Ash by Malinda Lo is a refreshing retelling of the classic fairtytale Cinderella, in which the title character, Ash doesn’t fall in love with a prince, but rather a royal huntress. I was very eager to read this book as I am a fan of fairy tale retellings in general, and I love seeing the ways that different authors reinterpret different stories and bring in different themes. Using lush, lyrical language suitable for a story of fairytale origin, Lo tells the story of Ash, who lives with her mother and father in a small village, where the people no longer believe in magic. However, Ash’s mother still believes in the old magic and tells Ash about fairies. Ash’s mother dies due to a sickness and Ash’s mother followed the old ways of the fairies, so she is buried with gold dust scattered on her grave to keep the fairy hunt at bay. Ash’s father remarries and Ash now has a stepmother and two stepsisters.
When Ash’s father also dies, with a great deal of debt in his name, Ash is stricken with grief, which is exacerbated by the fact she is treated with extreme cruelty by her stepmother and stepsisters, and is forced to serve them by cooking and cleaning for them from the time she is 12 until she is 18 to pay off her fathers debt.
Desperate to find some escape from her wretched existence, Ash retreats into a book of her mother’s fairy tales. Ash also meets and befriends the king’s huntress, a beautiful and mysterious woman named Kaisa and they spent time together hunting and riding. The stories become real when walking through the woods one day, Ash meets the fairy Sidhean. Sidhean desperately wants Ash’s hand in marriage, but Ash is reluctant, so Sidhean grants her one wish, which is to go to the the grand ball of the kingdom, but for a cost. At the ball, Ash spends time Kaisa and their relationship develops into something more than just friends.
Ash is beautifully stylistically with a great premise, but unfortunately it falls a bit short of its full potential. In some ways, the characters are not well developed or vividly drawn enough for the reader to feel a strong connection with them. Perhaps if Kaisa and Ash were better characterized, their romance would come across more strongly and the reader would feel more invested in them. Greater detail of the the feelings and motivations of the character would have enhanced the novel greatly. Overall, Ash is an engaging book with eerie, lush, atmospheric language that draws the reader in, but ultimately fails to deliver on plot development or character development in a satisfying way.