Review: ASH by Malinda Lo

13Jan10


Title: ASH
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown
Year Published: 2009

Recommended: To those who are intrigued by the idea. It’s a lovely but simple story, and while I enjoyed reading it I’m not sure I’ll remember much about it.

Spoilers: Technically yes, but it’s a hard book to spoil if you know the basic premise and the source tale.

I have a bit of an obsession with fairy tales. I used to read the various fairy-tale collections (Grimm, Anderson, Andrew Lang’s fairy books) and still return to them every so often. The various re-tellings and re-imaginings of these stories fascinate me, even if I end up hating them. So when I saw ASH spotlighted on several blogs, I had to give it a read.

In many ways Lo has stuck to the original story quite faithfully. Reading about the loss of Ash’s parents and how she came to live under the thumb of her step-mother was familiar, but Lo’s prose is beautiful and her world much richer than the traditional story. In ASH, fairies are real, and dangerous—but for Ash, irresistible. The fairies were the most intriguing part of ASH for me, and I wished they had a more prominent role. They supply, of course, the fairy godmother, in this telling a beautiful male fairy who falls in love with Ash. His love, though, is distant, and perhaps because it is unfamiliar to him, he doesn’t express it in any clear way. He never came alive for me, and remained the least interesting of all the magic in the book. He gives Ash her gifts, but I was more interested in the wild hunts and revels that Ash stumbles across. In the end, I felt that the fairies should have been far more prominent. They have an instrumental role in the story, but because they seemed separate from the rest of the events, in their own world, it felt off to have them/him have such an impact.

Apart from the nature of fairies, ASH’s big departure from the traditional tale is the romance. Ash never desires the prince—instead, she is drawn to the king’s Huntress. This “twist” is stated very up-front in most of the blurbs and interviews I’ve seen, so I was expecting it. I think perhaps had it been a surprise it would have had more impact. As it was, I didn’t buy the romantic tension between the two of them, perhaps because Ash is an exceedingly quiet character. She often felt purposeless, drawn from place to place and person to person. The romance and its ultimate conclusion were sweet, but they didn’t seem real.

I wanted to love this book. Certainly the prose is beautiful, and at times I was delighted by the way Lo brought the fairies into her world, but in the end none of the pieces quite came together. There seemed to be two stories: the story of Ash and the Huntress, and the story of Ash and the fairies. They could have been woven together, but instead they seemed firmly divided, and that robbed depth from the story.

I find I don’t have a great deal to say about the book; there isn’t much to object to, but there isn’t a great deal that shines. I’m glad I read it, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by the idea, but I’m not sure it’s a book I’ll remember much.

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