Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers on April 5, 2011
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. View Spoiler »
Not your standard quest story, Malinda Lo’s HUNTRESS focuses more on the internal lives and emotional struggles of its characters than it does on world building. Set in a world inspired by feudal China, this story follows two young women named Kaede and Taisin as they journey into the land of the fairy queen in hopes of stopping an endless winter. But can Kaede and Taisin resist the pull of attraction between them and focus on their mission, or will they find a way to save their kingdom while staying together?
This is the first book I’ve read by Lo and it certainly won’t be the last; while HUNTRESS isn’t anything special in terms of the world it portrays, it’s still beautifully written and quite affecting. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know there’s nothing I love more than star-crossed lovers fighting for their lives and their love, and HUNTRESS delivers on both those fronts. Unfortunately where the story stumbles is with plot and world building, both of which I felt were sorely lacking in originality. This is yet another case of the dreaded “we journeyed from one place to another and fought some battles along the way” story.
Despite the unique setting, there wasn’t actually that much world building that differed from traditional Medieval-European inspired quest stories. Sure, the religious order that Taisin belongs to is inspired by the I-Ching rather than Christianity, and all the characters are described as east-Asian in appearance, but that’s about it. I would’ve loved to see more Chinese influences in the story, particularly with respect to the fairies that Kaede and Taisin need to treat with to save their kingdom from starvation. Aside from a few spirits inspired by traditional legends, the Xi are essentially white attractive fae. Nothing too exciting there, unless I completely missed something.
The real excitement in HUNTRESS comes from the careful, subtle character development throughout the story. When the story begins, Kaede is a restless and unmoored girl with no real plans for the future besides defying her demanding father’s expectations. But as she experiences new and strange things on the road, Kaede trains in the art of the hunters and becomes a free-thinking, self-assured person. Taisin, too, grapples with the weight of her talents and what she wants out of life, questioning for the first time whether she really wants her future as a sage…a future that would prevent her from being with Kaede. The relationship between these two young women really tugged at my heartstrings and I think it’s very relatable for anyone who’s had to decide whether to pursue a relationship even if it’s at the cost of your dreams.
And for those of you who’re wondering, yes HUNTRESS is a standalone. It’s set in the same world as Malinda Lo’s other standalone novel ASH, but hundreds of years prior and introduces an entirely new set of characters. HUNTRESS is great if you’re looking for a slight twist on more traditional YA fantasy fare, but don’t expect too much in the way of world building.