Ash, by Malindo Lo, is certainly the most unique retelling to the Cinderella I’ve come across. Unfortunately, unique is not always a positive attribute. My mother once told me that in Oklahoma, her state of origin, when people see an ugly infant they tell the mother, “well that is some baby.” For me, Ash was certainly “some book”.
I think Wikipedia explains the plot better than I could:
“The novel is about an abused teenage girl who longs for fairies to take her away from her terrible life. A seemly gentle and protective fairy promises to do so as payment, but shortly thereafter the girl falls in love later with an athletic, respected noblewoman and hunter. The girl struggles with finally going to where she had wanted to be or staying and making it work.”
The interesting concept, combined with beautiful prose approaching lyrical poetry, should have been enough to carry this book. For me, it never came together and there were too many problems to enjoy it. I never connected with Ash. I didn’t know what she was feeling, or what she really wanted. I guess that is because she didn’t understand either of those things either, but because of this I never settled into the reading experience.
The book is supposed to be this LGTB must-to-read, but we never see Ash actually fall in love and we can’t understand why. It’s like one day she isn’t in love, and the next day she is. The reaction of the society is also never explained. It seems like same-sex relationships are commonplace, but that is never addressed and in doing so misses a great opportunity to build tension. This lack of tension is pretty consistent throughout the book. Lo only tells, and never shows. And she doesn’t even tell that much! The Cinderella comparison felt forced.
I did like the fact that the story read very much like a legend or fairytale, and took on the idea of fairytales as an important theme with in the novel. Overall, I think the book had tremendous potential but has little to actually offer other than some elegant writing. It’s gotten lots of critical acclaim and prizes though, so maybe I just didn’t get it.
For further reading and reviews (all of which will probably be more positive than mine):