Review of ASH by MALINDA LO
The person who recommended this book to me didn’t do it justice. She described the book as a “twist on Cinderella” and let slip one way in which ASH veers away from the original story. What she neglected to mention is how many other twists Lo weaves throughout to recraft her own haunting fairy tale.
For starters, my friend neglected to mention the fey twists and, hence, Sidhean, who plays the vital role of the fairy godmother but in an unexpected and creepy manner. Yes, he’s Ash’s secret, magical helper who mysteriously provides everything Ash needs, but Lo pulls from other legends about the fey: their favors are never free. That combined with stories about their eerie fascination with mortals make this a different tale. For one day of freedom, Ash must promise Sidhean herself.
Lo’s Ash strikes me as a much more compelling character than the ever-suffering Cinderella. Oh, Ash bears similar burdens, but her self-destructive nature seems a far more relatable consequence of her life than Cinderella’s bland and passive apathy to her cruel stepfamily. While not overtly suicidal, Ash’s actions brought the topic to my mind, in particular people who walk the line of suicide - they may never actually try to kill themselves, but they act in ways that they know are dangerous or harmful for little to no gain. All her life Ash has been warned about the peculiar, treacherous fey and explicitly told what not to do. Yet Ash does those things, knowing full well the consequences. She’s so unhappy with her current life that she deliberately tempts fate. She does everything her mother ever forbade as though daring, even begging, the fey to come and take her.
Then Ash meets Kaisa, the king’s huntress, and begins regretting her recklessness. At this point she’s already caught in Sidhean’s enchantments, but Kaisa makes Ash long for a real, human relationship and only now does she understand that what Sidhean wants is no trivial payment.
Lo writes in a subdued and restrained voice that captures the mystery of the fey and allows readers to imagine Ash’s emotions more often than stating them directly. Readers usually fall into two camps regarding fairy tale twists: those who’ve had enough retellings of the same tales and those who never tire of them. I fall in the latter category. I’m always intrigued to see how someone will take the same material and sculpt into a different story. ASH is a beautiful, lingering retelling with many more twists that I haven’t even mentioned!