Once upon a time there was a girl named Ash whose mother dies and father remarries a cold hearted woman. Soon after the wedding, he dies and leaves Ash alone with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. To “pay her father’s debts,” Ash becomes her stepmother’s servant and spends her days in drudgery.
Ash escapes to the Wood when she can where a beautiful fairy waits for her. She first saw Sidhean after her mother’s death. He promises her that he she will come to stay with him one day. She wishes to be with him and leave her terrible life behind but he keeps sending her back.
One day, when she’s walking through the Wood, she meets the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, and it isn’t long before she falls in love with her. When it is announced that the Prince is looking for a wife among all the women of the kingdom and there will be many celebrations, including a ball, Ash sees an opportunity to spend more time with Kaisa. Ash knows, however, that she can’t go dressed as a poor servant girl. She asks Sidhean for a favour, but when a fairy grants a wish there is a price to be paid.
By now, you’ve probably figured out that this a retelling of Cinderella. (“Cinder”ella, Ash. Get it?) Unless you’ve lived in a cave your whole life, you know that Cinderella ends up with the Prince, or in this case, the Huntress. (There is a Prince but he’s just a plot device.) So, that’s not such a spoiler. You can see where the story is headed a mile away, it’s just a matter of how you get there.
Ash must choose between two worlds: the fairy world and reality. The fairy world she only knows through stories she’s heard as a child. The real world hasn’t been very kind to her but now she has a reason to stay in Kaisa. I didn’t understand why Sidhean kept sending Ash back when she asked to stay. Why?! What was his reason for this? That bugged me because it made no sense to me. I would have liked to have seen or learned more about that fairy world*. I felt sorry for Sidhean for spoilery reasons.
As for Ash, I’m not sure about her. She’s somewhat enigmatic to me. She loves Kaisa but what are her feelings for Sidhean? Is she just spellbound by him?
I found Ash by Malinda Lo to be an interesting take on an old story and well written. Usually, fairy tale retellings end up annoying me but not this one. Although there are things I think could have been expanded on, I ended up liking it quite a bit.
*Lo has also written Huntress which sounds like it could offer more about the fairy world.