Aisling lives in a world where there are fairies, but the belief in them — that they are dangerous, that they even exist — is waning. There are still tales, healing women called greenwitches, and people who generally believe in both. But the belief of the masses is fading.
Ash, or so Aisling is often called, also has lost both her parents, and, because of her father’s death, is forced to be a servant in her stepmother’s home. (Yes, this should sound familiar.) She has been moved away from her own home, to the south of the country, near the king’s City. Whenever she can — which isn’t often — she sneaks away to walk in the woods. This is where she meets the fairy Sidhean, developing an interesting, if somewhat uncomfortable — she mostly just wants him to take her away from her miserable life, but he says it’s not time — friendship with him. It’s all that keeps her going through the harshness and the abuse her mother and stepsisters pile on her.
Then, one day while she’s wandering the woods alone, she meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress. It takes time, it creeps upon Ash slowly, but she eventually finds that there is reason to live. And a will to love. Except that, to get there, she indentures herself to Sidhean. And the trick is to figure out what she really wants, and how to keep it.
There is much good going on in this retelling of Cinderella. It’s similar enough to the fairy tale that you can recognize it for what it is. But Lo has created a world that is unique on its own, from the weaving in of original fairy tales and folk wisdom, to the twists on the love story. In a sense, it does try to do too much: is it a story about the repercussions of getting involved with the fairy, or is it a story about a girl realizing that she can, and does, love another woman? It’s really both, and while it worked for me while I was reading, the setup does seem to undermine each of the storylines. The ending in particular, while it was satisfying and the “right” ending, seemed a bit rushed.
It is a good book, well-written and well-paced: a excellent first novel, even with the drawbacks.
Rated: Mild, for some mild language, and the main character ends up in a lesbian relationship. (In terms of details, it involves kissing.)