Thursday 30 September 2010

Ash, Malinda Lo

Despite the age-old saying, I knew as soon as I saw the cover for this book that I would have to read it. Isn't it gorgeous? It made me think of Alice in Wonderland or some eerie fairy tale, and reading the blurb on the back it became clear which it resembled most:
"With her parents both gone, Ash finds herself a servant in the house of her ruthless stepmother and there seems no hope of finding happiness again.

"But Ash is unaware of her mother's legacy, and that it will lead her to a magical place. A place where love, identity and belonging are all waiting...
Yet straight away it became clear that Ash is much more than the fleshed-out Cinderella retelling its description would suggest. I was reminded of fantasy author Cecelia Dart-Thornton throughout the novel, which takes a classic tale as a starting point and takes the story where it wants to go. Though not as extremely verbose as Dart-Thornton, Lo has a descriptive writing style like dark chocolate: rich, seductive and indulgent, but to be savoured, not wolfed down.

The focus point of the story's setting is the Wood, where the fairies reign, mostly forgotten by human and believed to be nothing but "rustic superstition." There is a dreamlike quality to any scenes involving the fairies and the lines are blurred between Ash's imagination and reality. The fairies are not the species to whom Cinderella's usual fairy godmother belongs, distant cousins to Glinda the Good Witch. These are the fairies of old: beautiful, dangerous and completely alien, fascinating and yet somehow horrible at the same time.

"They were grand and beautiful and frightening - the horses' heaads shining white, their eyes burning like a blacksmith's forge. Their riders, too were like nothing she had ever seen before: ethereal men and women with pale visages, their cheekbones so sharply sculpted that she could see their skulls through translucent skin [...] and she could not close her eyes though the sight of them made her eyes burn as if she were looking at the sun."
To me, these old-fashioned fairies of long ago have more than a passing resemblance to vampires - more of a resemblance than many creatures given that name in contemporary fiction, at least. Ash's Fairy Godfather figure, Sidhean, demonstrates this in his declaration of obsession for her:
"I told her that you were mine, that I had given you this cloak, that she could not have you."
Does anyone else find themselves thinking of Dracula here?

Ash is a beautifully-written fairy tale. The evil stepmother and eldest stepsister are straight out of the story-as-we-know-it, but the younger stepsister, Clara, has some redeeming qualities. And as the story progresses, it becomes quite clear that the ending will not be the one we have come to expect. Oh, Ash gets her happily-ever-after, but it is not with Prince Aiden (who you probably know better as Prince Charming, but who actually features very little in this version of the story) nor with "fairy godfather" Sidhean. It is not with a prince at all.

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