Ash - Malinda Lo This is actually a reread for me. I received my own shiny cover of “Ash” as a gift from a lovely friend and was heartily looking forward to seeing how well it stood up the second time round. Most commonly referred to as the ‘lesbian Cinderella’, the book does retain the basic structure of arguably the most famous fairytale of all time whilst weaving in its own world, one where magic has been forgotten and viewed as a simple child’s tale by many. Stories and the telling of them make up a huge part of the narrative, which may divide readers since, while they’re beautifully crafted, they bring the pacing to a grinding halt. The prose is well crafted, the retelling of the iconic fairytale is interesting and the relationship between Ash and Kaisa is definitely the highlight. However, there was something a little off about “Ash” upon its rereading. Maybe I was just less blinded by my love of Ash and Kaisa’s relationship and therefore the novel’s flaws were more noticeable. Whatever the case, the novel, while still enjoyable and well written, fell a little flat this time round. The magic element added an interesting twist to the mythology, but I found it rather two dimensional that everyone who doesn’t believe in the ‘old ways’ is either incredibly ignorant or extremely cruel, like Ash’s stepmother, one of the book’s other main failings. The evil stepmother trope seems like a tale as old as time and Lo had a great opportunity to bust the cliché or perhaps expand upon it to give it more dimensions. Instead, Lady Isobel falls flat and offers nothing new as an antagonist. She’s predictable cruelty and it’s rather dull. As much as I loved Ash and Kaisa’s relationship – they grew over time, had a sweet and awkward chemistry and it was refreshing to see the girl in the Cinderella role break out of her mould of passivity – it seems as if the development of the novel’s male characters was completely forgotten about. Sidhean felt more like a plot device who is shoved to the side once his story is dealt with (although I found the use and exchange of magic for help an interesting take on old fairy mythos) and the prince is just sort of there. On the positive side, Ash is allowed to develop and grow as a woman independent of a love interest’s involvement. As someone who is so bloody sick of the “Love saves the girl/day” trope, it was a welcome change. Not that Ash doesn’t make a few stupid decisions, she definitely does. Some left me scratching my head. I appreciated that LGBTQ romance was not taboo in this world.After finishing “Ash” for the second time, I couldn’t help but feel that the tale seemed rather lacklustre upon rereading. The framework is still strong and prose very lyrical, but the execution seems weaker upon further analysis. I still recommend the book, although now with some reservations. There’s definite potential for Lo to build upon the world she has created, and I have been told this is exactly what she does with the companion novel “Huntress”, which I eagerly look forward to reading.3/5.