Skip to main content

Ash by Malinda Lo

When Ash is around twelve years old, her mother dies and her father dies soon after. But not before marrying a woman with two daughters of her own. Even with a stepmother and two stepsisters, Ash is all alone, for her stepfamily treats her very unkindly and like a servant. And always, always Ash feels the loss of her mother.

Ash inherited her mother's love of fairy tales and she reads stories about how fairies can take people to see their deceased loved ones. Ash seeks out fairies because magic reminds her of her mother and she would like to ask the fairies to bring her mother back from the dead. She finds fairies and forms a very peculiar relationship with one named Sidhean. Sidhean is powerful and more handsome than any man Ash has ever seen. He desires Ash and claims her as his own. Though he and Ash are strange friends/companions for many years, they rarely spend time together. Sidhean claims that Ash is not yet ready to stay with him and his people. However, Ash yearns to leave her hard and lonely life for the magic and beauty of Sidhean and other fairies.

In her late teens, Ash meets the King's Huntress. Kaisa is strong and interesting and very important in the kingdom. She shares Ash's respect for magic and the old ways of the land. As Ash was once completely fascinated with Sidhean, she becomes fascinated with Kaisa. Ash and Kaisa slowly form a very warm friendship. As Ash realizes just how much she and Kaisa care for each other, she finds herself turning away from Sidhean and fairies and magic. She wants to be with Kaisa. But Sidhean has granted Ash two wishes; in return Ash had promised herself to him. Everyone knows that it is dangerous to break a promise made to a fairy.

Ash by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009) is a truly beautiful and unique retelling of Cinderella. It reads very much like a fairy tale and it had me enchanted. Sometimes the descriptions of the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the weather and the land were unnecessary and overwrought. And Ash and Kaisa's relationship was underdeveloped compared to Ash and Sidhean's relationship. (This is probably due to the fact that Ash and Sidhean knew each other for many years and so many more pages were dedicated to their relationship.) But I couldn't put this novel down. The character of Ash was so well drawn, so well written. She is flawed. She is likable. She grows. She is REAL. Readers will sympathize and empathize with Ash. I deeply cared about her and about what would happen to her, Sidhean, and Kaisa. I also loved how this novel is very much about choosing to be brave and really LIVE LIFE. Even though life can be acutely painful, at least it is REAL. True to fairy tale form, Ash can be considered a cautionary tale about running away from life to escape grief and hardship.

Sometimes fairy tale retellings feel old and tired. Ash feels fresh and the love triangle of Ash, Sidhean, and Kaisa haunts me. The spell of this novel still clings to me.

Why I Imagine the Characters of Ash as Asians

I had thought that I would imagine the characters of Ash as Caucasians because it is based on a fairy tale with very popular versions from Europe and the United States. To my surprise, delight, and relief, I imagined the characters as Asians. Yes, some of the characters are described as having physical features that are not Asian. For example, the fairies have striking blue eyes. But in my mind their blue eyes have smooth eyelids with no folds. Hey, they could be biracial. :o)

I did not think of the lush setting of Ash as somewhere in Europe or the United States. I thought of Japan, Taiwan, and China. There are several reasons why it was easy for me to imagine the characters and setting as Asian and I would like to enumerate them here.

1. I have Asia in my heart and mind.
2. The author Malinda Lo is Asian American. (She envisions Ash and Kaisa as Asians.)
3. I was influenced by this post where blogger Ah Yuan cast Ash as if it were to be made into a Japanese TV drama.
4. I watch a lot of Japanese anime. Japanese anime is full of characters with physical features that are not Asian: blond hair, blue eyes, curly hair, etc. But the language is always Japanese and the characterization, narrative techniques, and themes are always uniquely Japanese. I think of these characters as Japanese.
5. The subtle and painful love triangle of Ash, Sidhean, and Kaisa reminded me of the subtle and painful love triangles in excellent Asian anime and TV dramas.
6. There is tension between magic and philosophy/religion in Ash's land. The people are trying to embrace science, yet are reluctant to completely let go of their superstitions. This sounds a lot like Asia today. In Asia, there are still "negotiations" between tradition and modernity.

[My copy of Ash is an ARC I won from Presenting Lenore. Thank you, Lenore!]


