With the death of her parents, Ash is left to the cruel care of her stepmother, a woman only concerned with what labour Ash can provide while she tries to groom her eldest daughter to an advantageous marriage
Ash finds what comfort she can from the old ways and fairy tales of her childhood, walking the hidden pathways of the wood where the fae reside; considering possibly abduction by fairies only to be a release from her current life
Until she meets Kasia, the king’s huntress – and is given someone else to find and a reason to keep living. But is she already in too deep with the fae? And even without them, can she, a lowly servant, be with the king’s huntress?
I wanted to like this book. I actually tried really hard to like this book. I sat down and argued with myself about this book. I tried to talk myself into liking this book. I desperately tried to convince myself I liked my book. I even tried lying to myself and insisted I liked this book
But I didn’t
The problem is I have trouble putting my finger on exactly why I didn’t enjoy it.
The writing of the book is elaborate and very thematic. It feels like an old fashioned fairy tale, it has the same sense of time and place and setting, the same slight surreal elements. And previous books I have praised for a similar attempt when done well. But a voice at the back of my head does counter that it’s kind of long winded and overly ornate
The book is also a very slow burn, it takes a long time to set the theme, to let us get to know the world and Ash’s circumstances and how she got to where she was. We saw her history
It was deep and nuanced and meaningful and really built Ash as a character. And boring, yes, sorry, kinda boring. There’s comes a point when a character can poignantly visit her mother’s grave in the woods in the middle of the night when you kind of want to just stamp “mummy issues” and press the fast forward button. And, yes, again I do cringe because I can pull back and say how well it was done, how well chosen the writing, how much this did fully bring to life Ash’s grief and loss and her despair without her having to be melodramatic. Little things like the favourite stories she had being of people who got lost in the land of the fairies never to return – because to her, with nothing to live for, they felt like happy endings. It was wonderfully poignant without having to get truly melodramatically monologue-y about it all; her pain was clear and powerful without ever having to hit us over the head of with it.
But it’s soooo long. I found it work and I hate that I did and I tried to love it and desperately resisted the urge to skim – but soooo looong. Sooooo very looong. Perhaps, in part, it’s the media about this book. It’s always been described as a lesbian Cinderella story and the parallels with Ash are very clear very early in the books. But that kind of leaves you in relatively little doubt as to where the story is going to end. It’s more a case of being curious as to exactly how it gets to the ending we know is coming. So when we spend a long time telling the preamble parts of the story which are pretty much parallel to the classic fairy tale it feels like we’re not only spending a long time on these parts – but we’re spending a long time on these parts that we’ve already read several times as well.
On another personal taste element, I was immensely frustrated by all of this magical faerie world being touched upon and none of it explored in any great depth. And I understand that because this is Ash’s story and the mechanics of magic are not really high on her priority list – but personally I want more to explore there.
The major point to make is, of course, that this oh-so-classic straight romantic fairytale is now recast between two women. Ash’s ultimate love is the Huntress Kaisa and even more than her touching with the fae, this is the relationship that defines and, ultimately, saves Ash. Even her delving deeper into faerieland happens first because of her despair but ultimately because she was definitely seeking for the tools she needed to continue to be with Kaisa
As a background, the book also makes it clear that relationships between women are not unknown or shocking in this setting as well with multiple small examples of female lovers. I also really liked that we had a love interest who wasn’t an arsehole and a romance that wasn’t beset with trope laden misunderstandings or” I need to push you away because I love you!” or any other terrible trope nonsense that makes me cringe so often