Malinda Lo's Ash

Ash by Malinda LoRemixing fairy tales is deceptively hard to do well. Especially when the fairy tale in question features a fairy god mother, and evil stepsister, and magic slippers. As much as I love Cinderella, I'm pretty cynical when someone tells me that this or that retelling actually brings something new to the story for real this time*. Basically, if you can't do better than the Rogers & Hammerstein musical (specifically, the 90s version with the multiracial cast and the regrettable costumes), you're probably not going to impress me.

Malinda Lo impressed me.

I'm sorry I waited so long to read ASH.

It's not just that she's written a version that affirms Lesbian and Bisexual teens. It's great that she did; I always appreciate seeing myself represented in fiction, and I really wish there had been more stories like this out there when I was a teen: stories with queer heroines who get to do all the things straight heroines get to do, rather than having their entire story and all their struggles revolve around discrimination.

But just like I want to read about people like me who get to do what other heroes do, I also want to read like non-marginalized people do. Straight white men don't have  to cleave to every science fiction and fantasy novel that pays even the faintest lip-service to the idea that they're multidimensional people with their own stories, and I refuse to swoon over their table scraps.

So my actual favorite thing about ASH is that the traditional elements of Cinderella's story--the fairy benefactor helping her attend the ball, the prince dazzled by her beauty, the magic slippers, the jealous stepsister, the clock striking twelve--are little more than a backdrop to a completely original story about a young woman struggling past her grief to shape her own destiny and happiness.

I also really loved the dimension she brought to the traditional story's characters. Unlike the fairytale, Lo's version doesn't skip over Cinderella's grief at the loss of her parents or the change in her circumstances. This isn't Disney's long-suffering and eternally patient princess. Her reaction to her mistreatment is human and whole. The fairy benefactor has also been rounded out; appearing as a fleshed-out character with motivations and desires completely separate from helping Cinderella catch Charming's eye.

To my mind, though, Lo's neatest trick was the wicked stepmother. She's no more sympathetic in ASH than she is in the traditional fairytale, but in this version, she's mistreating Cinderella for her own reasons, and not just because the story needs a villain.

Lo's newest book, ADAPTATION, is the first half of a science fiction duology, and it's fresh off the presses. I'm definitely snapping up a copy.

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*I actually took a crack at retelling Cinderella with the fairies in the foreground, back when I was a teen. It involved the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the Irish legend of Deirdre and Naoise. It was not very good.


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Posted on September 30, 2012 and filed under Books I Love.