"As the people swayed and stamped and sung their way around the bonfire, Ash knew that this was what the fairies were always hunting for: a circle of joy, hot and brilliant, the scent of love in the deepest winter...How it must disappoint them; that they would never be human." p.247
Honestly, you know, the Cinderella tale has never been one of my favorites1. She is usually so weak and pathetic, very accepting and tra la la about her situation, just putting up with her stepfamily's abuse. But Ash gave me a different insight. It is about an abused girl who can't just walk away. She has no one else and is usually young when her father dies so there is no where to go. Abused children are helpless because they have no idea how to save themselves. While Ash is not physically abused (well, not really) she is definitely mentally abused by her stepmother once her father dies. Made to work in the kitchens and become their servant to pay off her father's debts, Ash has no way to escape this situation. So she wishes and prays for the fairies in the forest to take her away where it would be better to serve them for many lifetimes than to serve her stepmother for one human lifetime. So she actively seeks out the fairies, when conventional wisdom tell her that it is a dangerous thing to do and meets Sidhean, a beautiful fairy who befriends but does not take her into his world. It is when she meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, that she begins to change her world for herself.
There are several twists in this version of Cinderella. The most obvious one is that Ash falls in love with the King's Huntress and not with the prince. So there is the lesbian element to the story. But it doesn't feel gimmicky or forced. It is the most natural thing in the world for the two of them to become attracted to each other. But Kaisa does have a high ranking so it's not unlike falling in love with a prince. The other big twist is how Ash changes her world herself. Cinderella is usually passive, waiting around for her rescue. But Ash is both the source of her dilemma and her salvation.
At first, though, I was confused with all the talk of the fairies at the beginning and throughout the book. But there is a pay-off for those so, in the end, it added an extra element to the story. And the fairy godmother becomes something much more complex and sinister and fascinating. All in all, it is a beautifully written book. And the cover is actually amazing given the content of the book.
1Notable exception is Ella Enchanted, one of my favorites. She doesn't do it because she wants to but because she literally has no choice.
*This book completes the GLBT Challenge.