Ash [The Book Depository] [Waterstones] is a surprising Cinderella retelling by Malinda Lo. After her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Unable to cope with the loss of both parents, she keeps her mind busy by re-reading the fairy tales her mother used to tell her. She takes walks in the forest with the aim to meet a fairy, and finally, she does. His name is Sidhean, and he’s a real mystery. While Ash’s life becomes more and more difficult, Sidhean proves to be a friend. But, fairies and humans can really be friends?
Ash dreams of leaving the human world and living with the fairies. However, the stories about the fairies aren’t kind at all. Girls lost, men killed, and tricks are but some of the contents of the many stories she loves. And yet, her life is so miserable that she craves for Sidhean to take her away with him. That’s until she meets the Huntress.
SPOILERS: this post has massive spoilers from the book. It’s a surprising and sweet LGBTQ+ book that will keep you reading if you love Cinderella.
The book starts with a funeral. When Ash’s mother dies, the world changes for her and her father. Soon, he leaves her at home and sets for the capital to work. And some months after he does, he comes back re-married with a woman and two new daughters. Since the beginning, the woman doesn’t like Ash at all. But things get really bad when her father dies in bizarre circumstances. Her stepmother is horrible, and so is Ana, one of her stepsisters. Clara, the other one, isn’t that awful but she’s still a horror.
The land where Ash lives believed in magic once. Now, there’s a new religion that treats it as just tales. And so, we can see the shock between Ash’s beliefs and those of her stepmother. As time goes by, Ash goes from being a stepsister to being just a maid. She has to pay a debt the stepmother says Ash’s father left behind when he died. And so, she has to work for free and being treated worse than a dog.
Many nights, and when she has some free time, she takes walks in the forest and meets Sidhean. She wants to know more about him, but he’s a perfect mystery. Every time she tries to go with him, he says it’s not time yet. However, things start to change when Ash meets the Royal Huntress in one of her walks. She doesn’t know what it is, but she feels compelled to want the Kaisa’s company. Kaisa teaches Ash how to ride a horse, and also how to hunt. More and more, Ash wants to be with Kaisa and less with Sidhean.
Things at home get worse and worse with the stepmother, to the point that it’s insufferable. When Kaisa invites Ash to a Royal Hunt, Ash asks Sidhean’s help. But, asking for help to a fairy means to pay a price. After that, she’ll go with Sidhean to the forest forever. And so, she finds new clothing in front of the door, a fresh horse, and a zombie-human to take her place while she’s away. She has fun in the party, but she craves to be with Kaisa again. So, when Kaisa invites her to the ball, she asks from Sidhean yet another wish. This time she won’t be able to stay away from the fairy.
She goes to the ball, but she has until midnight. Things get messy because she’s late and the magic starts to wear off. The stepmother sees her with a beautiful dress and thinks the jewels are stolen. Well, that’s another excuse to steal from her. Alas, the day after, the gems turn out to be but plaster. And so, Ash starts to stall and not going to the forest. Sidhean knows her heart has changed, and yet he endures the wait for he loves her. Finally, Ash goes again to see Kaisa again to say goodbye. However, at that moment she knows what to do so that they can be together.
This is an unexpected love story where Cinderella doesn’t get a prince, but a Huntress; and where the Fairy Godmother is but a handsome fairy in love. He was cursed by Ash’s mother to love a human so that he could understand that kidnapping wasn’t right. By Ash’s queer friendship with Sidhean, she learns how to stand her ground, even if it’s painful.
Ash [The Book Depository] [Waterstones] is an unexpected story. It’s sweet, but I only gave it three cocktails. It has a slow pace, and when Ash finally spends a night in the Fairy world, we don’t know what happens. Time is different there, and yet she comes back and seems that nothing has happened.
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