Huntress is Malinda Lo’s second young adult novel. It is billed as a prequel to Ash, though the threads that tie the two books together are light; for example, the main characters do not overlap. In Huntress, we follow two young women, Kaede and Taisin, who learn that they must embark on a journey to the city of the Fairy Queen. Kaede, a warrior, does not feel confident in her own abilities, but she is chosen due to the visions of Taisin, a young but trusted sage who can see into the future.
One thing I loved about the romance in Ash was that it developed organically as we witnessed Ash’s journey in discovering where her heart led her. In Huntress, Lo is determined not to repeat the same journey and instead introduces a new element: Because Taisin’s own visions tell her she will fall in love with Kaede, Taisin has to deal with the disconnect between what she feels now and the love she knows she will feel for Kaede in the future. It’s an interesting setup; Taisin knows where her heart will lead; knowing this, how will she get there and what surprises can she expect? After all, prophecies and visions may come true, but the result is never quite what you expect. Just as Lo played with and exceeded readers’ romantic expectations in Ash, so she does in Huntress.
Simplicity in language can be beautiful, though in young adult novels, sometimes I find it to be non-distracting at best and clichéd at worst. Lo’s writing is simple and beautiful; there is a Zen-like quality to the prose. When I’m panicking, Lo’s voice is what I’d like to hear to allay my fears. At times, however, this evenness and calmness act almost to the novel’s detriment—though the action scenes are fascinating and well-written, the reassuring tone diminishes the urgency and danger of the situation.
Ash, as a reimaging of the Cinderella tale with an exploration of the fae, was influenced far more by European folklore. Huntress begins with this “warning”—“Huntress is set in the same world as Ash, but it takes place many centuries earlier. There are some significant cultural differences between the time periods.” Thus Lo creates the perfect excuse to turn to Chinese influences in this rather loosely-termed “prequel.” The biggest source of inspiration is the I-Ching, otherwise known as the Book of Changes, which Lo turns into her own Book of Changes through poetic interpretation. For example, the opening poem is in part a reference to Hexagram 3 of the I-Ching, which is named “sprouting” or “difficulty in the beginning.” These details add delicious texture to the story, but one need not be familiar with the source of inspiration to enjoy the book.
As Lo combines lesbian romance, multiple viewpoints, action adventure, Chinese lore, and more, the overall cohesiveness of the story is a little lost. To say that Huntress is overly ambitious may be an understatement—it sprawls too much in too little space. The ending is a bit rushed, and this abruptness is all the more jarring given Lo’s otherwise steady prose. But an excess of ambition always trumps lack of ambition.
Why should you read this book?
Lo is a real asset to young adult literature, and this shows in Huntress. While it is not necessary to read Ash to follow the story in Huntress, both are strong books that I would highly recommend.
Benni received a review copy courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.