I was provided with an e-ARC copy of “Island of Exiles” by Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review. The book seemed like a perfect read for me as it was advertised as a YA Fantasy novel with LGBTQ+ characters.
Since I will be discussing world building and some of the relationships in the book, please, be aware that there might be minor spoilers ahead.
I picked this book at the book store from the shelf marked as “lgbt teens”. I had never heard about this writer, but both the cover (which is pretty) and the blurbs (“Cinderella retold” and “It’s not the fairy tale you remember”) got me curious. So, I dived into the book with rather high expectations.
The book is said to be a retold story of Cinderella, but to be honest the only connection to the original is in the fact that Ash’s parents die and she has to live with her stepmother and stepsisters who are mean to hear and treat her like a servant, and later she meets the fairy who grants her wishes and she goes to a ball. This is it. These are the all connections. Otherwise the story is quite different.
Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. The book is raw and not in a good way. The style is quoted to be dreamy and enchanting, but it rather cliched and uneven at times jumping from rather trite to more exciting passages. I loved the main character, but often her actions didn’t resonate with me as she seemed to be very confused about what she wanted. I wanted intense emotions and conflict, but sadly the emotions felts washed out to me. I felt that the ending was a bit rushed too (and too easily resolved).
I had an issue with the world building as well. There are several paragraphs at the beginning of the book explaining how there were people who believed in fairy folk and witchcraft/magic and how there were philosophers who thought that it was fiction. Ash’s mother used to be an apprentice to a greenwitch and she believed in fairies, while Ash’s father did not. There was a potential for the conflict between other characters in the book who followed one or another beliefs, but it was really never addressed again in the book (except for few very feeble mentions that didn’t influence the plot whatsoever).
The book is split into two parts: The Fairy and The Huntress. That division didn’t make much sense to me as both the fairy and the huntress are throughout the book. I think the author wanted to mark the role those characters played in Ash’s life, but it was not very reflective in the narrative itself – at least not to the extent that would require it to be marked in the book.
I had a feeling that it was a debut novel (which I confirmed later visiting the author’s page) which would explain the weak narrative and some style blunders. Those small things, like, for example, the mix of theme and rheme (“She wrapped her arms around herself and felt the chill of the early morning.”), and an abundance of colons. Seriously, Malinda has a thing for colons. I don’t mind it. On the contrary, I like when writers use colons and semi-colons. Unfortunately, in “Ash” I found the use of long sentences and colons and semi-colons to be a bit unnecessary. More so, either Malinda (or her editors) are not particularly sure about whether the first word in the clause following the colon should be capitalized or not – I saw both. So let me tell you: it is not necessary because those sentences are connected in meaning.
While reading “Ash” I kept thinking that I really want to give this book at least 4 stars out 5, because the idea was very interesting and I liked the fact that it was not a usual romance, but a queer romance. There are quite interesting fairy tales in it, and overall the book has a lot of potential, which was not realized. It is a very easy read though and it is pretty short, so it may be attractive to some of you.
It is a lgbt young adult book written by a female author (or colour), so I feel that it should be praised just for the diversity of it (I really need more books like that in my life!), but the style didn’t work for me. I am sorry, but I found it hard to fall in love with the story as I was trying to ignore the weak language. I will definitely check out “Huntress” by the same author though, as I have a feeling it will be set in the same world, and I am excited to learn more about the huntresses and their hunt and fairies. I am also hoping that Malinda’s style has improved with years.
This book is a solid 3 out of 5 stars. Wish I could give it more, but alas. If you like fairy tales and if you are not as particular about the writing as I am – check it out. You might love it. I was slightly disappointed.