Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown
Reading Ash is like taking a walk through a magical, mysterious forest. Once you venture into the enchanted Wood with Ash, there is no guarantee that you’ll ever free yourself from the bewitched embrace of the trees. Once you start reading this book, you won’t even want to escape; instead, you’ll remain spellbound until you reach the last page. If you enjoy Patricia A. McKillip or Robin McKinley, you will like this book.
This is powerful retelling of Cinderella, and though much of Ash’s existence is bleak and lonely, the girl never allows herself to wallow in self-pity. When she is still reeling from the death of her mother, Ash’s father remarries, bringing the Lady Isobel and her two daughters home after a trip to the city. When he dies unexpectedly not long after, he leaves the family deep in debt. He frittered away Lady Isobel’s fortune by making poor business decisions, and now her cruel step-mother has determined that Ash will pay back the debt by working as their servant. Even the prospect of a life of drudgery can’t destroy Ash’s spirit. She takes pleasure from roaming in the Wood behind the house, and cherishes her odd friendship with the fairy Sidhean. When chance introduces her to the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, her life will never be the same. Will she find the strength to follow her heart and chase her dreams?
While this is not a happy book, it does manage to remain uplifting, because Ash never gives up. Her step-mother is demeaning and abusive, and she tries for the entire length of the story to trap Ash into a cage of misery and hopelessness. If her spirit is destroyed, it’s all the better to control her. Ash’s life really sucks, but the girl never allows herself to give up and be the mindless servant her step-mother is trying to make her. Instead, she finds ways to revitalize herself, to sneak small pleasures into her lonely life. Her friendship with Sidhean, a dangerous, magical being, gives her an escape from her solitude. But it’s her friendship with Kaisa, the free spirited huntress, that gives her hope. Hope that she can rise above the cruel circumstances she’s trapped in, and hope that she can free herself from Sidhean’s seductive spell.
Old magic mixes uneasily with a more modern mode of thought, but Ash still holds to the old ways. She believes in fairies and fairy spells, and as she gets older, she learns that there is a chilling truth to the fairy tales she loves so much. While Lady Isobel and her step-sisters scoff at Ash’s quaint country ideals, Ash knows that there is more to the Wood than most can see. Ash believes with her whole heart in fairies and their magic, and perhaps that is why magic is drawn to her. Like the new, harsh reality of her life, she just accepts that magic is real, and it gives her the strength to face it head on. I think that after you read this haunting, enchanting tale, that you, too, will believe.
Review copy provided by publisher