Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Ash: Malinda Lo
Ash is the Cinderella fairy tale for the queer set. Instead of being the pauper girl chosen by the prince, this story features an orphan who is caught in a love triangle between a handsome fairy and a beautiful huntress. Malinda Lo challenges the social norms we receive as children and sheds light on the magic of love.
The role of Cinderella is played by Aisling, nicknamed Ash. The story begins pretty much the way we remember it--her mother is dead, her father remarries (enter the evil stepmother and two ugly stepsisters), and then her poor papa dies, and Ash is left in the care of her conniving stepmother. The twist is that this story takes place in a time when the fairy kingdom was a part of not-so-distant lore. Ash dreams about what life with the fairies would be like, and in her youth she commits herself to a future with Sidhean-- a handsome fairy she meets one night while wandering in the Wood. As she grows up, Ash takes on the role of servant in her stepmother's household, and has limited exposure to the outside world. When stepsister Ana sets her sights on winning the prince's favor, Ash is taken into the City for the Yule celebration. On that fateful night, Ash meets Kaisa, the King's huntress. Kaisa is strong and powerful, yet beautiful. Ash and Kaisa become intrigued by one another and their friendship blossoms over the Spring and Summer months when Ash is able to escape for a few hours to herself.. As the renowned ball approaches, Ash realizes that her love for Kaisa has outgrown the commitment she once made to Sidhean, but she cannot back out of her promise to the fairy. Knowing that the ball may be her last chance to see Kaisa, Ash asks Sidhean for the favor of a gown and carriage to take her to the ball. In traditional fairy tale fashion, Ash catches the eye of the prince, who asks her to dance, and spends the rest of the evening looking for the belle of the ball. In not-so-typical fairy tale fashion, after her dance with the prince, Ash runs to find Kaisa and share a moment with her. Realizing that she could never be fully happy with Sidhean, Ash must ask the fairy to release her so that she may have a life of love.
A friend of mine read and adored this book, and said that I had to read it because I would absolutely love it. While I didn't absolutely love it, I did really enjoy it. I love how Lo bravely knits together the classic Cinderella story with relevant themes of homosexuality and commitment. To my inner child, this story represents hope that true love will always win. It is also refreshing to read a novel that features a strong and competent female, as well as a love-lorn male. This "role reversal" is rare in young adult fiction these days, though it is desperately needed. Young women need strong and capable role models to counteract the simpering, vapid starlets of today's media.
While Lo is a great storyteller, I'm not a huge fan of her writing. Unlike her creative plot, her writing lacks inventiveness. While her descriptions are detailed, they weren't quite eloquent enough to take me to the scene. And though her characters are mostly borrowed from a well known storybook, she has done little to add dimension. That said, I am a sucker for a good story, and I am happy to recommend this novel based on its merit as a well-told fairy tale.