Huntress by Malinda Lo

a review by Nalini Haynes

Huntress is a prequel to Ash, Malinda Lo‘s first novel, but set hundreds of years earlier.  Kaede and Taisin are two girls  training to be sages, except Kaede has come to accept she will never graduate to become a sage.  Both are sent with Con, the crown prince, to visit the queen of the fae whose summons seems to coincide with a sickening of the world.  Three guards, Tali, Pol and Shae, accompany them on their journey north.

Before Kaede and Taisin are sent on their journey, Taisin has a vision revealing that she falls in love with Kaede; Taisin struggles with this vision because she wants desperately to become a celibate sage.

Kaede’s attraction to women sets her at odds with her father; although not for the reasons one might expect.  A convention panel in 2011 discussed representations of sexuality in fantasy, criticising George R.R. Martin’s homophobic mediaeval society.  I wondered how you’d create a fictional utopian society, at least insofar as tolerance of sexual difference is concerned: it’s not like there is a non-fiction idyll to draw upon for inspiration.  Malinda Lo’s Ash and Huntress are set in societies where people are human with human failings, and yet same-sex marriage and LGBT lovers are accepted as normal.  Even so, Lo maintains a realistic ratio of ‘straight’ to ‘gay’ couples in her society. Kaede’s conflict with her father is that he wants her to make a political marriage, regardless of the gender of her partner.  A political match to a man is more likely, therefore he requires Kaede to sacrifice her sexual preferences for his political gain.

There is also a ‘straight’ romance in Huntress, an element that I found particularly touching, bringing balance to this romantic adventure.  The outcomes of the relationships were varied, providing different forms of resolution.

On this journey there are sexytimes not just a few chaste kisses.  The descriptions are kept very vague, focusing more on the internal feelings and attractions before moving on, effectively ‘closing the door’ on the sex scene. If I was rating this book, I’d give it a PG rating, which is fairly consistent with the publisher’s “children’s/teenage” rating.  The sexytimes did not detract from the plot by delaying action: when sexual relations were mentioned, it was relevant to the plot and character development.  For me this is the difference between a good novel and gratuitous sex detracting from a novel: kudos to Lo!

This is Malinda Lo’s second novel; her style has developed.  There is much more ‘show’ and less ‘tell’ in this novel.  The plot is more original, the characters developing as they engage with the challenges they face.  Huntress is a novel that can be read for the romances or for the fairytale adventure, thus Huntress has broad appeal.  Highly recommended.  This is an author to watch.

A must for young teens growing up in the LGBT community as members and supporters; there is not enough of this style of fiction to build bridges and affirm relationships across people groups.