Malinda Lo, September 2009. Twelve-year-old Ash has grown up listening to fairy tales and experiencing medical care provided by greenwitches rather than doctors, so she’s surprised but not shocked when her late-night wanderings in the forest lead her to fairyland. She welcomes the escape; after her father’s recent death, she’s been forced to work as a housekeeper and ladies’ maid for her new stepmother and two stepsisters.
Ash falls in love with a scary and elusive fairy-boy named Sidhean who is cursed to love her, and she feels herself losing control the more time she spends with him in the woods. But the same paths that lead her to fairyland also bring her to Kaisa, huntress for the king, who belongs to Ash’s own world. Ash’s attraction to Kaisa competes with her longing for fairyland, but she doesn’t feel compelled to choose between them. Nor does she feel that one attraction is wrong, as in many coming-out tales. The twist comes when Ash, in order to meet Kaisa at a ball, must ask for Sidhean’s help. In return, he asks that she become completely his, leaving her in a bind between her lovers.
The tale is set against a rich backdrop of ballgowns and class struggles, minor characters that stick with the reader (I hope there’s a sequel focusing on Gwen), and the delicate balance between fairyland and real life. The love story is both vivid and subtle, and the fact that each character would survive without her partner removes this from the romance genre, although it will still appeal to readers of same. In fact, this not-romance, not-realistic, not-quite-fantasy novel will probably appeal to nearly all of your teen girls. Highly recommended. And now I’m the first and last reviewer to not mention Cinderella…oops.