Warning this review contains spoilers.
The novel Ash is not the type of book I normally read. It is a book with fairies and spells and magic. It is written for and marketed towards teens. So how did I happen to read the book? I had seen it mentioned in a couple of blogs so I was aware of the title. What got me really interested was listening to the author Melinda Lo participate on a panel at the 2009 World Fantasy Convention held in San Jose. I found Lo's remarks about the book and writing in general interesting enough that after the panel was over I went to the dealer's room and found a copy to buy. Just as I getting ready to make the purchase the author came by and so I now have an autographed copy.
A quick summary of the book is that it is Cinderella retold. The story has the usual elements of a cruel stepmother and her two daughters who have access to the court. Ash is the step daughter who is made to do the manual labor of the household. Melinda Lo does a fine job of maintaining the overall structure of the Cinderella story while adding new twists and character changes that it keeps the readers interest. For example the two daughters Ana and Clara have character differences which keep them from simply being stereotypes; this is particularly true of Clara who is a more pleasant and less self-absorbed character; and who at the end of the novel shows signs of becoming a better person. The book is further populated with a range of characters from both the fairy world and the non-fairy world.
The story picks up intensity as Ash meets and becomes friends with Kaisa the women who leads the King's hunt. Since this is a Cinderella story we are given a grand ball where Ash dances with the prince and dazzles him. But to be able to attend the ball Ash has to make a pact with Sidhean of the fairy world and paying that debt provides tension and we see Ash grow as she struggles to deal with her commitments as well as understand the relationship between Sidhean and her mother whose death is described early in the book.
The book concludes Ash returning to the royal court where the prince is going to announce his choice from all of the eligible young ladies of the country. But Ash leaves her cruel stepmother not for the prince but for the Kaisa the King's Huntress. This conclusion is well written and flows easily from the rest of the book without seeming hurried or overly dramatic.
For persons like me who do not normally read stories with fairies the book might start a bit slow however after the first few pages I got into the flow of the book and it was well paced through out. It is also the appropriate length at about 260 pages of easy to read type. Too many authors might have been tempted to pad the length out and I think increasing the length would have diminished the pace of the book. I recommend this book.
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