Huntress by Malinda Lo 2011
Little, Brown & Company/Hachette Book Group
Incredible Quote (IQ) "She was no longer in her body; she felt free. She was as small as a drop of dew quivering on a spider's web; she was a minute in an hour in a day in a million years. So much had passed to bring her to this moment: births, deaths, countless insignificant decisions that made her who she had become. All of that-all of her-could end now. She could return to the limitless state that every living creature once was in and will be again." Kaede pg. 327
This story takes place centuries before Ash (the author's previous book) and explains the original purpose of the king's Huntress. Nature is off balance, the sun doesn't shine anymore resulting in crop failure and hunger throughout the land (merely referred to as a whole as The Kingdom). The King is desperate to find a solution to the problem, especially since strange new creatures are beginning to appear and it is unclear as to whether or not they are harmless. The oracle stones are cast, Kaede and Taisin are chosen to go on a journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Both girls are only seventeen years old, Taisin is one of the most promising sages, filled with magic, and Kaede is a devoted warrior, although it is intially unclear as to what she brings to the table. The girls travel with the King's son, con along with his most trusted guards, Tali, Shae and Pol. Taisin has had a vision that prevents her from being close to Kaede but the danger of the mission calls for the group to trust one another and that trust may lead to the downfall of the mission, and any possible romances.
Malinda Lo's novels are not to be rushed through in order to see the end of a plot, instead they should be cherished for the backgrounds and character development. I read this book as slowly as I could (while trying to be mindful that I needed to review the book for the publisher!), savoring each word and the ability to clearly visualize the scenery and characters described because this author pays extraordinary attention to detail. What's even more impressive is that the author focuses equal (or close-to-equal) attention on her secondary characters. There is not only a brewing romance between Kaede and Taisin, but there is one between other members of the group but their romance is not the only thing that defines them. Instead we learn about the families of the secondary characters and delve deeply into their layered personalities. This is not a story about the end of the journey, as cliche as it may sound, Huntress focuses more on the actual journey itself than the end result. I liked that neither girl started out as an expert, Taisin has immense potential but she's not an expert yet and Kaede struggles with archery. I found it interesting that the girls were not shaped by their surroundings but they did react to them, they constantly had to adjust (along with the whole group) their plans due to unforseen circumstances. Ahh life.
The romance between Taisin and Kaede begins at a relaxed pace, both girls are nervous about their feelings. Not because they aren't supposed to be in love due to gender (once again this is a world where everyone's sexuality is accepted) but due to obligations. Taisin as a sage must remain celibate. Kaede is expected to marry a powerful man for political reasons to help her father. It is acknowledged though that making political marriages between women is rare. The romance in this book seemed to be more about resisting the lure of love than the confusion that comes with it. Taisin is determined not to fall in love with Kaede because she doesn't want to be hurt when her tragic vision comes true, she steels herself for the worst and closes herself off. Kaede is confused as to why Taisin is so nervous around her, she is not initially aware that she has feelings for Taisin, she's just curious about this quiet girl whose family own a farm (as compared to Kaede who comes from a wealthier family). There is confusion on Kaede's part because Taisin is the Queen of Mixed Signals! The beauty of this romance is that is oh so worth the wait. I worried that I would grow impatient but the author's writing is so rich that it is most definitely worth the wait, each sentence uttered by Taisin or Kaede seems to take on a much deeper meaning and it was easy for me to envision the awkwardness of some of their encounters.
Huntress is partly inspired by the I Ching, which I know nothing about and while I may not have caught all the references and subtle nods (I learned a lot at the Diversity in YA talk such as Kaede on the cover is holding an akido bow and that the story uses Celtic magic), I adored this story even more than Ash. Taisin and Kaede don't grow leaps-and-bounds but they do slowly emerge as exceptional young women who have been through serious hardships and had some lovely adventures which have shaped them, for better or worse. Their romance helps them to grow but it never overshadows other aspects of the plot, the story strikes a balance between first love and adventure. The fairy world was fascinating to read about, the author made it easy to see how the fairies were so different from humans and she doesn't allow her characters to make sweeping generalizations or observations about the fairies' behavior. First she creates a scene, then she has a character ruminate on what just occurred. I firmly associate this book with winter based on the cover and the fact that the sun-never shines which makes it the perfect winter read (if your winters are actually cold. If not blast the air conditioning so you can shiver under the covers while reading ;) The bonus is that this book is packaged together beautifully. The cover is phenomenal (basically a full-face Asian girl starting defiantly at you while holding a weapon with soft snowflakes flying around and an imposing mountain in the background), the colors are lovely (I love love love purple!) and each chapter starts with a curlicue which is awesome. It practically screams old-fashioned fairy tale and this book is a traditional fairy-tale with a few modern (colorful) uplifts.
Disclosure: Received from publisher for review. Thank you so much!
PS I got Huntress autographed at DiYA last week (which I still need to write about because it was awesome)! I also picked up some bookmarks :D Read Malinda Lo's Reading in Color guest post in honor of Huntress' release And yes Malinda is so kind and she has an awesome speaking voice. I got shivers down my spine when she read from Chapter 1!