This is another book I’ve been flinging at RL people I know. I admit I haven’t had to work very hard at it, because once I say “Fairy tales! Lesbians!” they’re all pretty much like, “WHERE. GIVE IT TO ME.”
So here it is: Ash, by Malinda Lo. It’s a retelling of Cinderella with strong female characters everywhere! Everybody has agency and their own agenda! Ash doesn’t want to marry for power or money, but her stepsister does, and that’s okay! Adorable lesbians meet-cuting all over the place! A fairy
godmother godfather benefactor with his own schemes and plans! I can’t write sentences that don’t end in exclamation points anymore!
Malinda Lo has a deft hand at writing emotion, and especially the breathlessness of falling in love; even though there’s nothing at all explicit in the book, there are parts that are so emotionally identifiable that they made me blush. She also employs one of my favorite storytelling devices, the story-within-a-story (Megan Whalen Turner fans, you need something to read in the 57 days until the drop of Conspiracy of Kings, don’t you?) The fables she inserts aren’t tried-and-true Grimm fairytales, yet they’re extremely…”legible” is the word I want to use, but I mean also immediate, familiar-feeling yet definitely fresh and new. The worldbuilding also has that knack of newness and familiarity; aside from the falling-in-love, I think this is almost the part I like the most about Ash.
Like MWT, Malinda Lo has a way of using the reader’s expectations against them. It’s all kind of “standard pseudo-Germanic patriarchal fairytale landscape with some interesting local customs” until all of a sudden, it goes “Rook Hill had its own hunt and its own huntress, of course, for hunts had always been led by women.” I actually stopped as I sat there in a cafe reading this book, read that sentence twice, and went, “….oh. Oh! Awesome.” It was like that moment in Temeraire when we find out that all the Longwings are flown by women; that sort of realization and appreciation that there’s a respected place for women/minorities in the society that someone created. (And not that “green riders are sluts and all blue riders are gay, haha” shit, either.) It doesn’t happen often, you see, and it’s so when it does. Feminism, hooray!
In conclusion: Feminism! Fairy Tales! Lesbians! Read Ash by Malinda Lo.