Malinda Lo’s “Ash”

(This review contains minor spoilers. Read at your own discretion.)

I love a good Western fairy tale retelling, especially when the author puts a spin to it like, say, if they made the main character a person of colour or made them not-straight. But for a book that aims to do just that (although it is unclear what race Ash is meant to be as Lo never specified her race or physical appearance other than her hair and clothes, but I like to think that she isn’t white), it’s rather underwhelming.

I’ll start with the positives first. Ash sticks closely to the classic Cinderella story (though not quite as Disney-esque) that we’ve all come to know and love but also has original world building plot points such as the fairy realm and the hunting party, which I thought was a fascinating inclusion. The prose is simple in its elegance, lyrical without it being too purple. At 264 pages (my eBook consists of 274 pages), it makes for a quick, light read. The role reversal in regards to the Prince Charming and Fairy Godmother gives the book a fun and interesting twist. The addition of the different, original fairy tales within the story is a nice touch to this book. It’s not often I get to say that I enjoyed reading about the many ways what looks like an epic romance quickly turn into tragedy.

Now to the bits that I enjoyed less. There isn’t much of a plot to this book. Of course, there are books out there that are full of conflict but lack in terms of plot, but what I like about those kinds of books is that it has a similar theme/character interaction/plot point in the beginning and in the end so that it comes full circle, like it’s framing the story as a whole. In Ash‘s case, the story just kind of goes along. Everything feels loosely tied together. It’s not completely devoid of conflict, but nothing had much build up and so there isn’t a lot of impact.

And for a world rooted in fantasy and rich with elements of the sort, there isn’t a lot of explanation when it comes to the mundane bits of it. The one that stood out to me most is that it’s never specified if any kind of ‘traditional’ hetero love is frowned upon or even forbidden in the book’s world. Part of me thinks that it’s not. But with the amount of women yammering on about finding a suitor, along with Gwen’s insistence that Ash finds a husband, maybe heteronormativity is still the norm after all. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t Ash at the very least question herself why she doesn’t feel the same way about men they way other women do?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for authors to write full-length novels about queer characters struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. There’s an abundance of LGBT fiction out there that focuses on just that that it’s starting to become tedious. In saying that, we do need to have an idea of the world’s societal ideals, especially if it’s a fantasy world, before we can discern a character’s motives, feelings, and intentions. So in Ash‘s case with Kaisa, it doesn’t quite work. Their romance may have been well-developed, but I didn’t find myself rooting for them. I couldn’t because in order for me to root for something or someone, there needs to be a hurdle for the characters to overcome and there were little to no hurdles when it comes to Ash and Kaisa’s love story.

And the resolution was disappointing. I have no other word for it. I won’t harp on it too much, but I can’t believe how easily everything was resolved. Even the term deus ex machina doesn’t cover how conveniently everything was wrapped up.The ending is the only moment in the book that had any kind of build up at all—it went on for chapters and chapters on end—and it falls flat on its face. It wasn’t executed well at all.

But by no means do these criticisms make Ash a bad book. It’s awesome that authors are starting to become aware of how lacking in diversity YA books are and that they’re working towards fixing this issue. In fact, it was Malinda Lo who co-founded ‘Diversity in YA’, so good on her. There are a number of good bits in Ash, but I do feel that with a few tweaks here and there, it could’ve had the oomph it was missing. However, if you’re someone looking to diversify your reading list but has no idea where to start, this is a good book to ease your way in.

If you’ve made it this far into my post, then thank you for reading! Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? And if not, would you be interested? Let me know what you think and feel free to share any recommendations below.

Until next time,

(Side image taken from here)


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