I have read and enjoyed Malinda Lo's work on AfterEllen for many years now, so it was with great pleasure that I heard of the imminent publication of her first young adult novel, Ash. A reworking of the Cinderella story, Ash draws heavily on fairy tale tropes but colors them with a darker, almost gothic flavor.
Aisling ("Ash") is young when her mother dies unexpectedly, and somewhat puzzled when her father remarries and brings a City lady and her two daughters to live in their quiet village. After her father's startling death and their subsequent removal to her stepmother's house, she finds comfort in tales of the fairies, who are said to thrive in the adjacent Wood. These stories emphasize that, when dealing with those of the other world, a price must always be paid. Moved at first by her absolute certainty that her mother must still be alive, Ash delves deeper and deeper into the Wood, eventually becoming acquainted with the mysterious Sidhean, a fairy with an unknown agenda. Although she is drawn to him and finds their odd friendship the only remedy for an increasingly abusive relationship with her stepmother, she also becomes intrigued by the King's Huntress, Kaisa. She is torn between her certain knowledge that Sidhean can take her away from all earthly struggles, and the golden glow of her interactions with Kaisa. However, in order to enter the world of the Huntress, she strikes bargains with Sidhean that could put her newfound life in jeopardy. Though the plot sometimes moves at an agonizingly slow pace, this is one fairy-tale reimagining that is definitely worth a thoughtful read.
Lo also develops an interesting tension between the "old ways" (primarily female and earth-oriented, represented by the greenwitches) and the book learning of the "philosophers," who tend to be men.
After thinking about it, I would say that agency is one of the most important themes of the book. Ash spends a good deal of the narrative having things done to her, and must learn to make her own decisions and deal with the consequences of her actions.
Interview with Malinda Lo on AfterEllen.
The author's website.