SUMMARY: After the death of her beloved mother, Aisling feels terribly alone, even with her grieving father and familiar home. Then her father comes home from a visit to the capital with a new wife and two new step-daughters. While Ash is not thrilled, life doesn't seem hugely different. But then her father also becomes ill and dies. Now Ash is at the mercy of her bitter stepmother who decides that she will pay for her late father's debts by becoming the household's primary servant. Miserable, Ash yearns for her mother even more and when she encounters the strange and frightening fairy Sidhean, Ash thinks she might have finally found her route of escape. But then she meets the King's huntress Kaisa and Ash slowly stops wishing to disappear as their growing friendship reawakens her desire to live and to love. Now Ash must choose between fairy magic and the powerfully human magic of love and connection.
ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I've been wanting to read this novel for months! I was so excited to finally get a hold of it this past week and my anticipation was nicely rewarded. Ash is a great debut novel from Malinda Lo that successfully combines several little subgenres of YA fiction into a lovely and enjoyable narrative. First, Ash joins the ranks of other great fairytale retellings and for me, it is up there with Ella Enchanted in terms of favorite 'Cinderella' rewrites. But also, Ash takes another popular fantasy concept-dark and dangerous fairies-with equal success. So the novel is firstly a fun fantasy combining a familiar narrative outline with well known ideas like frightening fairies as well as the solid human experience and conflict that grounds all good fantasy novels. Ash is a sympathetic heroine and so the story's focus is neither the magic nor the fairytale aspect but Ash's very familiar struggles to grow and develop in difficult circumstances. Her fears, griefs, weaknesses, and strengths are evoked clearly through Lo's gentle and spare but descriptive prose.
The other highlight of the story is Ash's blossoming relationship with the Huntress Kaisa. Ash's initial interest in the role of the Huntress grows into an attraction to Kaisa herself as the two young women begin spending more and more time together. Kaisa teaches Ash to ride and hunt; Ash learns that the possibility for love still exists in the world. The sweet, slowly developing love between the two women fits perfectly into this delicate and unique fairy-tale of a novel. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to teens who enjoy other fairy-tale retellings.