I’ve been busy working on my list of good books, in the fantasy genre, that contain GLBTQ characters and one of those books just stood out from the rest so it’s getting its own entry. I’m going to keep the plot spoilers to the minimum although I’ll be happy to discuss the plot in the comments.
My local supermarket has a tiny area where it sells books. The young adult section is even smaller and filled with the same old bestsellers like Twilight and Twilight 2 and Book-That-Looks-Similar-To-Twilight. One day when I walked by the book section, there on the shelves was the unthinkable; this national chain, in its very select choice of teenage books had Ash.
Now that wouldn’t be significant if you looked at the cover. It’s a shiny book that blends in with all the other young adult titles. The back cover offers no hint to the startling twist that is in the book.
“With her parents gone, Ash finds herself a servant in the house of her ruthless stepmother and there seems no hope of finding happiness again. But Ash is unaware of her mother’s legacy, and that it will lead her to a magical place. A place where love, identity and belonging are all waiting.”
They were selling a ‘lesbian retelling of Cinderella’ written by a lesbian author, to children without as much as a warning label. The last time I was in a bricks and mortar bookstore, I found the same thing. Ash was there, on one of the book displays with nothing to separate it from the rest of the young adult literature.
I find that attitude so utterly refreshing.
The ‘lesbian retelling’ is the authors words. I, personally, read Ash as being bisexual but I’m sure we’re entitled to have a difference of opinions on that.
Ash is a retelling of Cinderella, with its own unique twists on the tale, breathing life and magic into the fairytale. If falls very firmly into the same category that many young adult books do nowadays, Ash finds herself in the centre of a love triangle, forced to choose between an utterly gorgeous, powerful, immortal being, and a human friend (there’s also a handsome prince but he’s never really a contender). Each represents different things to her.
It is barely worthy of note that one of the love interests is male and the other is female. Ash’s sexuality is treated as normal, there is no angst in regards to the gender of her love interests; it’s not considered out of the ordinary by anyone.
There is plenty of angst about other things. Being Cinderella she has both her father and mother’s deaths to contend with as well as a wicked stepmother and her step-sisters.
I wanted to love Ash far more than I did. In theory it hits the spot, it’s a fairytale retelling set in a fantasy world, with queer characters and I absolutely adore fairytale retellings. In practice it just missed the mark.
I also love books with strong heroines but Ash never clicked for me. Her female love interest was by far the most interesting of the characters and I found myself, throughout the book, wishing I could get a glimpse into Kaisa’s world instead of reading about Ash.
It wasn’t a book without its problems but I’m undoubtedly far outside the target market. It’s a book that I’m glad was written, it’s a book that I’m glad is out there, on my supermarket shelves, for anyone to buy, instead of needed to be hunted down on the internet. Every single other decent GLBTQ in the fantasy genre I’ve read I’ve had to buy on the internet.
I want to see more books like Ash. I want to see more good books that appeal to mainstream audiences with GLBTQ characters. I want them sitting on the bookshelves of the stores not in a little niche corner but right next to all the other books.
I am looking forward to Malinda Lo’s next book, Huntress, which seems to be taking the best elements of Ash and weaving them into a novel of their own. Even if it wasn’t I’d buy it because I love that cover.