A review of Ash, by Malinda Lo

Online plot blurb: In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

Note: I categorized <i>Ash</i> as “Female protagonists” rather than “lesbian protagonist” because, though there’s a good deal of foreshadowing of a same-sex relationship, we never see it come to fruition.

My review: Malinda Lo’s Ash, a retelling of the Cinderella story, is fairly predicable, but, a pretty enjoyable read, just the same. There’s a certain charm to Lo’s writing that keeps us turning the pages, even though we know what’s going to happen. The writing is evocative without being florid, and the story is, at times, anyway, enchanting, in its way. But…and, didn’t you know there’d be one.…

I never feel like we really get to know Aisling (Ash), though we spend the entire book with her. We never understand her motivations. It’s as though things happen just because the author wants them to happen,. Of Kaisa, I especially wanted to know more. There’s little depth to her character, which is most disappointing. You’re teased with a sense that it would be very rewarding to get to know her, but that opportunity is thwarted. Yeah, it’s a fairy tale. I get that. But, it’s also well over two hundred fifty pages, and the principle characters, at least, absolutely need to be more fleshed out.

I guess my biggest disappointment here is that there was so much potential that was left unrealized. While a reasonably enjoyable way to pass a few hours, Ash ultimately fails to deliver, especially emotionally. While the ending of a story such as this should evoke a deep sigh of contentment and leave a really warm feeling inside, my only reaction when Ash and Kaisa step forward and kiss was, “Oh, that’s nice,” and then I looked around for the next book to read. We have to take the author’s word for it when, as Ash and Kaisa kiss, Ash knows she is home, because Lo merely tells us, she never shows us.

And, dammit, she had the whole book to do so.

I’m very glad I read Lo’s Huntress before this, her first novel. After the unsatisfying experience of Ash, I might never have read Huntress, and that would have been a shame for it is truly wonderful.

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