Aisling’s grief at her mother’s death was strong, but nothing compared to how she felt when her father also fell ill, shortly after taking a new wife. Ash, connected deeply with the forest, was forced to move to the city for her father’s care. When he died, her stepmother declared that Ash’s fathers debts had been so numerous that Ash would have to work as a servant for the rest of her life to pay them off. Ash’s unhappiness leads her to the forest, where she meets the fairy Sidhean and begins to hope that he’ll steal her away from her mortal life. But then she meets Kaisa, the king’s huntress, and Ash’s wishes begin to change.
My expectations for this book were severely lowered thanks to Nymeth’s review. She also adores fairy tale retellings, and in case you couldn’t tell, this is a version of Cinderella. So when she didn’t like it, I thought there wasn’t all that much hope for me to like it, and I started the book thinking that. Imagine my complete surprise when I sat down and read the entire book in one sitting, staying up late just to finish it. I enjoyed it that much. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Cinderella story, a fairy tale I have always loved*, or the fact that I was craving fantasy at the time, but this book worked out beautifully for me.
Ash has been publicized as the book where Cinderella falls in love with a woman, but it’s more than that. It’s also not nearly as big a deal in the book as it has been in the publicity. Same sex relationships are normal in Ash’s world, which was a refreshing viewpoint. It surprised me how completely normal it felt and made me wish that I lived in a world where the same was true.
Malinda Lo creates a whole world and a mythology here, and I felt that frame was absolutely perfect for the story that unfolded. While the introduction of all the lore at the beginning was fairly slow, it did help as the book went along. The depiction of Ash’s grief at the loss of her parents felt real, and, though not the best I’ve read, really was moving. I thought at first that the part of the story with Sidhean was going to take away from her relationship with Kaisa, which only begins in the second half of the book, but I enjoyed the way it was developed and wrapped up in the end. I really loved Ash’s romance with Kaisa. I felt that it was so organically written and so natural; they really became friends and then realized what they had. The whole storyline left me breathless, and for me that’s unusual but cherished.
I also really liked Ash as a character. As time passed, she grew as a person and as a woman, and her love led her to take a step back into having a life, not just wishing the fairies could whisk her away. She likes to read, which automatically endeared her to me. So I wanted her to escape her life of servitude and I relished every step on the way. If someone was brave enough to be her friend, I liked them too. I was not fond of the evil stepmother and her daughters, but I still appreciated the fact that Lo built credible family dynamics into their relationships. They’re all human beings, even if they are very selfish.
I know how the Cinderella story goes, but I was still captivated by Ash, still reading until the very end. To me, that’s the mark of a good retelling.
*Some useless knowledge about me: I watched the movie Ever After at the perfect age and I have basically adored Cinderella stories since. I don’t know what it is about that movie, but I still love it.
Also, I received this book from review from the Amazon Vine program and I am an Amazon Associate.