In a world troubled by crop failure and the emergence of violent creatures, a party is formed and sent on a dangerous, largely unmapped journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Among the party are two seventeen year olds girls – Taisin a gifted sage and Kaede a young woman rebelling against her father and seeking her own place in the world. Through their journey to Taninli and beyond, they encounter mysterious creatures, contemplate their future paths, deal with loss and sacrifice, and fall in love.
Huntress is as beautifully written as it’s predecessor, Ash, but has one big thing going for it that makes me love this prequel* even more: I LOVE a good fantasy/adventure story. Huntress fit the bill in both familiar and unexpected ways. The story brought to mind other classic fantasy novels – A Wizard of Earthsea, The Hobbit, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – but without ever feeling unoriginal or stale. The characters making the treacherous journey are all well-developed (even those who don’t make it so far) and the creatures and other beings met along the way are diverse and help add to the momentum and excitement of the journey.
We know from the opening words that there will be love and heartbreak ahead: “She saw a beach made of ice, and she felt her heart breaking.” Taisin has a vision before the start of their journey, a vision of Kaede rowing away from her, towards her death, and accompanying the vision is a feeling of love. This is emotionally confusing to Taisin because she barely knows Kaede and she has not envisioned a future that involves romantic love (a sage must remain celibate). The opening scene is so vivid and filled with emotion that it captured me in a way that a book hasn’t done so in a long while. Taisin’s vision also adds an element of suspense to the journey.
There are multiple love stories at play in Huntress, but the romance is subtle and natural to the extent that I would not classify this book as primarily romantic fiction, even though the romance is important to the overall plot. Lo’s choice to use an omniscient third-person narrator, allows her supporting characters to become more fully-realized. With this, the love story of Prince Con and Shae is able to become a sweet little side story. Their love story is more reminiscent of a classic fairy tale romance than Kaede and Taisin’s, but here is not the centerpiece. This choice, along with the closing conversation between two characters, brought to mind questions about whose stories are generally told and whose are almost always relegated to the wings. I’m sure that Lo could do justice to the love story of Prince Con and Shae, as she did with limited focus in Huntress, but I’m glad that she chose to focus her storytelling and writing talents on another love story this time around.
Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2011)
*you do not need to read Ash to enjoy Huntress, but it’s definitely worth a read as well!