Sunday, February 28, 2010
Review of Ash by Malinda Lo
Lo, Malinda. Ash. Little, Brown, 2009.
After Aisling's mother dies, her father remarries, and his new wife and her two daughters come to live with them. But then her father dies, and Ash, as Aisling is called, must move with her stepmother and stepsisters to their estate in the south, where she must work as a servant to pay off her father's alleged debts.
Brought up on tales of fairies, Ash goes looking for them in the Woods - and finds Sidhean, a pale, ethereally handsome, and very slightly emo male fairy. Their platonic relationship lasts for years, with Sidhean seeming to want to take her to the fairy realm but insisting that Ash isn't ready yet. Ash, hating her life, is raring to experience the fairy world despite its dangers.
In the meantime, however, Ash meets the King's Huntress Kaisa, by whom she is fascinated. Kaisa is interested in Ash, as well, befriending her and teaching her to ride a horse. They fall in love - but the timing is terrible, as Ash has just bound herself into a contract with Sidhean. Will human love prevail over fairy magic?
What I liked about Ash was, above all, the love between Ash and Kaisa. Lesbian relationships are incredibly rare in fantasy, even for adults, although gay love between men is relatively common (I'm thinking Sherwood Smith's Inda books, as one example). Ash and Kaisa's love feels both inevitable and absolutely right, and far superior to a magical life spent with chilly, translucent fairy folk. Kaisa is brave, competent, dresses in warm and comfortable clothes, and won't wear a mask at a masked ball; no wonder Ash falls in love. This is a lovely romance that will take any reader's breath away.
I was a wee bit disappointed with Ash, however. It could be blamed on my reading while in bed with the flu, but I think it has more to do with a rather standard plot and a serviceable yet far uninspired writing style. Yes, this is a riff on the classic Cinderella story, but that is no excuse to use cliches, such as the stepmother's face darkening with anger or Sidhean's skin being pale as snow. There is a stiffness to the writing that kept me from being immersed entirely in the plot. Many of the characters are similarly stiff; in particular, the stepmother and stepsisters never become three-dimensional people but remain fairy-tale types, and are thus uninteresting.
Still, I read this novel to the end despite my weary, blurry eyes. And I feel much better today, testament to the healing power of fantasy! For ages 13 and up.