Warning: This post is spoilery.
Readers of Malinda Lo’s revamped Cinderella story, Ash, will initially find themselves in familiar territory: Ash’s father unexpectedly dies and leaves her in the hands of her cruel new stepmother. Since Ash is expected to pay off her father’s numerous debts, she becomes a servant in her stepmother’s household and is expected to tend to her two stepsisters’ every need. Gone are all the comforts of home; all she has left of the past is a book of fairy tales that her mother used to read to her. Ever since she was a child, she has wanted the fairies to bring her mother back to life; after her father’s death, she wants nothing more than for the fairies to take her away into their world. When a brooding fairy, Sidhean, appears, it looks like she just might get that wish.
Here is where the story breaks away from tradition and introduces a new twist. There’s still a big ball in which the prince’s heart is stolen by the gloriously dressed stranger no one’s ever heard of. But the prince falling in love with Ash at first sight is all a moot point, because sparks are flying between Ash and Kaisa, the King’s lead huntress. Meanwhile, Sidhean is in agony because he’s been waiting for Ash for years.
The neat thing about this book is that in Ash and Kaisa’s world, same-sex relationships simply are. To see women courting other women at the ball is just a part of life, so when Ash and Kaisa start flirting with each other and trying to date, they’re doing so in an environment where that’s fairly unremarkable. A YA book set in a world where LGBTQ relationships are a totally normal and fully-accepted part of life? Awesome. Young people need more of that.
But. I ended up feeling kind of meh about this book because 1) there’s a very slow build-up; and 2) I think Ash and Kaisa’s relationship was a little too smooth-sailing. Yes, there was the Sidhean plotline; he tries to tempt Ash out of her world and into his. And yes, there was the drama created by Ash’s evil stepmother. But the tension in the Cinderella version most people are familiar with — Will the prince find the owner of the glass slipper, or will others successfully interfere? Will he find his true love? — has vanished in Ash. It’s a given that Ash and Kaisa are meant to be, and Sidhean side story just isn’t enough to make you suspect otherwise. It’s not a bad book — plenty of book bloggers would disagree with my take on it — but it just wasn’t very satisfying for me personally.
Ash was released in September 2009 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.