Monday, July 21, 2014

Review of Ash by Malinda Lo

In a Nutshell: A re-invention of the Cinderella story, Ash by Malinda Lo is a bleak tale of loneliness, detachment, and unexpected friendship.

While I have heard Malinda Lo's prose praised as "lush" and "lyrical," it fell flat for me. The whole novel read as if it was meant to be spoken word; like it was a fairytale I was being told as I was tucked in bed; straightforward with factual details. I was keenly aware I was reading a book and had trouble being absorbed into the story. 

This was perhaps a style choice, since Ash's attitude frequently shared this detachment. Detachment made sense for the first half of the novel, when Ash is suicidal, spending half of her time wandering in the woods hoping to be spirited away by the fairies. Ash has no pretenses about what the fairies would do to her- she has read the last parting gift from her father enough times to know that meeting with a fairy usually results in (at best) living a half life or (at worst) dying a torturous death. 

She continued to wander forbidden, enchanted paths despite multiple warnings.  I didn't want bad things to happen to Ash, but after her fairy protector told her for the third time, "Stay off this path" and she disobeyed, I expected there to be some consequence, and it was a little anti-climactic when there wasn't.

The faeries are not this friendly
Ash fluctuated inconsistently between rebellion (nighttime strolls and an occasional insubordinate comment) to docile acquiescence to her lot in life. After her stepmother has burned her books- the last remembrances she had of her parents- we get a quiet sorrow from Ash, when I would have expected emotional devastation or a fire of fury. When she is physically attacked by her step mother and sister and her hair is shorn off, I was not expecting her (what I'm assuming was meant to be defiant) "Thank you. I think it suits me." No, no, no!  This non-consensual haircut comes right after Ash has seen her lover for the last time. Anticipating the loss of freedom and identity, I expected this abuse to be the last straw for Ash. I wanted to see her snap. I wanted all that pent up aggression, sorrow, defiance, and loss to break forth. But Ash is one solid dam, keeping it all repressed. How disappointing.

The ending was unclear and anti-climactic. I wasn't really sure what happened between Ash and her fairy-lover. Again we get an empty threat of "time does not move in the same way between our worlds" but she wakes up from her night with Sidhean and it's still just the next day in human world, too. So what was that warning for? And is the book-long buildup of Sidhean loving and owning Ash resulting in a simple confrontation where Ash tells him if he loves her, he'll set her free?  I really liked the fairy godmother who is actually a fairy lover who demands recompense for his magical services, but I didn't think Lo did enough with that unusual plot twist.

Faerie Godfather?
What saved this novel from being tossed aside halfway through was the fact that POSSIBLE SPOILER AHEAD Ash falls in love with the Huntress rather than the Prince.  It was a love-quadrangle: Ash in love with the Huntress, the Huntress in love with Ash, the Prince in love with Ash, the Fairy in love with Ash (wow, it's a little surprising that a character who felt so one-dimensional got so much action in the love department).   I wish it wasn't such a novelty that a character be interested in both male and female characters.  That sometimes at the end of a book a girl ends up with a boy, but sometimes the girl ends up with the girl or a boy ends up with a boy 

Maybe Sidhean should meet the Prince...

Happily Ever After!


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