Behold the noble hunter. As night falls, he scales the castle walls and slips unnoticed into the queen’s chamber, where he unsheathes his dagger and raises it high above the sleeping monarch’s prone, defenseless form… Or is it assassins who do that? I always get the two confused. But in any case, let’s take a stab at Huntress by Malinda Lo.
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.
There is one truly great scene in Huntress. The protagonists have heard stories about a village where a baby has been born that people say is a changeling: a fae impostor swapped for a normal human child. Each story about the changeling baby is more bizarre and improbable than the last, and the heroes finally decide to go see the truth of the matter for themselves. They aren’t entirely sure what to expect: strange and undeniably supernatural things have been happening in the land, but the stories seem far too exaggerated and contradictory to be true. When they finally arrive at the house, they discover a mother caring for a baby which seems human enough – until it transforms into a hideous monster and attacks them. They are forced to slay it by driving an iron dagger through its heart, at which point the dead body reverts to its human appearance under the gaze of its horrified mother.
Remember when I reviewed The X-Files: Antibodies and complained how the intended suspense scenes which put the child character in danger all completely fell flat because it was obvious that the book didn’t have the guts to kill a child? This is a book that’s got guts.
That aside, however, I do have some problems with the story. First of all, the title doesn’t strike me as very applicable. The ostensible justification for it comes from a statement by the Fairy Queen:
“I am not seeking an assassin. I am seeking a hunter.”
– The Fairy Queen, Chapter 30
I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree, there. Perhaps if the Fairy Queen wanted Kaede to track Elowen through the woods, or pursue her with hounds, or lay a cunning trap for her, I could see it. But what the Fairy Queen is actually asking is for Kaede to sneak into Elowen’s palace and stab her with an iron dagger. I’m fairly certain that does in fact fall under the category of assassination, rather than hunting.
The course of the novel is also somewhat predictable. For instance, the group headed to Tanili includes the two main characters, a prince, a girl in love with the prince, and also two random guards. The main characters obviously aren’t going to die before the climax, and the prince and the girl have this whole forbidden inter-class romance thing going on, so guess who’s going to bite it in order to prove the seriousness of the danger? They might not be wearing red shirts, but they’re definitely redshirts, is what I’m saying. And since from the very beginning of the book Taisin has been having prophetic future-visions about how she’ll eventually fall in love with Kaede and Kaede will head to Elowen’s palace alone, there are no surprises to be had in those regards, either. When a character has a vision of the future, and then that vision comes exactly to pass without any sort of subversion or ironic twist… well, that’s no so much foreshadowing as a spoiler.
And then of course there is the lesbian romance, which like all lesbian romances in literature is doomed to end with the lovers either dying or being separated. It’s not even a surprise anymore when even a supposedly progressive and gay-friendly book ends with the romantic couple having to break up for some contrived bullshit reason. I’m not angry, just disappointed. …Well, okay, maybe a little angry. Just why does it have to be so hard to find a book with a lesbian couple who has a happy ending? When I go over my bookshelf trying to find a novel where the protagonist is a lesbian and actually ends up with her love interest at the end instead of being tragically separated by death or needing to split up to follow different life paths or some bullshit like that, and the closest I can come is The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan – because, you know, Archeth is probably going to rescue Ishgrim at some point in the near future, the novel doesn’t have time to actually show it but it’s fairly strongly implied that it’s going to happen – well, it makes me suspect that the authors are copping out. Sure, they’ll include a lesbian or two here and there to show how enlightened and progressive they are – but a happy ending? Whoa, let’s not go crazy here; “happily ever after” endings are a privilege reserved for straight protagonists.
But hey, it’s not all bad; at least the protagonists succeeded in their quest! If they hadn’t, the world might have turned to ash; and that would be just terrible. Preventing such a horrible outcome was surely worth all the sacrifices they were forced to make. Anything to stop the world from being reduced to ash, right? As it is, we’ll check up on the beautiful and idyllic world created by their victory in the sequel… Ash. Um, oops?
(Okay, okay, I kid. The title of Ash actually refers to something else entirely, unrelated to this book’s threat. I just find it delightfully ironic that the next one’s named that way when such a big deal was made about preventing the land from turning to ash in this one).
Final Rating: 3/5