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29 May 2011 @ 01:00 am
[Book Review] Huntress, by Malinda Lo  
I decided to give book reviewing a try. Part of the reason I've been holding off so long is because I've been reading a lot lately, and I honestly didn't know where to start. For the wary, I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but some minor spoilers will be necessary just in talking about the book.

Huntress is the second book from Malinda Lo. It is the prequel to Ash, a queer retelling of the Cinderella story.

The official summary of Huntress:
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.

When I heard that this book had come out, I was ecstatic. I read Ash when it first came out, and spent a few hours completely wrapped up in the world. It's a short book, but I felt completely entranced by it, and the idea of a prequel thrilled me. (I will possibly write a full review for Ash, but since it was over a year since I read it I'll have to reread it first.)

So I went into Huntress really, really, wanting to like it. And I kind of...didn't.

Don't get me wrong, this book is by no means terrible, and it deals with some really interesting themes. What, for example, do you do when you have seen a vision of the future in which you are in love with a person, but you aren't in love with them now? Something I also appreciate in this story, which is the same in Ash, is that the queerness is never treated as abnormal. Malinda Lo created a world in which it is entirely unremarkable that a woman would fall in love with another woman, and I love her for that. Narratives in which a character struggles with coming to terms with his/her/hir sexuality, whether to come out, etc. are really important when dealing with a real world context, but the joy of fantasy is that you can create the rules of the world. And one way to make people see how sexuality doesn't have to be a big deal is showing them a world in which sexuality isn't a big deal. The romance between Kaide and Taisin is handled with care and grace, and I thought it was really sweet. Lo does a good job presenting two separate but complementary personalities, and they balance each other really well. The fairy city was also beautiful and haunting, and I love the descriptions of it.

I think the biggest problem in this book for me were the abrupt POV changes. Huntress is written in third person omniscient narration, which means the narrative shifts in and out of the perspectives of basically every character that comes on screen. The problem is that the switches never felt natural to me. Most books aren't written in omniscient narration anymore - they tend to be either first person or third person limited. Even if the POV shifts in a third person narrative, there tends to be a divide that marks when we're switching, and the POV stays consistent for that section. In this story we were changing perspectives in the middle of a paragraph, for only a few sentences, and then switching back to someone else.

This might be just because I've been spending too much time in Creative Writing classes, where we're trained to look for things like inconsistent POV changes, but the narrative style kept me from ever fully enjoying the story. Every time she'd switch in the middle of the paragraph I would groan in frustration, and be completely thrown out of the story. At the end of it I felt like there was a seriously impressive book, but it was buried just underneath the surface layer of the narrative style.

So. In the end, I think this does end on a recommendation, but a complicated one. If you think you can get past the narrative style (and I sincerely, honestly hope you can), then this book will amaze you.

Purchase this book on Amazon, or, check out your local Indie Bound.

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