This, Lo’s Ash
, and Tamora Pierce’s The Will Of The Empress
are, to my knowledge, the only YA fantasies with lesbian protagonists ever put out by a mainstream (not small press or specialty) US publishing house. Not only that, but Huntress
has an Asian girl pictured on the cover, which is nearly as vanishingly rare in American YA fantasy.
I am really, really hoping it succeeds. It is genuinely groundbreaking and if it does well, it may encourage other publishers to put out and not whitewash similar titles. Even if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, consider whether you have any friends or relatives who might enjoy it as a gift. I’d say it’s appropriate for good readers of about eleven and up. (It contains kissing but no on-page sex, and some adventure-type violence which is treated with more seriousness than is common. But there’s no graphic details.)
has a somewhat wider scope than Ash
, more varied cultural influences, and is not based on a specific fairy-tale, it has most of the same virtues and flaws that Ash
did: a strong romance, some very beautiful passages, sketchy worldbuilding, and awkward plotting and pacing. You can probably predict with good accuracy how much you'd like one by how much you like the other, even though the stories are quite different.
In many ways, Huntress
is an old-school quest fantasy. Weird and bad stuff is happening in the world, a message unexpectedly arrives from the Fairy Queen, and a party is sent forth to travel to her city and hopefully get her help fixing things. The fellowship includes several adult warriors and guards, the crown prince, and the two teenage heroines. Taisin, a sage-in-training, wields magic and has visions… and will be sworn to celibacy once she officially becomes a sage. Because Taisin had a vision of Kaede, another girl at the sage school, Kaede comes along too, even though she’s about to leave school because she has no gift for magic, and has no obvious gifts at all other than a knack for throwing knives.
En route to the fairy city, Taisin and Kaede get to know each other, fight off magical opposition, and slowly fall in love. Lo excels at depicting the slow budding of their relationship, and all their hesitant, conflicted feelings. I could have happily read a story about nothing but Taisin and Kaede going to sage school and falling in love, because the romance aspects of the story are really well-done.
Other than the romance, the book was oddly structured and paced. Most of the story takes place on the road, which is fine but a little slow-paced, but once they arrive in the fairy city, events happen extremely fast. There’s a rushed-feeling second quest, in which the Big Bad goes down with disappointing ease, followed by an even more rushed third quest, which takes all of five pages to begin and complete. The final quest made sense thematically, but it was oddly placed and jarringly fast.
The world is Chinese/Celtic, and those very different cultures didn’t mesh coherently. The omniscient POV also didn’t quite gel for me – it was mostly Kaede and Taisin, but with brief peeks into other characters. I would have liked it better if the chapters had alternated between Kaede and Taisin’s POVs.
That being said, I did like the romance very much, and I enjoyed reading the book. If I knew any teenagers who were interested in non-urban fantasy, I would definitely press it upon them.Huntress