Ash by Malinda Lo
Towards the end of this semester, I worked on a project for my computing class that involved compiling a list of YA books for a wide variety of readers. One book that kept coming up as I looked through many, many lists by smarter people than I was Ash by Malinda Lo. So my first order of business after finishing my final final, was to read it.
Ash is a twist on the Cinderella story– but better. First off I love that Ash is a nickname for her full name Aisling. There are a number of similarities that mark it as a version of the story we know and love. She has a stepmother and two stepsisters who make her work as a servant after her father dies. Ash does have a fairy visitor who grants her wishes. In fulfillment of these wishes beautiful clothing and a way to get to her desired location appears. She attends a ball in a beautiful dress and dances with the Prince. Instead of the Prince of the land, however, Ash falls in love with the King’s Huntress, Kaisa.
Lo presents examples of other couples consisting of two women and so establishes that in this world it is not a big deal for a woman to love another woman. Ash’s uncertainty about her feelings for Kaisa stems from a young woman feeling love for the first time and the conflict of a servant loving The Huntress, rather than any confusion over sexual orientation or identity. The prose is beautiful and paints a picture of the world that is detailed and precise, but not so lengthy that the reader grows bored. Ash’s continued grief over the death of her mother is a key concept in the tale bringing depth and truth to the character. There is no loss of a shoe, in Lo’s telling, which was always my least favorite part of the tale. Ash takes her life into her own hands and makes her own decisions about her life, rather than waiting for anyone to come “save” her. Kaisa is present as a source of comfort and offers to help in any way she can, but I feel it is important that Ash steps up and saves herself.
In Ash, the fairy world is real and present in a way I found enchanting. There is real magic and real costs, and decisions have ramifications. Lo presents the fairy world as both an idealic, beautiful existence and a sad, almost half-life. Even with magic, she presents, there is good and bad. The fairy godmother, is a fairy man, who has his own reasons for helping Ash’s dreams come true. He is another well rounded and full blooded character, both a threat and an ally as good characters are.
All in all, Ash is a delightful read. It is a pleasure to see YA characters with LGBT inclinations. Even more to see same sex parings presented as natural and beautiful and not anything to be feared or conflicted about. Malinda Lo is a wonderful story teller, and I look forward to reading more of her work.