In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.
The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.
Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.*
There is absolutely no doubt that this book is not only well-written but written with its theme, its subject matter in mind. Each sentence has the same ethereal feel as the Wood Ash wanders in whenever she's feeling lonely - its one coping mechanism that although might not be wholly original, one that is evocative from Lo's excellent prose. It also stands out from the myriad of mechanisms that is used in the YA trope that is so rampant it is now called the Disappearing Parent.
The book cover, unlike its hardcover counterpart, matches the sometimes dark undercurrent in the book. The other one might have appealed younger audiences but it was a little too deceptive of the themes for my liking. I want to add that it wasn't until I was a third way through the book that I realized that the cover had a girl lying in fetal position and not - as I had thought - a crumpled piece of paper. Well, I thought, that makes much more sense.
The world itself is a place I would love to live in. The descriptions of the Wood, Rook Hill, the Royal City and the riverside are so lush and lilting that I sometimes felt overwhelmed with the amount. Not in a bad way of course but for a second I had to stop, taking it all in and then continue. Like a heady rush of wine. Another good thing about Lo's prose is that unlike her fellow retold-fairytale authors, she never once faltered. She kept her voice distinct, formal and sometimes otherworldly right to the end.
Unfortunately, I did not like Ash. There was that, at first, niggling feeling when I read about how Ash's real name was Aisling and this was already uncomfortably close to the main character in Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely. Maybe it's just a personal thing but as the novel went on, I disliked Ash more and more. What Ana said at one point was right - Ash did sometimes have this view that she was better than everyone else. The narration did not help. The only time she slipped out of this was when she was with Sidhean or Kaisa, but that was only because 1. she knew that Sidhean viewed her as his equal despite the differences in race and 2. Kaisa held her as an equal as well. I'm not sure whether I can say anything about what happens after you lose both your parents and you're forced to work as a servant to your stepfamily but even when Clara treated Ash nicely, she still snubbed her. I mean, what? Why would you do that to someone who treats you nice? And even with Gwen, Ash somehow drew her as stupid compared to her with her dreams of marrying a man. I understand that she's ahead of her time but the way she argued with her, or thought about Gwen got under my skin.
I think I had the impression that Ash was a little bit of a Mary Sue. The disappearing parent trope, the two amazingly awesome love interests whom anyone else would love vying for her attention, the miserable life she complained of despite the fact that she could have made it better and the attention of the prince. OK, so this is a retelling of Cinderella but actually, it's not. This is the same Disneyified tale that I've seen replayed so many times - right down to the blue gown. Why not make Kaisa the actual Prince? (Though I loved her role.) There was no point other than more conflict with her stepmother to have the Prince even exist with such importance. The last straw was when Ash was hit by her stepmother. There was something incredibly personal about that moment that made me close to the book for a second and think. Ash does need to stand up to her stepmother but not that way. Especially when she knew what would happen. Ash is characterized as being quiet, someone who loves fairytales and her mother yet she's so angry. I never quite got who she was angry towards or why. She just was.
Maybe I'm just biased. Maybe it's because I loved Sidhean and Kaisa more than the actual protagonist. Sidhean's role in this book confused me at times. I knew he was cursed to love her - why do publishing companies insist on giving stuff away? - but he seemed to appear at the beginning for chapters and chapters and then just disappear until Ash needed him. That was irritating. Although I loved Kaisa, I really didn't understand the whole point of Sidhean if he served to be just a sort of Godmother and make Ash familiar enough with the Wood to bump into the King's Huntress. There was so much more potential to be placed in him. I never also quite got the relation between him and Ash's mother. Before he appeared, no one mentioned Sidhean or Ash's mother's connection to fairies. He just seemed a little ... used.
Then there's Kaisa. Beautiful, strong, complicated, wicked, badass Kaisa. I'm crushing on her. I really am. She can ride a horse, pull of guy's clothes, do that think most YA heroes do to girls when the air's all hot and she's still a girl. She can pull off that strong but vulnerable vibe that most heroines in paranormal or even contemporary can't. OK, now I'm pretty sure I'm in love with her. Love with fictional characters. Sigh.
The problems I had with the book don't outweigh the good though and I can definitely say that I will read Lo's next book, Huntress,
but more in hope that Ash does not appear even towards the end. Kaisa is my favorite and I hope that her playful, sometimes serious and engaging personality isn't a byproduct of what she went through beforehand. But I might enjoy watching her mature. Wow. For some reason, I had read the name of Kaede in the synopsis of the book as Kaisa. That makes everything much more clearer as after more thought, the prequel involving Kaisa didn't make much sense. In any case, I'll still be picking up Lo's next book with much more gleeful anticipation.
All in all=☆☆☆☆
*Summary taken from Goodreads.