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Malinda Lo – Ash

Book Cover

It’s not always the prince you want to go to the ball to meet.

Publisher: Hodder
Pages: 291
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-340-98837-4
First Published: 2010
Date Reviewed: 4th July 2012
Rating: 4/5

Ash lived with her parents in Rook Hill until her mother died and her father passed away having remarried. Now Ash has been condemned to slave away for her stepmother and stepsisters for the “debt” her father caused the family. Ash has always believed in fairies, and when she meets one she is entranced. But not as much as she is when the King’s Huntress enters her life.

Ash uses the traditional tale of Cinderella as a base, but Lo moves far away from it most of the time, it’s almost as if the tale is there for when she strays too far. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, indeed Lo creates enough of her own story that when the reader is introduced to the traditional scenes it can be a shock in that it is easy to forget that Cinderella was incorporated at all.

The book is mature enough that it requires the Young Adult rating, but the writing is rather simple in that mystical, intriguing way of fairy tales. The book doesn’t require much time, however it does require full attention if the reader is to truly appreciate the way in which Lo tells her tale. Throughout the story there are hints of what is to come, the sections that may seem like world building are included to provide a lesson for Ash, and their inclusion makes the dark nature of the tale all the more apparent.

The story feels rather short, but this is in keeping with traditional tales – the book spans a good length of time, several years, but only a few aspects are focused on. Lo knows what is important and what is not and doesn’t spend time on superfluous details. And she manages to do this whilst simultaneously providing her reader with a thorough knowledge of the world she has made.

Ash is quite the strong heroine. She knows when keeping quiet will save her hassle, and she knows when speaking her mind will release her frustrations. Through her Lo demonstrates the difference between a small crush and real love, and whilst a lot of the lessons may not be so relative to real life, for their fairy basis, the overall idea is relevant.

Where tradition is included, Lo still pushes the boundaries of the tale and rarely leaves the elements unaltered, for example one of the stepsisters is rather likeable and a friend to Ash. Where there is stereotypically a good fairy godmother, there is darkness. The fae in Ash consists of a whole other world and there are a lot more mentions of them than just the one appearance. Indeed anyone looking to be totally wrapped in the magical realm will find what they are looking for here. One subject covered is how fast belief is fading, Ash is one of few who appear to still believe in fairies despite the way the two races were integrated in years gone by.

It is well known that the main way the story strays is in the romance department, and truly it would be difficult to review this book effectively without considering it. The bride-finding ball is included, but perhaps Ash isn’t concerned with the reason for it. There is no big literal emphasis on same-sex relationships; loving the same gender in Ash’s land is so natural that such a thing is never addressed, the reader simply witnesses women going off together without any comments from the characters or author. While this obviously brings the story right into the present day, it fits the set up of fairy land well, as often in fairy tales women are entranced by women and the same of men. The relationship itself is chaste, making it ideal for readers who are only just at the age for Young Adult books.

Where Ash fails to hit the mark is in its pace and description. It is true that such issues blend perfectly with the way that traditional tales are told, but because the book is longer than, say, a Christian Andersen story, the requirement for a fast pace is greater. And whilst there is more than enough information on fairies, sometimes the story does feel lacking in appropriate detail. This is where the difficulty in categorising it rears its head – on the one hand Ash feels like a children’s book and in that sense everything works, but the content places it firmly in the realm of Young Adult, causing detail to be important.

Ash is not for the reader who wants a straight retelling of Cinderella. The main character’s name may be a clever substitute, but her life does not mirror the mythical girl’s closely enough to please such a reader. For those not so concerned, especially readers interested in the modern nature of the book, success is likely to be found, if not celebrated.

Some girls do not wish for a prince, and as Lo explains, that’s completely fine.

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Ana @ things mean a lot

August 13, 2012, 11:14 am

I agree with your second to last paragraph. The world of the story never quite became real for me, and I think that might have been why.


August 13, 2012, 2:30 pm

I’ve had this book on my shelf forever and never get around to reading it. Something else always comes up.



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