I didn’t intend to have another Two-In-One review so soon after the last one but if these books go so well together, how could I not review them at the same time? Enjoy!
Last summer, I discussed how rereading Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine made me want to write my own retelling of “Cinderella.” I planned to “research” for the project by reading other retellings (such as Cinder and Ash) to get an idea of all the different ways one can tell the same story.
The retelling was written – after two and a half drafts I put it aside for a while – but much of the research was never finished because… well, I just threw myself into the project. Also, I got distracted with other books. (I mean, when I say I “put something aside” what I really mean is “I got distracted with a shiny new idea and had to write it down RIGHT THIS MINUTE.”) As a result, it was only recently that I finally finished Cinder and Ash.
Now for the books themselves. I chose Cinder by Marissa Meyer for two reasons. First of all, it’s dystopian – a genre I’d never considered for fairy tale retellings. Secondly, the author wrote it for NaNoWriMo a few years ago and I thought it would be encouraging to see what awesome stuff can come from that crazy month of stories.
I decided to read Ash by Malinda Lo because it is high fantasy and has queer female characters. Oh, and Lo writes awesome nonfiction stuff as well – she posts a lot about writing on her blog and writes about minorities in fiction at Diversity In YA.
Oh yes, and before I forget: Cinder and Ash were two of my racially diverse reads. They’re set either in Asia or in an Asian-inspired world.
These reviews are spoiler-free!
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
First, I must fangirl over that gorgeous cover. IT’S SO SIMPLE YET ELEGANT AND DESCRIBES THE BOOK PERFECTLY. All right, I’m done now. Carry on.
I loved the writing – and I’m not talking about the characters / plot / pacing, not yet. I’m talking about the descriptions. They were neither irritatingly brief nor agonizingly long, and they were often funny. Cinder‘s descriptions are not as ornate as those in Harry Potter, but they’re not as, well, lacking as those in The Hunger Games. I got a good idea of what New Beijing was like without pages and pages of description.
Cinder is slow to start – it took about one hundred pages and twelve chapters until I was really interested – but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because once you’re into it, you don’t want to stop.
I loved nearly all of the characters! The only one I didn’t care for was Levana, the evil queen. I didn’t dislike her for being evil – I disliked her because she seemed to have no depth. She was just evil. That’s it. No real motivation. No real demonstration of how cruelty. It’s just, “Oh yeah, she’s one bad lady. Stay away from her.” I hope she gets better development in the sequels.
I did like Cinder. No, scratch that – I got a gigantic crush on her. She’s wonderful in any number of ways, but what I appreciated most was her sense of humor. She was sarcastic without being the cynical-Katniss-Everdeen-type. (As I’ve written before, Katniss certainly has reasons to be that way. But that doesn’t make it any easier to like her.) I suspected her true identity only a few chapters in, but that didn’t detract from her personality.
And then there’s Iko, Cinder’s mischievous android friend. Who can’t like someone who says this?
Maybe her programming was overwhelmed by Prince Kai’s uncanny hotness.
Yeah. Awesome and dorky, that’s Iko.
And speaking of Kai, I’m a bit confused as to the role of the prince. Cinder is the first in the Lunar Chronicles so perhaps Cinder will end up with him by the end, but she didn’t in this book. That threw me. I don’t think characters need to be paired off in every book, but this is “Cinderella”! A central part of the story is how she ends up with someone!
But enough of that. Time for Cinderellesbians.
In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, re-reading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.
The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love – and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.
This is another slow book, but Ash wears that pacing differently than Cinder. Likely due to the number of dystopian novels I read, I’ve come to expect science fiction to move quickly. But Ash? It’s high fantasy. Even at two hundred and fifty pages, it’s not going to be a quick read.
This is partially due to the style of writing, which is WONDERFUL. It’s as beautiful as that found in Lord of the Rings, but much less wordy. Perfect. I spent half of Ash being jealous that I can’t write as well, because this is the kind of fantasy writer I would love to be.
I spent the other half of the book alternately crushing on both Ash and Kaisa or going, “Oh my god. Aw. This is adorable. Eeee! They’re cutie pies. Aaah, this is perfect.” I NOMINATE MALINDA LO TO WRITE ALL THE LOVE STORIES.
No really, she’s great. She avoided all the things that irritate me in YA romance plots – namely, a thing I call Insta-Romance. I hate reading stories with protagonists who fall in love within, like, five pages. There’s no tension. There’s no will-they-won’t-they. There’s no time to wonder how – when characters fall in love faster than you can snap your fingers, there’s no opportunity to wonder what will make them feel that way, because the moment has already passed.
Ash was different. Ash doesn’t even meet Kaisa for around a hundred pages, and they don’t kiss until the last ten pages. But it works. There has to be time for romantic chemistry to develop between characters, and there certainly was.
Finally, I loved that Ash is high fantasy with queer characters. Because I have never read something like that before – not with queer women and certainly not with queer protagonists. I have loads and loads in my writing, but I don’t want to have to write everything just in order to see myself reflected in the characters.
And now it’s time for something completely different! Also known as The Comparison.
Which one better retells “Cinderella”? I feel that I can’t judge this. They’re equally good, in different ways. It doesn’t seem fair to compare dystopian to fantasy; they’re just such different genres. Both novels are creative in their own ways.
Which one is faster paced? I do think this makes a difference – unless someone is dead set on finishing a book, they’ll put it aside after a while if it doesn’t speed up. The winner here is definitely Cinder.
Which one has a better love story? …I would have to say Ash, by a long shot. I mentioned being thrown by Cinder and Kai not being a thing, right? Yeah. Cinder and Kai are a great almost-couple but they never quite make it there, so that’s no contest. Ash and Kaisa are just – wow. I can’t deal with all the adorable.
In conclusion, both books are incredible, and I’m looking forward to Cinder‘s sequels and Ash‘s prequel. I think I’ve discovered two new bookish obsessions, honestly, and that means I’ll give the one, the only… the Really High Rating.
Rating for Cinder: 4.5/5
Rating for Ash: 5/5