Review: Huntress by Malinda Lo

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. — [X]

Ever since I’d read Malinda Lo’s Ash*, I’ve been interested in reading Huntress. Huntress was my top pick for faerie month at The Book Wars. It’s a stand-alone novel, despite being set in the same world as Ash and years before the events of Ash. TBH Huntress was, um, my only pick as I couldn’t really think of any other books that could deliver what I wanted–a faerie fantasy, with a diverse cast (in more ways than one), that doesn’t favour European styles of fay imagery and world-building. I know now that my money is safe and Malinda Lo is always a good bet.

Huntress begins and ends with two very different kinds of visions. The first vision is one that Taisin has of Kaede rowing away from the shore, away from her, towards what feels like certain death. Taisin had never formally met Kaede at that point, or knows much about her, but certain things about her vision reveal themselves to Taisin, things she’d rather not consider for fear of complicating the future. See, Taisin has the unique gift of being tuned into the magic of her world. But where strange doors open, strange creatures may slip quietly in, and that is one of the many things I enjoyed about this book. Its slow build of the feeling of unease alongside a feeling of camaraderie amongst the questing party of which Taisin is a part of. It’s a difficult balance to maintain, but Lo makes it look easy, and by chapter two you are already anxious for these characters you’ve just met.

The goal of this travelling party is to negotiate with the Faerie Queen and set the world right, but clearly something doesn’t want them to succeed in their task. The closer they get to the Wood, the more vulnerable they seem to be to unfriendly magics. One by one, members of their party are being singled out and taken, and as their party shrinks, their invisible enemy seems to gain power. There is a growing emphasis on the large, unknowable world, made larger by the fay folk, and unknowable by the terribly inaccurate maps. The way that Lo weaves world-building and character-development, as well as elements of fantasy and elements of horror, to create what really is a unique faerie story is yet another favourite thing of mine about Huntress. The plot is often fast-paced, and when it isn’t there is no lull to be felt because the characters themselves are making some kind of progress. The atmosphere shifts fluidly from tense to celebratory, to magical and romantic. And just when you think you know what happens next–because you’ve read horror and/or fantasy before and you think you know how this plot goes–Lo surprises you with something different. Even though I had been spoiled for certain aspects of this book, I remained reading with no small amount of tension.

Part of the reason I was tense while reading this was the changing POVs. I know Nafiza dislikes this style of narrative, but I don’t mind it. It’s just that between Taisin and Kaede alone, the change in POVs was killing me because no, I just want you to talk to her instead of to yourself okay, but Lo puts Prince Con into the mix at times and then I have to wait another turn to get to see my favourite characters interact. It was clever to use narrative structure to increase the romantic tension between Taisin and Kaede. I mean, I was frustrated, but that was the author’s intended effect, so yay! I also appreciate that while Taisin’s vision opens the novel, it’s Kaede’s vision–untouched by magic, touched by humanity and tinged by optimism–that closes the novel. I guess, I’m a little in awe by the way Huntress was written. The actual writing was lovely and, again, a unique style for what most people would expect to be a European faerie story, but the technical aspects of the writing won me over too.

Anyway, if you like faerie stories of the non-Disney kind, or if you like fantasy that is a little dark at times, definitely check out Huntress.

PS: If any of you have already read Huntress, can we talk spoilers in the comments? Especially re: that ending, because wow, I have f e e l i n g s.

*Any other book bloggers look at their old reviews and cringe at their own ignorance? Yep.  

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