Huntress by Malinda Lo (2011, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), is an epic tale of a quest to the land of the fay. Although there were some aspects of the book that I did not enjoy as much as others, I found it to be a compelling fantasy story inspired by portions of the I Ching.
The two main characters, Taisin and Kaede, are students at an academy for sages. After Taisin has a vision of the future involving herself and Kaede, the two girls are sent as part of a diplomatic mission to the fay, who are known as the Xi. This diplomatic mission, led by Prince Con Isae Tan, hopes that the fay will have answers regarding the puzzling weather that has destroyed crops and placed the kingdom on the verge of civil war.
During the course of their quest, both of the two female main characters discover that they are very good at different skills. Taisin realizes that she has a strong affinity for magic, which bodes well for her chosen career as a sage. Kaede develops impressive martial skills and becomes a protector for the group. Though she has some qualms about killing the opponents she faces, she learns to do what she must to keep herself and her compatriots alive.
Interwoven with the journey to the land of the fay are two burgeoning romances. One, between Taisin and Kaede, is partially foretold by Taisin’s vision at the beginning of the book. Despite the fact that Taisin has seen a time when she cares deeply about Kaede, their relationship proceeds slowly. The other attachment is between Prince Con Isae Tan and Shae, a female guard who travels with the group. Because of the difference in their stations, their relationship, too, moves very slowly.
In the end, Taisin’s vision comes to pass, and Kaede (with help from Taisin) overcomes the obstacle that has caused the change in the kingdom’s climate. However, her work is not complete after this encounter, and there is an additional test that she must succeed at to make things right, which does not rely on her martial prowess.
One of the difficulties I had in reading this book was that the point-of-view character frequently changed for one or two paragraphs, before returning to whichever character was the primary point-of-view character. While this was generally fairly clear if the POV changed from one of the female characters to Con, it was less clear when the POV changed from Taisin to Kaede, or vice versa, as “she” could refer to either character. I was also disappointed in the conclusion of the two romances in the novel. Though it is hard to discuss this aspect without giving away too many spoilers, I felt that when these two relationships came to a point of resolution, the choice that the author made on which relationship ended and which continued was not what I had hoped for. The end result was less than satisfying for me as a reader.
Despite the issues I had with some aspects of Huntress, I enjoyed the book overall. The storytelling is lovely, and the main characters are exceptionally well written. I think that this book will appeal to young adult readers as well as older readers.