Ash by Malinda Lo
I started crusing the Young Adult section of bookstores years ago, looking for new material for our daughter's four hundred page a day habit. Then after she talked me into reading a few, I started looking for myself. And that I'm writing YA, I'm checking out the new releases all the time.
Which is why I noticed Ash by Malinda Lo. It was one of many new hardbacks with a young girl on the cover in some fantasy attire, so it blended well with its contemporaries. What drew me was the author--hey, I know her! I thought, and picked it up.
Somewhere, in my years writing for the queer community, I've been in correspondence with Malinda Lo, who is the former managing editor of AfterEllen.com, the largest news and entertainment website for lesbian and bisexual women. I knew her name.
Shortly after, our local library had a copy of Ash on the new release display right by the library entrance (it happens to be the most-used branch of the library in the state, and routinely has a waiting crowd at opening time), and I snatched it up to add to my pile.
I knew it was a re-telling of Cinderella, was in the fantasy genre, and probably had love interests both straight and gay, something I haven't come across before in a YA except in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, which I adore (Clare also gives Lo a great blurb on the back of her book). Almost all Young Adult fiction I've come across that includes same-sex romance are "problem novels" like Julie Anne Peters' Keeping You a Secret (she also gives Lo a great book blurb, as well as Meg Cabot, the Stephen King of YA).
I've been reading Ash in bed during my recovery from surgery, just finished the first of the Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine on audio, and before starting Ash finished Impossible (another fantasy/fairy tale, based on the song "Scarborough Fair"--it is awesome, romantic and thought provoking) by Nancy Werlin. My first comments on Malinda Lo's book are: perfect narrative pitch, maintains willing suspension of disbelief from the first page, and "I wonder where we go from here?" on page 168.
Doubtless I'll write a full review, because I can't help myself, and also because Lo has done something I've wanted to see in YA fiction for a long time, and something I want to do in one of the books I'm working on--she makes orientation a non-issue. And in a fantasy world based on British Isle fairy stories, that's a major accomplishment.
In her story we believe in witches, in "modern" doctors who bleed patients to heal them for lack of a better idea, in the possibility of fairies and magic remaining in part of the land, in spoiled girls angling for a rich husband (we've heard that one before), and we believe that attraction can spring up between a poor step-child living as a servant, and the King's Huntress, a species of fairy tale female new to me.
The book appeared on shelves on Aug. 9th this year, amid an avalanche of fantasy YA hoping to tempt the thirsty Twilight readers, needing another fix. I want to know--are they drinking it up?