  1. =D I'm glad that my casting of Ash helped you visualize the characters as Asian. I believe I can now officially call my efforts on that particular chromatic casting meme as a success!! =D

  2. Hey TArie, I loved ASh - but I admit that I didn't envision it as Asian. Even knowing Malinda - I didn't picture it as such - I think because Cinderella and fairies always feels white to me. But I love that you did. If I could read it over, I would picture it as a Japanese anime! Which by the way, I agree with you about wholeheartedly. Have you seen my post on The last Airbender? As we get closer to the release date and trailers are coming out for it, the more my heart is heavy and sad and angry.

  3. I loved Ash too, the writing was gorgeous. I would have liked to see Ash and Kaisa's relationship developed more though. Also, I think if I had read ash after reading Ah Yuan's post I would envison the characters as Asian even more. I think I was able to because the author was Asian and she said she envisioned them as Asian and so I went with it (well I viewed Ash as bi-racial). Thanks for listing your reasons as to why you view the characters of Ash as Asian, they were very interesting (especialy comparing it in a way to Japanese anime)

  4. Ah Yuan, thank you for that casting!!!

    Ello, I am definitely boycotting The Last Airbender. I am not spending 160-180 pesos to watch Caucasian actors play Asian characters.

    Ari, yay! I am so glad you could also picture the characters as Asian.

  5. I think I will look through my library for this book. It sounds, to me, like a novel definitely worth reading. And since I have a week of spare time ahead of me (actually, nine days) so it looks like I'll be poring over some writing! :)

  6. Tarie, you're so humorous, do you know that? lol! You got me visualizing the book as a Japanese Drama, too, though I haven't read it yet. You did something to my brain, now I'll have Asia in my heart when I'll read it!

    Looking forward to it.

  7. Asakuun, ASH is definitely worth reading. It's truly something different. :)

    Nathalie, yay!!! I hope you'll really enjoy imagining the characters of ASH as Asian.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ako'y Isang Mabuting Pilipino (I Am A Good Filipino) by Noel Cabangon and Jomike Tejido

This one is a real crowd pleaser: Ako'y Isang Mabuting Pilipino , Lampara Books ' 2012 picture book adaptation of Noel Cabangon 's song, with Cabangon's original Filipino lyrics, functional English translations by Becky Bravo , and illustrations by Jomike Tejido ! Cabangon's inspiring lyrics remind children of the ways they can be good Filipinos, such as doing their best in school and obeying their parents. There are plenty of reminders for adults too, such as following traffic rules and not selling their votes during elections. Tejido's illustrations are warm and wholesome, acrylic paintings on hand-woven mats that depict different ways to be good citizens.    You just can't go wrong with Ako'y Isang Mabuting Pilipino ! Children and adults will understand and appreciate the lyrics and paintings. The chords of the song are provided, so music lovers can play and sing along. There are notes and guide questions for educators. There is even

Author Interview: Edna Cabcabin Moran

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on May 28, 2009. Today, I am SO PROUD to present my interview with Filipino American author illustrator Edna Cabcabin Moran . *bursts with pride* Welcome, Edna!! Author/Illustrator, Edna Cabcabin Moran. Photo by Mark Moran. Can you tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage? My parents are from Eastern Samar, Philippines, an historic island in the Visayan island chain. My father was a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who brought my mom and older siblings to this country. I am the first American-born child in the family. Growing up, I always felt like I straddled two cultures. I'm very American in the way I dress, speak and carry myself. I don't know Tagalog and I lost touch with my parent's dialect, Waray Waray. However, I have strong cultural roots and have retained much of my Filipino-ness which includes a deep, abiding respect for the elders and their stories. Perhaps the family meal is a good indicator of how one is ra

Author Interview: May Tobias-Papa

Citation for Araw sa Palengke [ A Day at the Market ], written by May Tobias-Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas ( Adarna House , 2008), from the Philippine National Children's Book Awards 2010 : "Listen well," her mother tells her. "Hold on to me tightly, ha? So you won't get lost. And don't point at things that you want me to buy for you." And so the story begins with a promise: "Yes, Nanay, I promise." Early one morning, a little girl accompanies her mother to the market. They take readers with them. The market is hot and noisy, smelly and muddy, but it's also fascinating and colorful, because it's seen from a point of view that's only about three feet tall. When they arrive home, and our little girl unpacks the bayong (bag) to find a surprise wrapped in newspaper at the bottom, it's her joy we feel in the little dance that she does. Araw sa Palengke is a true marriage of text and visual image. The story by May Tobias-Pa