Ash (Ainsling)’s story amazed me, because I expected some interpretation of a fairytale, sweet and magic, perhaps with a twist, yet it’s so much more than that, it’s a road map novel for Ash’s personal evolution as a human, Ash’s escape from grieving her mother and her father, Ash’s belief in magic and Ash’s strength of will in achieving love in it’s purest state. At first, I saw Ash as a little girl who, unfortunately, lost the human being who loved her the most and influenced her growth the most : her mother Elinor.She only has her father now and Maire Solanya, her mother’s friend and a follower of ancient traditions as the Yule, she believed in magic and it’s power, yet Ash’s father didn’t and wanted to keep Ash away of it and his grieving ends soon as he comes back from the capital with a new wife, Lady Isobel and two stepdaughters, Ana and Clara, supposed or Ash to have some companions. Ash’s nightmare begins with her father’s sudden death and her stepmother’s rise. Ash becomes their servant and she is thrown into a hell of a life, her parents, especially her mother made her childhood a dream and now she was in hell with no chances in life, so she finds shelter in the forest and in her dreams. She meets the dangerous fairy , Sidhean , whom she finds beautiful and believes that she’s drawn into his spell and he becomes some sort of savior, yet he just wants to claim Ash as it’s own, because he had fallen in love with her and it was the result of Ash’s mother’s curse : for Sidhean to fall in love with a mortal, yet she has never expected that destiny will choose her daughter for it.
„The sight of them in all their finery reminded her of Yule in Rook Hill. One year her mother had made her a fairy costume to wear, and Ash still remembered the smile on her mother’s face as she brushed silver paint onto Ash’s cheeks.
“You’ll be the prettiest fairy there,” her mother had told her, and Ash grinned as her mother tucked a cloak of white rabbit fur around her chin.
“Do you think we’ll see any real fairies?” Ash had asked excitedly.
“Perhaps,” her mother had answered, dipping her brush back into the pot of silver paint.
“How will I recognize them?”
“Sometimes they dress as ordinary humans,” her mother replied, trailing the tip of the brush over her daughter’s skin.
“At Yule we all dress as someone we are not,” her mother explained. “It is tradition.”
“And the fairies follow our traditions?” Ash asked.
Her mother laughed. “Perhaps it is we who follow theirs.”
“But how will I know if I see a fairy?” Ash asked again. “If they look like ordinary people, I won’t be able to tell.”
“You’ll be able to tell,” her mother told her, “because wherever they touch, they’ll leave a bit of gold dust behind.” She put down the brush and turned her daughter to face the mirror. “Now look–there’s the prettiest fairy I’ve ever seen.” Ash stared at herself, spellbound. Her eyes had been outlined in silver paint, and the color trailed down her cheeks in wondrous curls of gleaming light.
“It is like magic,” Ash whispered.
Her mother smiled at her, her hand touching her hair. “Yes, my love, it is.””
Ash finds herself as a witness to human frivolity in seeing her stepmother and her two stepsisters spending her father’s fortune on fancy dresses and rich balls and trips to the capital in order to find themselves rich husbands and why not impress the prince and become princesses. Ash has no goal in finding a husband, because now she was a servant and she finds comfort in the beauty of the woods and she is charmed by Sidhean, yet not sexually, it’s the charm of another world, different and cold, and she dreams of young women gathered in a dance and she wants to join them, yet Sidhean won’t let her and when she looks them in the eye, they seem heartless. I find Ash’s meetings with Sidhean an escape from the cruel reality Ash is living in.
„“The prince has proclaimed that he will make some sort of announcement at the hunt,” she continued, “and my stepmother and stepsisters will be there. I wish to go without them knowing.”
He stood there for a long moment in silence, and to her astonishment he had never looked more like an ordinary man–with his head bowed and his shoulders slumped, he seemed almost weary. At last she stood up and went to him, putting her hand on his arm, and he was very real: He wore linen, and it was as pale as the starlight, and when she pushed his hair out of his eyes it was as fine as silk. She looked up at his shadowed eyes and asked, “If you grant my wish, will there be a price to pay?”
He reached for her hand and brought it to his lips, and he kissed her knuckles. She felt lightheaded then, as if she had drunk a very great deal of wine, and if he had not caught her she would have stumbled. But he held her steady and answered, “There is a price for everything, Aisling.”
“What is this price?” she asked.
He said: “You shall be mine. That is the oldest law between your people and mine. But you must agree to it freely; if you do not, then I will not grant your wish.” The way he spoke gave her the impression that he had said those words many times before.
With his hands on her shoulders, she could feel the pulsing of her blood within her as if it were rushing up to meet his skin, and the price did not seem so high. Part of her thought, at last, and that part would have given herself up at that very moment. In a trembling voice, she asked, “When must you have payment?”
