Ash by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown)
Former AfterEllen.com Managing Editor Malinda Lo’s debut novel, Ash, is an engaging and enchanting retelling of the classic fairytale Cinderella, with a decidedly queer twist.
The story opens with Aisling (Ash) as a young girl mourning the death of her mother. Shortly after Ash’s father remarries another woman, Lady Isobel, who has two daughters of her own, he dies and leaves the family with a significant amount of debt that Ash is expected to repay through domestic servitude.
Ash is forced to leave her quiet and happy life in a small country village by the Wood to live at her (evil) stepmother’s house closer to the kingdom. In order to survive her bleak new existence, she studies the magic that her mother had practiced, reads stories from a book of fairytales from her father, and while her stepfamily is away or asleep, she takes long walks in the woods.
It is in this state of loneliness that Ash meets the mysterious and magical Sidhean, one of the more interesting characters in the book and Lo’s unique version of a “Fairy Godmother.” Ash and Sidhean make an unlikely pair: He is at once dismissive and supportive, predator and protector, and she is both fearful and intrigued.
Ash believes that Sidhean holds the power to get her out of her current situation and in exchange she is willing to give up her humanity and to enter into the world of fairies. But things change when she meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, and begins to find happiness and love in the here and now.
While Lady Isobel takes her daughters to the city to find wealthy and eligible men to marry, Ash and Kaisa spend more time getting to know each other and hunting in the woods. The courtship is suspenseful and authentic and though this is a world void of homophobia, Lo makes interesting comparisons between Ash’s feelings for Kaisa as oppose to Sidhean.
It all comes together in the remarkably tense and magical scene of Ash attending the infamous ball. She is not interested in dancing with the prince and there is no pumpkin or glass slipper, but in order to attend without her stepfamily noticing, she is forced to make a precarious deal with Sidhean.
The deal threatens Ash’s ability to be with Kaisa until she comes to a new understanding about the profound and real power of love. It is, after all, a fairytale. Highly recommended (and I’m not just saying that!).
The Bohemian Girl by Willa Cather (Harper Perennial)
Lesbian writer Willa Cather, one of America’s most distinguished literary figures, is known mostly for her novels, such as O Pioneers! and My Ántonia, and for her ability to capture the last years of the American frontier.
Harper Perennial’s recently released collection of Cather’s shorter fiction, The Bohemian Girl, includes six brilliant stories: “The Bohemian Girl,” a story about the contradictions within a family, community and religion; “Eric Hermannson’s Soul”; “The Sculptor’s Funeral”; “A Wagnor Matinee”; “The Enchanted Bluff,” and “Paul’s Case,” the story of a young man who comes east with a stolen fortune and a desire to be seen as wealthy.
The volume also includes a short story by Lydia Peelle, “The Kidding Season,” from her noteworthy collection of stories Reasons For and Advantages of Breathing.