Huntress by Malinda Lo – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

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.

The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance

You can read an excerpt here.


Huntress is a quiet, deliberate, and lovely coming of age story.

There is a lush quality to Malinda Lo’s writing, a way of using language to deftly weave an encompassing fantasy world that reminds me very much of Robin McKinley. Like McKinley, Lo’s work is emotional, layered, and less concerned with action than character. There is some action to this story, but the plot is by no means hectic or driven – the physical journey is overwhelmed by the emotional one, as two teenage girls face down choices that will define the rest of their lives.

I’m the first to admit I know nothing about the I, Ching, but I really love the themes of traditional Asian storytelling (and yes, I have an unholy love of martial arts movies from which this probably stems), particularly the inner struggle between desire and duty. Asian legends just seem to live in moral choices, in questions of honor and sacrifice, and Lo deftly weaves those themes into Kaede and Taisin’s story. Both girls face life-altering choices between duty and happiness, and there is no simple answer to their situations – and I love how Lo never made them helpless. These two girls face difficulties inherent in their situations, but ultimately they shape their own destinies. It is always up to them.

I also love the love story in this book. In the field of YA, we so often see the infamous eyes-meet-and-instant-love play out, but Lo gives us a satisfyingly real relationship. From the physical magnetism to their maturing emotional connection, Lo plays with the awkwardness of attraction and takes the time to earn the relationship. I had no problem fully investing in this love story. I also very much enjoyed how in Lo’s fantasy world, two girls falling in love is not taboo or even an issue, such that it allowed the story to develop free of commentary or condemnation. This is simply a story of two people falling in love, period. (And in being so, Huntress makes me realize how dehumanizing the political discussions of  “non-traditional” pairings really are.)

I fully enjoyed the tapestry Lo wove – though as I’ve said, it’s more a tale of inner discovery than action – but I have to admit I was a little jarred by the ending of this book. There is a second ending that I was not expecting, and to me it felt a little tacked on (kind of like in Return of the King, when you think everything is done and then whoops, there’s another ending), but in terms of character work I thought the ending was perfect. An absolutely authentic choice, entirely true to the characters – anything else just wouldn’t have been right.

So yes, I enjoyed Huntress very much. A rich and satisfying YA fantasy.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

Lo’s storytelling and prose are masterful, and her protagonists will fascinate, particularly Taisin and her relationship to death and its accompanying rituals, her visions, and the way she can occupy another’s mind. As with Ash, Lo’s characters are emotionally reserved, which makes the unfolding of romance between Kaede and Taisin all the more satisfying. Fans of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy will love this.

Girl in the Stacks says:

I felt for the most part the timing, pacing and overall story-arch were spot-on. The ending, the very end I might add, was perfect. I love when heroes of stories take the road less traveled (so to speak) and do what is right at the time and not what is easy.

Typecraft Writer says:

I haven’t read Ash yet but Huntress stands well on its own for someone who is just diving in. Lo writes beautifully. The details of her world are lush, stark, and otherworldly all at the same time…Kick-ass female characters? Check. Beautiful writing? Check. Had me hooked? Yes!