“You will know,” said Sidhean, “when the time is right.”
“Then I wish it,” she said quickly, before she could lose her nerve. She felt his fingers tighten on her shoulders, and she wondered if he were imprinting himself on her: Would the mark of his hands be visible? For now they were surely bound together.”
Ash’s contact to reality and kindness is on the day when she meets the King’s huntress, Kaisa and Ash loves the way Kaisa is dressed and how she behaves as a free woman and how she tracks in the woods and in fact she is really attracted to Kaisa and doesn’t know it yet.
Kaisa, on the other hand, is a strong, free and confident women that holds a very powerful position in the kingdom as the kings’s huntress, after years of apprentice and , of course, she knows what is like and what it means to love another woman and she feels Ash different and strange and she’s intrigued by her young and innocent nature and tries to know her better.
The two women find in each other love, the real love of their lives and Kaisa knows it and tries to approach Ash through ridding and hunting and, surprisingly, Ash finds comfort and something else she cannot describe nor understand and for being with Kaisa she changes her life, takes many risks, including asking Sidhean two favors : a dress to go to the prince’s ball , that will vanish at midnight just as Cinderella and a hunting outfit to be with Kaisa at the king’s annual hunt. In exchange, she promises Sidhean she will be his, as fairy and human, I believe she has no idea she has actually promised her soul to the fairy, yet her heart and soul were already given to Kaisa and will remain so. During the ball she dances with the prince and vanishes and she is searched in the whole kingdom and she saw Kaisa just shortly and it’s a general confusion, including Kaisa and her stepmother and stepsisters are jealous and actually hurt her, cut her hair and the reader wants to see her out of that house and into Kaisa’s loving arms and expect Kaisa to save her, yet Ash is taking the final step into her evolution and leaves that house and also, breaks Sidhean’s curse and she is free to love Kaisa.
„Ash dreamed that she was walking through the Wood at midsummer, and when she looked up through the canopy of leaves she felt the warmth and heat of the sun on her face. There was someone walking beside her, and she was not surprised to turn and see the huntress, who smiled at her and extended her hand, and Ash took it. Small white flowers bloomed all around them, and as they walked the flowers became vines that climbed up the tree trunks until it was as if the trees were hung with blossoms made of snow. When they came to a stop, Ash saw that the path ended on the edge of a cliff, and before them was a ravine. She could not see the other side, but the white flowers continued to twine down over the edge of the ravine like a rope ladder, and the huntress squeezed her hand and said, “Shall we find that poor stag-princess?”
“Are you going to kill her?” Ash asked, and her voice sounded strange, as though she heard it from outside her body.
The huntress smiled and shook her head. “No, but you will.””
„“Are not all eligible young ladies invited?” Kaisa pointed out, and grinned. “Do you not share the desire of so many young ladies who wish to be his bride?”
She laughed, thinking of the way Ana and Clara would react to the idea that she might marry the prince. “I would make a poor princess,” she said.
“Have you ever wished to be a princess?” Ash challenged her.
“That depends,” Kaisa said.
“On whether I would have to marry a prince,” she said, and her tone was lighthearted, inviting Ash to share her smile
Ash laughed thinly. “Content?” she repeated, and she heard the bitterness in her voice. “I am a servant….” She trailed off, feeling uncomfortable; had the huntress not just sent her servant away to serve her? The difference in their stations had never bothered her before; in the Wood, when they were alone, she could imagine that they were at the same level. But after the hunt and the ball, she could no longer deny the bald facts of it. She knew there was still a bit of flour trapped beneath her fingernails, remnants of her day’s work; across from her, the huntress wore a ruby ring on her right hand, the stone glowing in the lamp light like a tiny fire.
“I am sorry,” said Kaisa, “if I have offended you.”
She looked genuinely concerned, and Ash could only shake her head. “Oh no,” she said. “You have made me feel so welcome, as though I were the same as you and no servant at all; you have never offended me.”
Something about the way Kaisa’s face was lit by the hanging lamp reminded Ash of the great bonfire in the City Square at Yule, and she said, “At Yule, when you and your hunters went to the Square–you sang a song. Where is it from?”
Kaisa took a sip of wine from her own goblet before answering. “That is a very old tune. Its origins are more legend than confirmed fact.”
“What is the legend?”
“It is said that many hundreds of years ago, when fairies still walked the land and the King’s Huntress was appointed to go between both courts, a powerful greenwitch was called upon to cast a spell that would ensure the huntress’s safe return each time she visited the fairy court. But in order for the spell to hold, each time the huntress went into that other world, she had to gather all of her hunters together to chant the words, for that would bind her to this world. If they ever did not say the spell together before she left for the fairy court, she might never be able to return.”
