Ash by Malinda Lo. (Grades 8+)
Aisling has lived all her life on the edge of the Wood, a dark and magical place where fairies roam, or so the stories say. When her mother and father die and she's forced to work for her stepfamily, Aisling longs for the fairies to take her away. She sneaks away as often as she can to walk in the woods with the fairy Sidhean, beautiful and brooding. But when Ash meets the king's huntress Kaisa, everything begins to change. This retelling of Cinderella features a lush fantasy world where the old magic still flourishes, even if most people deny its existence, and a thrilling new love story - one where the prince doesn't get the girl... the huntress does.
The first thing that really struck me about Ash was its atmospheric setting. It's dark. It's brooding. The forest is alive with magic that can be beautiful and dangerous at the same time. People are warned not to tarry with the fairies, not to eat any of their fairy foods, not to join the fairy hunt. If they do, they might never come back. Or they might come back but waste away, longing to return to the fairy lands.
And how are people warned? Through the stories that are told throughout the novel. Stories have a prominent place in this world. They warn children not to stray too far into the woods. They celebrate heroes of the past. They hold power because they hold the knowledge of the old world, of the magic that still runs through the trees. Ash loves hearing and reading fairy tales and one of her prized possessions is a book of tales her father brought her. To Ash, the stories have an extra dimension because she believes in fairies and treats the stories like they're truth.
The book reminded me of A Curse Dark as Gold for its detailed, dark setting and atmosphere. This is a book that's not all about the plot, but more about descriptions and world-building. This isn't a bad thing, but it started a little bit slow. Also, I felt a bit removed from the characters, like I could see what was happening to them but it wasn't like I was right there with them. The huntress Kaisa, in particular, was a closed book. I'd love to see another tale from her point of view.
That said, I love, love, love that Aisling fell in love with the female huntress instead of the prince. And I also love that it wasn't "OMG Ash is in love with a girl!" with the townspeople freaking out. An issue book this is not. (Yay!) It's a refreshing new look at the Cinderella story and one that is sure to please fans of fairy tale retellings.
Add it to your TBR list because it's due out September 1.
PS: How much do I love this cover? It's different and dark and I feel like it perfectly reflects the story within.