Review: Huntress by Malinda Lo

September 23, 2012 Review 8

Malinda Lo
Published: April 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
YA, fantasy, romance, LGBTQ
Goodreads | Amazon| Book Depository

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.

— Cover Critique —
I really like the cover – it is quite rare to have an Asian model on YA covers so it is great that the cover hasn’t been whitewashed, as this is something that has happened with other books before. I love the snowy background, hints of purple, blue and grey in the backdrop! Also, by the young woman’s stance you can tell she is determined, strong and a fighter!

— Expectations —

Earlier this year I read Ash by Malinda Lo, and I really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d give Huntress a try. I was very lucky, and won a signed copy during Christa’s YA Pride event at Hooked on Books, so I was even more excited to dig into Huntress.

— Review —

Huntress is a prequel of sorts to Ash, although it is noted that this story takes place many centuries earlier and that there are some cultural differences (Huntress is more Chinese-inspired). While I can see the similarities between Ash and Huntress, I found it easier to read the book as if the two weren’t loosely connected. With that said, I think overall I enjoyed Ash a bit more, but Malinda Lo was again able to write a beautiful book, with strong lesbian female characters, so I can’t complain too much!
Huntress tells the story of Kaede and Taisin, two young women who depart on a journey of upmost importance, to journey to meet with the Fairy Queen in order to discover what has caused the natural balance to be so disturbed over the past few years. The Kingdom is relying on these two women and their small party, as they cannot survive through many more months, let alone years, of failed crops, and an almost perpetual winter. Taisin has had an unsettling vision, however, and she is worried about what she saw and felt – Kaede leaving her, and a most painful breaking of her heart. How will this influence their journey, and will it ultimately come true?
The book starts out with this retrospective scene of Taisin’s vision of Kaede leaving her, which I loved. It was beautifully written and it started out the story with such emotion! I think it gave a great glimpse to the book overall, as it is beautifully written and is centered around these two young women falling in love. Just as in Ash the romance between the two female characters is introduced so naturally and without over explanation or celebration, just acceptance, which I love! The romance between Taisin and Kaede is timid, slow-building and sweet. You couldn’t help but root for Kaede to recognize her feelings for Taisin!

Like I said, the book is beautiful overall – from the cover to the illustrated map, dividers and of course, the writing. I would often just stop and stare at the pages, or go back and flip through to the map and examine it. Here’s a glimpse into the beauty of this book:

I even bookmarked some passages, and I particularly enjoyed the exchange near the beginning between Kaede and the Mistress of the Academy, as it had a feminist feel to it, the discussion of female agency as Kaede is stuck between her father choosing her future (marriage for political gain) or the Academy telling her she will accept the quest that has been put before her. Kaede speaks out, saying:

I have been here for almost six years. Not the best student, but I have paid attention. And the one thing that has always made sense to me is the teaching that every individual has the right to make choices about their lives. Every minute of every day, we make choices. Why would you take that away from me now?”… From across the table, Sister Yuna said softly, “She is right. She deserves to choose her own path.”. (20)

However, as much as I enjoyed the writing, the diversity of the characters and the romance between Kaede and Taisin, I encountered a few of the same problems I had with Ash. It is at times hard to connect with the characters because of the third person narrative that shifts between the two characters. I would have liked to experience their emotions as they experienced them! In addition, the story has a very slow pace for the most part. For more than 240 pages the characters are setting out on their journey, riding their horses and camping. While they do encounter challenges along the way, it did seem a little too drawn out. A girl can only take so many descriptions of the woods and horseback riding, haha! Despite these two drawbacks, I did enjoy the magical elements that the Xi (fey) brought to the story, and there were some rather exciting scenes, such as when a huge pack of mystical wolves attacks the camp.
Overall, while I enjoyed Ash a bit more than Huntress, it is a story that can still be appreciated for its unique story, strong female characters, and beautiful writing. While reading it often reminded me of Graceling by Kristin Cashore (and not just because of all the horseback riding scenes, I swear!), so if you loved that one, I’d recommend this one to you.

rating 3.5

This post has been part of the A More Diverse Universe blog tour, which celebrates books by authors of color WITH characters of color. Be sure to check out the schedule of reviews going up this week to help support diversity in speculative fiction!

8 Responses to “Review: Huntress by Malinda Lo”

  1. Liviania

    I love when books are beautifully designed.

    I’ve read Ash and mean to read this one eventually. I do understand what you mean by it being sometimes hard to connect to the characters.

  2. Gavin

    Thanks for this review! I’ve read Ash, and loved it and now need to read this one. So many great books, so little time!

  3. Aarti

    I’ve not read anything by Malinda Lo, but I have heard a lot about Ash. Much less about Huntress, so I really appreciate your in-depth review. I am a little worried about not being able to connect to the characters as that is really important to me in a book, but I may just give her a go, anyway.

    Thanks very much for participating in the tour!

  4. M

    I know a lot of Malinda Lo fans but I’ve not read anything by her. Overly drawn description isn’t our thing but horseback riding scenes might do it. Thanks :)

  5. Buried In Print

    I like what you’ve said about the way that the love relationship develops, just naturally, and I’ve heard other good things about her books too: must nudge them up the TBR list now. Thanks!

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