Classic fairy tales have become ubiquitous in pop culture, from TV shows and films to comic books. Published in 2009, Malinda Lo’s debut novel predicted the current popularity of fairy tale adaptations. Her re-telling of Cinderella is an exploration of loss, wonder and courage. Particularly the courage to be yourself.
Lo includes the familiar evil stepmother, boorish step-sisters and magic, but she adds darker elements which provide welcome relief from the saccharin cartoons you are likely most familiar with. Ash is a real teenage girl with complex emotions pulling her in different directions: “She wanted to kick the gravestone; she wanted to tear the earth beneath which her mother lay and pull the body out of the ground and shake it until it gave her an answer” (p 121).
Ash has lost both her parents, and her closest companion is a brooding Fairy named Sidhean who initially warns Ash away from the temptations of Fairy life, but ultimately binds her to himself with magic. Life among the Fairies is far from magical for the humans trapped there, yet compared to her life of drudgery even false glamour is appealing. It is Sidhean, not a fairy god-mother, who provides her trip to the ball. The delightful twist is that while the Prince is enthralled with her, Ash only has eyes for the king’s Huntress.
Ash’s path to self-understanding is believable and sympathetic. Lo’s prose is beautiful and her descriptions perfectly compliment the shifting mood of her story. Anyone who has ever wished that Cinderella’s happy ending featured a Princess, not a Prince, will love this novel. It is published by Little, Brown specifically for young adults, and would especially appeal to lesbian teens. However, anyone interested in fairy tales or classic fantasy will find much to enjoy in this novel.
This interview style review from the Bitch magazine YA Book Blog features the diverse opinions of three readers. Aaron Hughes at Fantastic Reviews also provides his perspective.
Take a look at the book trailer:
This is a classic quest/good versus evil fantasy tale starring two seventeen year old girls, Kaede and Taisin. Both are students at The Academy, a school for aspiring sages. One of them is highborn and the other is not. Though they barely know each other, they are chosen to travel together to the fairy city to meet with the mysterious Fairy Queen in an effort to stop whatever evil force has thrown the world out of balance. The night before they are told about this quest, Taisin has a frightening premonition which sets up the emotional tension of the novel.
These are very familiar elements to any fan of fantasy fiction, yet Lo’s beautiful writing and skill at emotional exposition make this story rewarding and compelling. For example:
“Why are you afraid of your feelings?” she whispered. Taisin bit her lip. She looked away from Kaede; she looked down at her hands; they twisted together as if she were trying to weave a rope around her wrists.”
Lo respects both her characters and her readers by avoiding predictable outcomes and giving each character depth. I love that the cover art makes it clear that the characters in this tale are Chinese, and elements of Chinese culture are present throughout the book. Lo brings new possibilities to a genre that is all too often bogged down in restrictive tropes and endless description, and not just because the heroes are young Asian lesbians. Her characters are not stereotyped: they learn from their experiences, work through their fear, and fall in love. They save the world and it doesn’t take 600 pages. This engaging book will appeal to readers who like quest fantasies, or stories about girls discovering their strengths and having adventures.
Watch the book trailer at the Malinda Lo blog. Read a review at Bookishcomforts, or one by Brit Mandelo at Tor.com.