Saturday, August 14, 2010

Malinda Lo's Ash

The cover of Malinda Lo's Ash shares a lot about the tone of the book--it is somewhat dark, scary, and sad but also peaceful and magical and beautiful.

It's a Young Adult novel that is is called on the back cover a "retold Cinderella" and "Cinderella, gorgeously reimagined." There is an orphan (Ash), a mean stepmother, magic (here in the form of fairies uniquely rendered somewhat scary and a little bit evil but still magically appealing), an unwed prince, and balls, but to me to compare this to the Disney singing-mice cartoon I grew up with is entirely offbase because of this book's tone and characters.

It is a character-centered story, although the plot is important and the pace is relatively quick. There are details of Ash's vivid dreams, the light in the Wood, the stepsisters' getting dressed for balls, fairy characteristics and clothes, and fairy tales. Yet it still feels very realistic and grounded. Ash is a human girl who is devastated by the loss of her parents but comes to tolerate the life she must live as servant to all that's left of her family. There is also organic-feeling romance.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

RAview: The Calligrapher's Daughter

Eugenia Kim's The Calligrapher's Daughter is historical fiction that feels epic even though it only follows one woman's life over 30 years.

I think a lot of this book's appeal lies in its setting, detail, and story line--specifically Korea from 1915 to 1945. Compared to Japan and China, this is a little-evoked history in fiction, and many readers probably won't be familiar with the political conflict and economic hardships that troubled the country. My mom especially liked this book because the history was not too far before her childhood and she wasn't familiar with it at all.

Kim also details cultural mores in a way that feels very organic (rather than, look! an foreign culture! how quaint!, which does happen in some fiction set in the Eastern world). The food, the clothing, the customs. There are details of calligraphy, herbal remedies (the main character studies to be an obstetrician), wartime government control and civilian confusion.

It is leisurely paced and elegantly written. It seems to encourage more thinking than feeling (a head book rather than a heart book, if that makes any more sense to anyone). But the tone is sad, sometimes hopeful, love-ful. The main character is spirited and independent but very concerned with her faith and family obligations. There's a touching mother-daughter relationship.