Saturday, January 9, 2010
Ash (Aisling) grows up in a town cupped by woods everyone believes to be enchanted, and her mother teaches her from an early age the dangers of wandering into the fairy world, whose stories never have happy endings for the humans involved. But Ash is fearless, and convinced that these fairies everyone half-believes in can somehow restore her late mother to her, and spends her time walking in the woods and reading fairytales in hopes that she will find the secret to bridging that chasm of death. When she is orphaned at age 13, Ash's abusive stepmother moves her away from her beloved wood and installs Ash as maid in her manor closer to town. To escape her domestic prison, Ash developes a treacherous friendship with a beautiful man she is sure is a fairy. At the same time, Ash is deepening her human friendship with the king's Huntress, a kind and adventurous young woman who offers the keys to a different and happier human world. But what can this fairy man really offer her, and what is the price? And how can she reconcile her obligations to him with her increasing desire to remain part of the human realm?
Before reading it, I had heard Ash billed as a Young Adult lesbian retelling of the Cinderella story. If that tagline draws in a readership, then I suppose it has done its job, but it is an oversimplification that does not do justice to the multiple tensions of the plot or the rich, hypnotic fairy world Lo builts around Ash. Lo does not talk down to her YA readers, and although this is a coming-of-age story, YA-appropriate with no explicit content, adult readers will be equally entertained. She also takes a careful and multidimensional approach to the potentially difficult subject of emerging sexuality, offering a mythical and metaphoric counterpart for the complexities GLBT teens face in modern society. The language is appropriate for the subject of a dangerous, haunting fairy world, transportive and spellbinding. I fell victim of Lo's cinematic imagery. In fact--I can't be sure that this will be construed as a compliment, but in this case I certainly mean it as one--the prose made me wish very much I could see the whole story--woods, hunts, ballrooms, costumes, fairy world, bonfires--on a big screen. I recommend this book and look forward to reading Lo's next project.