite and unfamiliar with the traditional, written version. I see what you mean about Cinderella possibly not helping herself had there not been a prince to motivate her. I suppose I don’t necessarily see that as a fault though; in fact I see it as pretty realistic, that someone a person could possibly love would inspire them to break free. It has its own form of romance. Given the kind of society Cinderella was in, which I took to be one in which a woman has few options in the form of being independent, I suppose I feel her being motivated to reach for happiness with a man to be fine.

    I mean, it’s really all personal perception; everyone can look at the fairy tale in a different light, right? Right. 😉

    I’d never heard of a Cinderella Complex – thanks for my “learned something new” item of the day lol.

    Have you ever seen Ever After, with Drew Barrymore? Now there’s a retelling that shows Cinderella as entirely her own person, despite marrying the prince. She retains her own identity and saves herself. I love watching it.

    And I can’t snag Ash via Amazon till I write more Vine reviews. *pout* Working on it feverishly now. *type type type*

  • katiebabs
    October 5, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Wow a YA Fantasy Lesbian Romance! I would love to get my hands on this book. Your reviews are always so amazingly written.

    Thank you smuggle pimp.

  • Ana
    October 5, 2009 at 7:21 am

    YES, I have seen Ever After *facepalm* I was trying to remember other Cinderella retellings and I forgot about this one , thanks! 😀

  • KMont
    October 5, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Babs, you ought to be able to get the Vine ARC of Ash. I saw they still had copies. Gotta write my review for Shiver and then I can get it. If it’s still there then lol.

    Ana, Ever After’s final scenes were just. so. awesome. Danielle walking out of the bad guy’s castle right as the Prince walks up to rescue her, her wearing her crown and smiling serenely as her stepsister and stepmother are sentenced. Classically win!

  • katiebabs
    October 5, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Thanks Kmont! I got a copy of Ash!!! Go Amazon Vine. 😀

  • Jessica Kennedy
    October 5, 2009 at 8:18 am

    I really love the UK cover for this book. I plan to read it! 🙂

  • Jess
    October 5, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Great review! I’m looking forward to getting this one. Also, I love how you put up both the US & UK covers; it’s so fun to see both and contrast them!

  • SonomaLass
    October 5, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I loved this book too. It reminded me of Robin McKinley’s reworked fairy tales, as well as a little Patricia McKillip in style. It’s a beautiful book in many ways.

  • Tiah
    October 5, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Oh the book covers are beautiful! I would have gotten the book cause of the cover alone.

  • alana
    January 17, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    I know this is an older post, but I just read this book and I adored it. The main reason I wanted to comment though, was because I was wondering if you’ve read Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman’s Life. In the book the author puts forth the idea Cinderella suffers because she knows she has to for her own transformation from an adolescent to a maiden. I think it’s an interesting idea since so many fairy tale heroines either suffer or fall asleep during the time they’re transforming from young girls into sexual beings.

    I also don’t think Cinderella is saved by the prince in the original story (even though a lot of people look at it that way). The prince is more of a metaphor to show that Cinderella is in a different place in her life. In most of the older stories I’ve read, Cinderella had the power to ask for a nice clothes and jewels all along, but she wasn’t ready yet. I feel like this book did a good job of expounding that idea (since Ash’s asking for the gifts from Sidhean showed a shift in her consciousness). Of course this is just way to look at the story but I think it’s pretty interesting.

  • Scarab
    April 26, 2010 at 2:37 am

    I just discovered this book myself while browsing my local Waterstones: I expected a fairytale retelling and I got that. I did not expect the open minded attitude towards sexuality.

    I was so pleasantly surprised to read this and think “Hey… this was in the TEENAGERS section.” A brilliant book which deserves a thank you for neither shying away from a delicate issue, not MAKING it into an extreme and book-filling issue. I look forwards to Lo’s next book immensely.

  • Anonymous
    November 25, 2010 at 11:47 am

    😆 love he book

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  • Ash Fan :)
    February 14, 2011 at 12:37 am

    I love your review of the book…….exactly what I thought when I read it! LOVEEEEE THIS BOOOOOK 😀

  • Anonymous
    March 2, 2011 at 10:15 am

    😀 🙂 🙁 😮 😯 😕 8) 😆 😡 😛 😳 😥 👿 😈 🙄 😉 ❗ ❓ 💡 ➡ 😐 :mrgreen:

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