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, Kaede and Taisin are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magin, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherwordly.
But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart for ever…
Malinda Lo has, consistently, proven herself one of the most outspoken, forthright and interesting commentators on LGBT YA fiction; she’s also the author of some of the most well-regarded examples of it herself, Ash and Huntress especially. So when looking for LGBT genre fiction, her name kept coming up, and after being disappointed by Ash, I decided to try Huntress…
For the most part, Huntress doesn’t disappoint on this front. Taisin and Kaede’s growing romance is well-portrayed, especially Taisin’s resistance to falling prey to destiny being overcome by her attraction to Kaede. Lo captures the embarrassment, tentative shyness and awkwardness of young love excellently, and portrays a lesbian relationship between teens as meaningful and not just exploratory, but also as something acceptable within her world, not seen as odd or disapproved of. Her decisions at the end of the novel disappointed me slightly, as a result, since they fall into one of the most frustrating tropes I have come across in LGBT romances, and that lets the rest of Hutress down a bit, although it is set up that way from the start.
Lo’s greatest strength here is the character work. We see a number of viewpoints, with fluid switching between them from a limited third-person perspective; the kind of observations made by each character differ, as do their voices, each marking a distinct individual powerfully and effectively. As such, switching from the timid, mystic point of view of Taisin to the more down-to-earth but colour-focused viewpoint of Kaeda or the grounded but youthful perspective of Prince Con lets us see the world of Huntress in very different ways, an approach which reaps huge rewards in terms of characterisation as well, as emotions creep through the viewpoints as well as their explicit discussion.
The plot is less innovative; Huntress is in many ways a standard quest narrative, with some added mystic destiny elements. The party has to follow a series of instructions, losing members along the way, in order to arrive at their final quest goal and complete their mission; it’s not the best or deepest of plots, but Lo’s telling of it adds layers of emotional depth and complexity, especially as she goes on to deal with the ramifications of the end of the quest. Huntress refuses to emotionally pull its punches, which at times leads to some off moments but on the whole means the plot is almost secondary to the effects of the plot on the characters, and yet Lo will still pull you on through the book.
Huntress is almost the ideal YA novel: emotionally complex, relentlessly moral but not black-and-white, accepting of LGB sexualities & broadly sex-positive, and brilliant at getting into the minds of late-teens. Lo really has produced a masterwork of YA here.