SNEAK PEEK PREVIEW: Huntress by Malinda Lo

Huntress by Malinda Lo; published by Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2o11; 371 pages.

Grayness has settled across everything from the sky to the earth.  Strange creatures of myth have appeared on the fringes of the Wood.  Perhaps it was no surprise when the King and his entourage visited the Academy where sages are trained, since so many unusual things were already happening in the human world.  The King came with an invitation from the Fairy Queen to meet in her castle.  Perhaps meeting with the fairies could shed light on the strange events in the human realm; but the King and his advisors do not want to risk his safety.  His son (Con), two students from the Academy (Kaede and Taisin), and three guards will make the journey.  Will they survive the trek and reach the Fairy Queen in time to save the earth?  And who will discover she is the Huntress?

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  Expected release date: April 5, 2011.

Huntress is the prequel to Lo’s William C. Morris YA Debut Award finalist Ash, but the story takes place generations earlier.  I have not read the first book; in fact, I was stunned to find my local libraries do not have Ash in their collections!  However, Huntress stands alone.  Please let me know if I’ve missed anything by not reading the first book!

OK, so Huntress offers a little bit for almost every taste.  A quest!  An adventure!  Mythology a la I Ching!  Romance!  At first I thought the mix of so many genres would dilute the impact of each, but that is certainly not the case.  The flow of the quest and the adventures associated with it was as exciting as any adventure story gets.  Battles ending in tragic losses were profoundly written which helped introduce the mythology of the Xi and other fay.  Introducing concepts from the I Ching, including quotes from the Book of Changes and use of the Oracle Bones, made the existence of a fay world seem plausible.

But for me, the exploration of romance was the most interesting aspect of the book.  In Huntress, the heterosexual relationship between the heir to the throne and one of the King’s guard is regarded as taboo; the love between the Academy students, two females, was regarded casually.  Hooray for writing a book that doesn’t make an overt statement about sexual preference!

Overall, I loved Lo’s descriptions of the world around her characters.  The greyness, the magic, the fairies were all described so vividly that I could step into the world at any given moment.  Sometimes I was confused by the point of view; the narration is third person omniscient and at times I had to reread passages after I discovered the point of view had shifted.  But that was a minor inconvenience given the depth of descriptions and the pace of the adventure.

Teens who prefer a variety of genres should be drawn to this book.  The Pronunciation Guide at the beginning of the book helped me get over the strangeness of the names and I felt more comfortable reading; I think young adult readers will agree.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 9-12

Cover Art: Love, love, love the ARC cover!  The obscured face of the girl holding the Huntress’ bow adds to the mystery of the storyline.  The snowy background sets the atmosphere of the story–grayness in an increasingly cold world.  The subtle Asian features also hint at the I Ching influence of the story.  I think the cover does a remarkable job of inferring the various genres (other than romance!) of the book.

From Reading Lists: Sexual Identity, The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

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