Completed 9/5/2015, Reviewed 9/8/2015
There are a lot of retellings and deconstructions of classic fairy tales these days. It seems to have its own subgenre designation, Fairytale Fantasy. Perhaps the most well-known is “Wicked”. Its author has also played with the Snow White and Cinderella tales. Helen Oyeyemi has also become well-known for her deconstructions of myth and fairy tales. Having read and loved both these authors, I went into “Ash” expecting more of the same. It is, to an extent. It’s Cinderella with a coming of age Lesbian twist and a more complex relationship with the realm of faerie than the normal fairy godmother. But the majority of it lacked a certain warmth that could have really propelled this book into classic status.
Ash is Aisling, beloved of her parents, and having an affinity toward magical awareness. Her mother dies young. Her father remarries and then soon dies, leaving her an unwanted ward and sole servant of her stepmother and stepsisters. Then Ash meets the King’s Huntress. Instead of the magic being used to meet the prince, its purpose is to bring Ash and the Huntress together despite the social gap between them.
I think the lack of warmth comes from how Ash reacts to her predicament. Like many LGBT youths, Ash disengages from her feelings, leaving her a cold shell that allows her to function in her deplorable predicament. This is understandable, and should be relatable, but I didn’t attain the empathy that I could have. Perhaps it’s because this is actually a YA novel. My experience with YA novels is that they sometimes do lack a sense of depth even though deep feelings are being explored. It may be the brevity of the book, or perhaps just a lack of skill of the author. Even Ash’s falling in love, first with the mysterious faerie Sidhean, then with the Huntress didn’t quite gel for me.
The character I really liked was Kaisa, the Huntress. She added the warmth to the novel that was sorely needed. Like Ash, I spent all the time between scenes with Kaisa waiting for her. She’s a strong woman, well-developed as a character. She’s not simply a caricature, like the prince in many standard fairy tales, but a very human person. I liked Kaisa so much, I’m considering reading the Lo’s prequel about her.
The book is short, which may be its flaw. Perhaps if the author spent more time with Ash, allowing us to see the hurt more rather than just the cold husk, the book would have worked better for me. I thought all the interpolations of the details of the story were well thought out, the magic, the relationship with the step-relatives, the more realistic immersion into a Victorian social structure. But there was just that warmth missing that left me with a rather indifferent feeling at the end. I should have wanted more of Ash, but instead, I wanted more of Kaisa. Perhaps that’s why Lo wrote the prequel: the readers of the book felt as I did. I give the book three stars out of five.