by Malinda Lo
This story takes place long before the time period Ash is set in, and tells the story of the first King’s Huntress. Kaede is at the Academy, a place where many young people learn to be emotionless sages. She is not a good student. Not like Taisin, who shows incredible promise as a sage. When the king receives an invitation to visit the Queen of the Xi fairies, Taisin has a vision of a quest to the fairy land. But this vision is dark: Kaede is on a boat, heading toward an icy fortress where she is about to meet her death. Worse than the sight in the vision is the feeling Taisin has when she sees Kaede go. She doesn’t know Kaede at all, but in this vision of the future, she recognizes that she loves her. She does her best to stop the vision from happening, and to stop herself from feeling for Kaede. Kaede, meanwhile, knows she is along on the quest because Taisin saw her in it, but she has no idea that she is heading to her doom. And hey, Taisin’s pretty cute.
The story started out kind of slow, but I really got into it as it picked up. Although I was more into the concept behind Ash and I got into it right away, overall Huntress was a fuller, more sophisticated story. Ash is a good example of a familiar story where you substitute a queer character for a straight one, but I have never read another story like Huntress. I found it to be really realistic, perhaps a strange compliment for a fantasy but one I wish I could give to other books in the genre. It’s not like so many other quest-type stories where everyone learns to work together and they triumph over all the evil and maybe one person dies so that you feel sad; in this world, anyone can die and a happy outcome is not guaranteed. This book is some hardcore adventure stuff. I wish more quest-type books were like this. I also wish more books with queer characters were like this. No “coming out,” no labeling, no inner turmoil about liking someone of the same gender. The cultural blending was really appealing, too. Everyone’s descriptions made me picture them as Asian, but their names were mostly Irish Gaelic. I desperately want Malinda Lo to set a series of trends in YA fiction: imperfect questing outcomes, well-adjusted queers, and lead characters who aren’t necessarily white.
Huntress is a good pick for those who like any of the following (even if they don’t usually like all of these aspects): magical quests, cool fantasy worlds, queer romance, and/or strong female characters. It can be read before or after Ash because there are no character cross-overs and the time setting makes the worlds of the two books vastly different.