“And now it is sung only at Yule?” Ash asked, taking a sip of the wine, which was light and cool.
Kaisa nodded. “As far as I know, yes.”
She shrugged. “I am not sure. It is tradition. I believe that the huntress was called to the fairy court annually–at least this is what the stories say–and that annual visit was shortly after Yule, near the first of the new year. Perhaps that is why the song is still sung today at that time.”
“You speak of the fairy court as if you believe in it,” Ash said, taken aback.
“I will not discount anything that has endured in our traditions for so long,” said Kaisa, with a small grin.
Kaisa emerged. She seemed surprised to see Ash there and said, “Are you lost, madam?”
Ash realized that the huntress did not recognize her, for she was wearing the mask still. “No,” she said in relief. “I was looking for you.”
Kaisa came toward her curiously, recognition dawning in her. “Ash?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Ash. She could see the hollow in the huntress’s throat, now, where the collar of her shirt was open; her skin was colored gold in the candlelight. She came closer to Ash and lifted her hands to the mask, and when the cuffs of Kaisa’s shirt fell back, Ash saw the glint of silver on the huntress’s wrist before she untied the silk cord that held the mask to Ash’s face.
When Kaisa stepped back and saw her, she raised her eyebrows and said, “What a gown you are wearing.”
Without the mask, Ash felt self-conscious; she was not sure if Kaisa had ever looked at her like that before. She held out her hand to take the mask back, but Kaisa did not give it to her. “Let me have it back,” Ash said.
“I prefer to see the face of the person I am talking to,” said Kaisa.
“Then you must not enjoy the masquerade.”
The huntress shook her head. “Not especially. I feel that there are so many opportunities for slights–perceived or real–when we do not know who we are with.”
“You don’t enjoy the mystery of it?”
“There are other mysteries I prefer,” Kaisa said, and then she returned the mask to Ash, who took it but did not put it on. “Shall we go back to the ball?” Kaisa asked. “I am sorry I was not there to greet you.”
“Whose is it?” Kaisa asked. “The Queen’s?” She straightened up and reached out to touch the jewels around Ash’s neck, her fingers warm against her skin. “These are worth more than a fortune,” she said. Then she moved away, stepping back and crossing her arms, and gave Ash an appraising look. “You look beautiful,” she said, and Ash could not meet her eyes. “But the dress does not suit you.” The warmth that had flooded through her when Kaisa had touched her twisted; she felt her cheeks flaming. “It looks like it is suffocating you,” Kaisa continued. “Who gave you this gown–and that horse you rode to the hunt? You must have a wealthy benefactor.”
Kaisa came closer to her and took her left hand, the one that was not wearing the moonstone ring, for Ash had curled that one away behind her. The mask dangled between them, the cord twined in their fingers. “Let me help you,” Kaisa said. “You don’t need to face it alone.”
Ash heard her speak the words, but it was as though she heard them very distantly, for the dress was still pulling on her, tugging her mind’s eye back to Sidhean. Then the huntress drew Ash’s right hand from behind her back, covering the moonstone ring with her warm, human fingers, and at last Ash felt her there, so close that she could feel the heat from her body. And she said, “You cannot help me; I must finish this on my own.” There is nothing you can do, she thought. I am the debt; not you. For the first time, the consequence of her choice was devastatingly clear: fulfilling her contract with Sidhean meant that she would never see Kaisa again.
She was at her mother’s grave, and she heard her mother’s voice in her ear. There will come a change, and you will know what to do.”
„“There are many who would cast themselves as the huntress’s lover.”
Ash looked at Lore, blinking slowly, for the wine made her feel as if she were walking through cobwebs. “What do you mean?” Ash asked.
Lore smiled at her almost pityingly. “I thought you were one of them,” Lore said.
Ash felt heat rise in her cheeks at Lore’s words and asked, “Why would you think that?” She wondered uncomfortably if she had done something to suggest it. And if she had–did she feel that way? The idea was unsettling; it made her feel vulnerable.”
„It was Kaisa who broke the silence. “After you left last night, it was all anyone could talk about,” she said. “They asked me about you, but all I could tell them was that I loved you, and I did not know when or if you would return.” By now Kaisa had put down the brush and had come to stand before her. “They brought me your cloak,” she added, “and I have kept it for you.”
Ash stepped toward her, dropping her satchel on the ground, and took the huntress’s hands in her own. She felt as if the whole world could hear her heart beating as she said, “After I left last night, I was not sure whether I would be able to return, but I hoped so, and now I can tell you that it is finished, and I am free to love you.” Then they took the last step together, and when she kissed her, her mouth as warm as summer, the taste of her sweet and clear, she knew, at last, that she was home.”
I loved this novel because it entangles reality with magic, mixed feelings of love and hate create the difference between the characters and the good wins over evil.