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Ash by Malinda Lo
recommended, with caveat

After Ash's father dies, her cruel stepmother forces her to become the household servant. When Ash meets Sidhean, a dangerous and powerful fairy, it seems like her dreams of a fairytale rescue are about to come true.

Then Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, and over a summer of learning to hunt and ride, she falls in love.

But Sidhean has already laid his claim, and Ash must choose between a magical romance and true love.

I really wanted to like this book. Some of my favorite authors said such lovely things about it, the excerpt on the jacket was spare and beautiful, and I have a thing for huntresses, in general. Also, the cover is great. I was hoping for something vivid and moving, similar to Keturah and Lord Death, except with more horseback-riding and real fairies, and much less actual dying. Ash was a good book, but only superficially like what I expected.

I liked it. But then, I'm not the most discerning reader. The made-up fairytales about huntresses and Fairy Queens were exactly the kind of tales I love to find tucked into a story like this. The costume party where Ash dresses herself in boy's clothing, and looks fantastic. The slow courtship of the summer days when the huntress teaches Ash to ride and hunt. The imagery was clear and the fairytales brought a nice depth to the story.

It was good; it wasn't great. The two things I had a problem with were the world-building and a lack of resolution in the subplots.

The world-building kept me in a state of constant disorentation, an ill-fitting cross between Regency England and generic-Celtic-flavored-high-fantasy settings. Ash's family moves to their townhouse from the country estate; the step-mother made it clear that Ash's father had failed in his duty to provide for his family; the step-sisters are in a tizzy over marriage to wealthy men, if not the Prince. And in the background, there's the tradition that says any real hunting party must be led by a woman, that hedgewitches are respected as wise women, and that there are Fair Folk in the forest, marvelous and terrible to behold.

I wanted to like Ash, and I did, but oh my god did I ever feel dissatisfied when I got to the end of it.

I wanted:

  • More Sidhean; I couldn't help comparing him to the Beast in that other fairy tale -- you know the one -- and I wanted to know that he's a reformed fairy, after the curse that Ash's mother set on him. The story's not about him, he's not Ash's True Love, and I get that, but one unresolved report about how he ended up in love with a mortal girl is just frustrating.
  • More about this huntress tradition; this tradition, plus the hedgewitchery and the fairies clashed so hard with the Regency-romance feel of the rest of the story, my suspension of disbelief got whiplash. Something should have been done to smooth things together, like, I don't know, explaining how the heck a culture with an ancient and honored tradition of women-led hunts produces step-sisters who believe that their only chance to avoid a life of drudgery and despair lies in marriage to a wealthy man.
  • More huntress, full stop. I mean, hello, yes, I totally have a thing for huntresses, but Kaisa, the huntress and Ash's True Love, shows up regrettably late in the story, long after I was invested in Sidhean. Ash is, at its core, a love story, so what's up with the delay in getting them to meet, here?

There were too many plot threads left unfinished. The author did an admirable job getting me to care about the characters, but that just made my disappointment all the sharper when only Ash's story was told, while the rest were left hanging. It was a short, sweet read, but it felt incomplete.


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July 2011

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