Beautiful writing but didn't grab me
Malinda Lo's debut novel, Ash, has a great premise, lyrical prose, and a richly detailed setting. Despite these points, I finished it feeling unmoved. In this Cinderella re-telling, the reader follows Ash across her teen years, during which she loses both of her parents and ends up as an indentured servant to her stepfamily. In an attempt to escape her grief and her work, Ash walks the forest. A fairy named Sidhean starts accompanying her on her walks in the woods, and later, Ash also meets Kaisa, the king's huntress, in the same way. As the prince's ball draws near, Ash finds her feelings and obligations split between Sidhean and Kaisa, and she must decide whom to choose and how to spend the rest of her life.
Lo's writing was strong, lush, and lyrical throughout the book, but her style also simultaneously maintained an understated feel. Based on the descriptive passages, I could easily imagine the woods through which Ash walked. The author also incorporated a strong folklore component in part one, which added depth and dimension to the story being told. Though different from traditional Cinderella tales, Ash was a strong female lead, making her own decisions and caring for herself. Others have found this too far outside the regular tale, but I appreciated this reimagining of the character. The possibility of a same-sex relationship was done with subtlety and presented as a normal choice without fanfare or drama. I think this new spin on a traditional tale could really appeal to LGBTQ readers and allies.
However, despite beautiful writing and new twists, this novel didn't create the impact I expected. I didn't feel Ash's connection strongly with either Sidhean or Kaisa, and her choice seemed obvious long before the end. In addition, while Lo's writing style provided a slow, realistic build, the novel felt sluggish due to the plot's predictability as a re-telling of a classic tale. Finally, the power of the main character potentially picking a female partner was not realized as strongly as it could have been. The book doesn't need to be a political or social treatise by any means, but this was an essential plot point and it felt underdeveloped in its significance.
In spite of not overtly enjoying this book, I can tell that Lo has a lot of promise given her obvious writing talents. I'll look forward to reading her future works with a cautious eye.