A review of Huntress, by Malinda Lo

Read September 2012

Online plot summary: “Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.
To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.
The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.”

My review: If I were using a starred rating system here, Huntress would defintely be a 5-star read. I know that, by goodreads standards, 5 stars means “amazing.” I’m not easily amazed, so, for me, it’s a book I really, really liked, and about which I can’t find any thing significant enough to warrant subtracting a star.

I have written – maybe not on this forum — that it’s a shame that books get labelled as “genre fiction.” Oh, sure, it makes it a lot easier to find what you like at your favorite booksellers, or your neighborhood libe, but it almost inevitably limits a book’s audience. Admittedly, Huntress has the advantage of appealing to 3 genres, epic fantasy, LGBT, and YA, but I believe it would definitely be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates a compelling, well-written story, even if their usual reading tastes are more mainstream.

The world-building is both credible and creditable. Descriptive passages are detailed, often lushly so, without being flowery. Plotting is logical and followed consistently (within the context of a fantasy world.) The two main characters are quite engaging and easy to relate to, and they both experience decided growth as the story progresses. Secondary characters are adequately described and contribute depth to the story. The romance is not forced, but is nicely interwoven with the overall plot.

I really admire Lo’s handling of the romance between Kaede and Taisin. The pacing is perfect, and, as in all the best romances, it serves as an element of character development. Lo treats the growing relationship tastefully, almost circumspectly, but still is able to give it a certain sensual quality. It’s simply about two young people falling in love, and the fact that they are both women seems almost incidental.

It would be really easy for this novel to become cliche. A journey by a group of companions obviously suggests Tolkien. In fact, the journey aspect goes all the way back to Homer’s Odyssey. The fact that there’s a quest recalls Arthurian legend. Somehow, though, Lo manages to keep her story fresh, and her own,, largely by the uniqueness of the world she creates, and the strong relationship she builds between Kaede and Taisin.

I don’t read a lot of YA, and almost no epic fantasy, but Huntress has become one of my favorites, irrespective of genre. In short, a tremendously satisfying reading experience.

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