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princessstarr

Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

Ash

Ash - Malinda Lo While I’m a sucker for retellings and an even bigger fan of fairy tale retellings/reworkings/updates/continuations/spins/what have you, I do come into said things with a caveat—what does the author do to make this their own? Which is hard, and I acknowledge that. Taking a story and characters that are so ingrained into our culture and is instantly recognizable and other people have done their own takes, how do you do something new with it? (Trust me, I’ve done it. It is hard.)*So even though when I do pick up fairy tale retellings, I tend mainly side-eye Cinderella retellings. Because there’s so many different takes on it, and it’s a part of our culture—not just straight retellings or updates or reworkings, but the whole idea of the Cinderella story in everything. This is a story where you can find some variation of in every culture and specific to said culture. And my side-eyeing isn’t because I hate the Cinderella story (I actually don’t; I’ll read it, but it’s not one of my favorites. Also Grimm > Perrault), but it’s so permeated into our folklore that I do think “Do we really need another take?”It’s interesting, then, that in the last year and a half, I’ve not only read three prominent retellings/inspired by/twists on Cinderella, but have really enjoyed them: Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass (Maas has stated that the Disney film was a jumping off point for her in an interview), and probably the one that’s gotten the most press, Malinda Lo’s Ash. The only reason I heard about Ash when it initially came out was that “It’s a lesbian Cinderella OMG.” Don’t get me wrong, when I found out more about the plot, I was really interested in reading it, it’s just taken me a while to get my hands on it. (And promptly loaned it to a friend…using the “Cinderella but with lesbians!” tag.)Although Lo does stick fairly close to the larger aspects of the tale in general—wicked step-family, celebratory events by the royal family, enchanted clothes that disappear at midnight—the things that she does twist and change are the strongest parts of the book. Given that I also love anything that has to do with faerie lore, I loved that Sidhean is literally a faerie godperson and applies all the lore rules to what Ash asks for. I love the detail that Ash acknowledges she will have to pay some price just to see Kaisa again, even at the cost of joining Sidhean in the realms of Faerie. It doesn’t quite pan out, and I’ll touch on it later, but I really liked that it’s a plot point that does feel like it’s going to play a larger role in the climax. And even though this does loosely follow the story beats of having the grand climatic ball, I liked that we get to see the relationship between Ash and Kaisa grow from a chance encounter to friendship to awkward new romance. (Also, I got more of a nod from the Grimms’ version, as the various events that Ash attends that occur throughout the plot are closer to that than just the grand climatic ball.) The inclusion of fairy tales in the story itself is another detail that I really loved, especially how they relate to Ash’s journey. The stories that Lo creates for her world here aren’t direct mirrors of well-known tales of our world, but they’re stories that could be told in our world at one time or another. It adds a layer to the story that not only builds this world up in the readers’ heads, but they also serve a purpose in the story itself. The overall story does seem to stop whenever one of these tales is related, but they do relate to the events occurring in the plot at the moment. I also liked the acknowledgements that the fairy tales are respected by Ash and other characters, and that they’re seen as both warnings and lessons. I do like Ash as a main character. I like that she wants more from her position in life, but she’s unsure as to what she exactly wants. I liked that she’s able to carve a bit of happiness for herself after the death of her father, and that she’s willing to stand up to Lady Isobel and Ana, even when it’s not going to end well for Ash. I really love her respective relationships with Sidhean and Kaisa. I liked that even though Sidhean refuses to answers her questions about his relationship with Ash’s mother, Ash does still find comfort and a bit of happiness with Sidhean. Again, I love the progression of Ash and Kaisa’s budding love, and how it’s so completely obvious to everyone else in court, and Ash is just blissfully oblivious. And I really liked that there’s no actual love triangle in play here—even though Sidhean and Kaisa are in love with Ash, Ash’s decision is more based on the terms of her contract with Sidhean and if she’s willing to give up her life in the mortal world for just one last lingering moment with Kaisa.(I also kinda love the fact that the prince is a nonentity. He’s there, and his search for a wife does play a role in the story, but he only shows up for two pages total and Ash gets the hell away from him. I actually came into this thinking there was going to be a love quandrangle; I was very pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t.) However, this conflict is the only real misstep in the whole plot; specifically, the resolution to Ash’s dilemma and how she escapes from Sidhean’s terms. The faerie lore is such a huge part of her relationship with Sidhean, and it’s a major point that when Ash asks for the favors that she is willing to pay the price for them…except that it never comes to that. And even though I like Ash getting take the third option, it never feels that there’s any cost to her to get what she wants. It even irks me that the one night she agrees to with Sidhean is one night for the mortal world, and not faerie. The ending feels too easy and it’s really a disappointment when the stakes are set so high. Additionally, I would like to see more adaptations that get into the motivations of the stepfamily. I do understand Lady Isobel’s reasoning of making Ash pay off her father’s debts, but at times, she and Ana come off as nothing more than gold diggers. If I may make the comparison, one of the things that I really liked about Cinder’s Adri is that we’re given a reason why she despises Cinder so much: if Cinder hadn’t been adopted, Adri’s husband wouldn’t have died from the plague. I’ve never really seen anyone else give a reason for the stepmother in any retelling aside from the gold digging, and I’d like to see more depth there. It’s really more disappointing with Ana, because we’re given a few scenes between her and Ash that could develop Ana as a deeper character, but after one failed bonding moment, Ana gets firmly placed in as the Wicked Stepsister. As an aside, I do like that Lo takes the time to develop the below stairs characters, even if Ash only interacts with the staff at the Seatown house most of the time. It’s one of those things that I rarely see done (especially with Cinderella retellings), as it really illustrates the class divide and here, shows off Ash’s own hopes and desires.Despite the misstep of the climax and the resolution, I do really recommend this book. Lo’s style is beautiful, it sets the right tone without being too childish or high fantasy, and even when she relates the in-universe fairy tales, the stories neatly flow into one another. It’s a beautifully told story, especially of one that’s been reiterated so many times and Lo brings her own stamp on the tale while still retaining the familiar pieces. I’m very much looking forward to reading Huntress and Lo’s other works.* *coughshamelesspluggingcough*