greek_amazon: (Book by candlight)
[personal profile] greek_amazon
I sort of stopped doing those reviews, didn't I? That's school for you, I guess. So, we've missed a couple of the books I've read, and there's a few that I might give reviews for, but at this point I think it's best just to do them as I go along.

Title: Ash
Author: Malinda Lo
Published: 2009
Was This Book Good? Yes.

How I Came to Read it: Yesterday I went shopping with my brother. We had only intended to buy tea, but dad wanted us to get something specific which tossed us a bit out of our way. In turn, I took advantage of having a paycheck, and bought a lot of stuff. (Including the Robin of Sherwood soundtrack, which was randomly at the used CD store)
We stopped at McNally Robinson, where I decided that some comic books were in order. (I bought Runaways volumes 8&9, and something which will either be horrific or awesome but should be amusing either way called Demons of Sherwood.) While I was browsing, I decided to head on up the tree to the children and young adults' section, hoping to remember the name of the series that [ profile] laser_rabbits had told me I should look at. (I've forgotten it, if you want to help me out here, Laura.) Needless to say, I didn't find those books, or any re-released Animorphs that my brother had suggested might be there.
On my first sweep through the section, my eye caught on Ash because of its pretty cover, but I passed it by, looking for the other books. On my second sweep through, I had not seen the books I was looking for, and my mind compelled me to stop at Ash, reminding me that it was somehow familiar.
You read a review of this book my brain told me. I picked it up and read the inside cover to see if it was the book I thought it was - and indeed, it was.
See, I don't read many reviews. I read them only if they show up here on my f-list, and truth be told, few of them stick with me.
But this one did, because first of all, it was a young adult book with a girl that was in love with another girl, second of all, it was fantasy, and third of all, despite being geared towards teens and also having a queer main character, it in no way involved persecution of the girl for being in love with another girl, or suicide attempts, or some best friend freaking out at her when she finds out that *gasp!* she's gay. Which, in case you've missed out on queer lit for teens, is basically every book that I've ever come across. And let me tell you, it gets old FAST, especially since it presupposes that every queer person will have to face their friends betraying them for something as trivial as what they like in their lover's pants. And sorry, I know that those stories have their place, and some people need them, but some of us have friends who are wonderful and worthwhile having, and don't need every story telling you that YOU WILL BE PERSECUTED BY THOSE YOU THOUGHT LOVED YOU for being gay. It's enough to make someone paranoid!
Of course, that's a matter for another day.
My point, roundabout as it is, is that this book promised to be young adult queer lit of a different sort all together. And moreover, it sounded like just the sort of book I was looking for.
How convenient!

And It's About...? On of the things that I forgot from the review when I bought the book, was that Ash is a retelling of "Cinderella". The blurb on the inside cover doesn't mention it either, except in the title text which I glossed over. I'm glad I forgot/missed this, because I probably wouldn't have picked it up.
And though the Cinderella influence is VERY clear as you read the story, it's kind of not the point. It's an influence, not a direct retelling. All the elements are there: Cinderella, the Evil Stepmother and sister(s), the Fairy Godmother, the Prince, the Ball... but it's not the same story, and that's important, because by not following the conventions, the story is allowed to be what it wants instead of what it's "supposed" to be. (According to Malinda Lo's website, the original version of Ash DID follow the Cinderella template more precisely, and apparently, it was much more boring that way. ...I believe it.)

The world of Ash is a fairy tale world that has the benefit of being given a history. The old religion is dying out, and with it is dying the connection to fairy kind. But it is not yet dead, and Lo's portrayal of the fairy realm and fairy kind is hauntingly lovely. The mortal world is no less wonderous, with traditions that are both familiar and different to traditions of which we have heard.

Ash, the main character, is immediately likable and realistic. Though she ultimately turns away from the magic of the fairy world for a mortal life, as so many fantasy heroes seem to do for some reason ("All I wanted was a normal life!" etc. Good lord, WHY would anyone EVER prefer a normal life over a fantastic one?) it was not an easy choice for her, and the reasoning behind it is sound and much deeper than a simple wish to be "normal" which Ash, thankfully, never cared for.
I find myself wanting to talk about the subtleties of Ash's relationships with Kaisa and Sidhean, but to do so would offer more spoilers than I am comfortable putting in a review. Suffice to say, these relationships are fascinating and pull the reader in. Sidhean, in particular, is an excellent antagonist, for he is not a traditional antagonist. Ash's relationship with Kaisa is very true, and though somewhat understated, feels like the fabled True Love that belongs in so many fairy tales and yet often feels so jarringly false within them.

And best of all, the story, despite being at its core, about love, is not a romance story. It is a Fairy Tale, with all the magic and beauty and trials and wonderousness that belongs in one. Reading the last few chapters was difficult for no other reason than that I didn't want to leave the world that Lo had created so soon. I will almost certainly reread this book and thus revisit the world. I can only hope that you would visit it too.
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February 2012

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