Huntress by Malinda Lo
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. (blurb from Goodreads)
Rating: PG-13, 4 1/2 stars
Trigger Warnings: battle/fight scenes, violence, animal attacks, violence directed at children and babies, death
I actually enjoyed Huntress much more than Ash. Lo worked with a larger cast of characters in Huntress than Ash, and consequently there were a lot more characters that I sympathised with. Maybe it was because of the omniscient narration, but I cared about more than just Kaede and Taisin. I enjoyed the moments that focused more on Prince Con and the other members of their traveling party.
Those who have read Ash may recognize the bare bones of the story as one of fairy tales from Ash’s time. Since this is a prequel, Huntress is set in the same world as Ash, just much earlier in history. I really enjoyed the connections, particularly the transformation of the events in Huntress to the folklore in Ash. However, the two novels are not directly connected in terms of characters and immediate setting; you can definitely read one without the other.
I was surprised at the extent of the romance in the story. It is definitely more of an adventure novel than Ash, but the romance was still a main focus. I’d say for at least 90% of the novel there was a good balance between the romance and the action. There were a few moments when I felt the focus shifted too much to one side, but they were very rare.
I thought the the world-building was done very well, and I particularly like Lo’s take on traditional faerie lore. I liked the fact that not all of her fey were explicitly antagonistic. I liked the combination of traditional Celtic Sidhe with the Chinese-influenced spelling “Xi.” And I have to say, I really appreciate it when authors work the whole iron thing into their faerie stories.
*SPOILER* My biggest complaint with Huntress was the unicorn sub-plot at the end. It makes sense in context with Ash, because that part did play a part in Ash. However, I felt like it’s placement in the story made the ending a little anti-climactic for the amount of time given to the unicorn scene. I knew that I was like ten pages from the end of the book, and all of a sudden Kaede is sent on another mission. That just bothered me a little. However, I will say that I appreciate what that scene did for Kaede’s character. *END SPOILER*
There was quite a bit of violence in the book, including a scene where the characters were attacked by wolves, and two scenes that featured violence against infant-like creatures. In addition, some characters do die. So generally speaking, if violence bothers you, you might want to hold off on Huntress, or at least take it slowly. The violence was in no way out of place, given the story, but it was very much there.
All in all, I really enjoyed Huntress. I look forward to reading more of Lo’s work, and I hope she returns to the setting of Ash and Huntress in the future.