I have had this one on my To-Read radar for a while because I was intrigued by a lesbian Cinderella retelling. So, now I've re-read it, and I have to say I'm a bit - no, more than a bit - disappointed with it. This whole book just felt confused. There are likely spoilers below. Read at your own risk.
First of all, the lesbian aspect of this story was extremely disappointing to me. I so wanted this to be a PROUD self-identification coming-out story, like Annie on my Mind was. Instead, the lesbian aspect was, in my opinion, the weakest aspect of the entire book. And since that seems to me to be the foundation of this story, everything else flopped with it.
There was (almost) nothing to even hint that a lesbian love story was in the works at all until almost the very end of the story. There's friendship, sure, but very little confusion from Ash as to her feelings for Kaisa, very little understanding regarding them either. No discussion between the girls as to their feelings, nothing to hint that Kaisa feels anything more than friendship and caring on those terms. It just isn't anything one minute, and the next it is. I feel like it could have been ANYONE that Ash loved - anyone who was kind to her, and talked to her, and befriended and loved her. What made Kaisa that person? What was so enticing about Kaisa? She seemed rather cardboard cutout to me.
Secondly, as a retelling, it was kind of disappointing to me in that it didn't really follow the original story. I know that in retellings, the author has leeway to move her (or his) story into a different area, and that's fine - but this one just felt confused. We had some parts of the original Cinderella story (the cruel step-mother and step-sisters, the eligible Prince looking for his bride-to-be, the fairy who gives Cinderella/Ash the means to attend the ball, etc), but then those aspects just felt out of place in the story that was actually told, because the Prince wasn't Ash's "savior" as he was Cinderella's, the fairy had quite different motives and reasons for helping Ash than Cinderella's fairy-godmother did. It just seemed confused, as if it didn't want to be the Cinderella story, but had to include those parts because they were expected.
Third, I felt like the fairy/fairy-tale storyline overwhelmed the rest of the story. I get the importance of this aspect, but I got very tired of it very quickly. How many times can your main character wander in the Wood and stay interesting? Not that many, it turns out. I was bored after the first time. Ash runs into the Wood, Sidhead would find her and bring her home. Every time he tells her (or hints) a little bit more about Things. 'Things' being fairies and how they interact with humans, and Ash particularly. There was so much description of the Wood, my eyes glazed over. I enjoy fairy-tales of the Grimm and HCA variety. This one just bored me. So much perfection and so little conflict. Blergh.
Finally, I need to mention something that just seemed strange to me. The whole "Huntress" thing. I don't get it. I am really torn on this one. Really torn. I don't really understand why there was a "Royal Huntress" at all.
Was this just a typically male role (hunter) that was appropriated for Kaisa to hold, one that would also put her in a position of authority in the court so that Ash would be protected after running away from Lady Isobel? Was it supposed to show gender nonconformity? Or, is it supposed to differentiate the Fairies from the Humans... perhaps show the Fairies (non-hunters) as weaker/feminine with the Huntress/humans as stronger/masculine? Show Kaisa as a straightforward friend/lover and Sidhead as a manipulative illusionist and kidnapper type? I'm not sure what the goal was with this. Especially since Kaisa doesn't even enjoy hunting. Why do it then? What is the point? Why is it in the story? Am I missing something?
It just seems like this book fell short for me on all levels. I wanted this to be a girl finding herself and finding love with another girl story, set up as a retelling of Cinderella. This wasn't that, except in the loosest terms possible, and it was all around disappointing.