Title: HuntressAuthor: Melinda Lo
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Themes: Destiny, Good vs. Evil, LGBTQ+
Age Range: 7th Grade and Above
Summary: (from Goodreads)
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.
Fans of Melinda Lo's first fantasy novel, Ash, will not be disappointed in this companion novel, which takes place in the same world, but hundreds of years earlier. I love the fact that Lo has created a world in her fictional (but Chinese-inspired) world of warriors and magic that turns traditional gender roles on their head. In fact, there appear to be almost no actual gender roles at all in the culture of the novel. How refreshing it would be to live in a place where that was actually true. Where people were free to follow their hearts and minds wherever they desired without fear of social repercussions. Lo is also completely at ease writing both same- and mixed-gender romances. In the Kingdom of Lo's creation, all romantic relationships are equally accepted and valued. As a gay woman I can only dream of a world where my relationship is so unremarkable in its nature that it doesn't require "coming out", or protection from people who may not accept it.
Of course, are we really free to follow our hearts and minds? Destiny and fate are both themes explored in this novel. When Taisin has a vision of Kaede, one that makes her feel great love for her, is their eventual romance really authentic, or did it come about because of the way the vision made Taisin feel? When Kaede defies her father to follow Taisin, is she doing it because she is choosing to, or because she is meant to? Every step of the journey Taisin and Kaede fight to make their own decisions, yet every decision brings them closer to fulfilling the destiny that was foretold. HOw much control do we really have over our own lives? How much are we influenced by the things we are told we should be? How much are we influenced by forces larger than ourselves?
The book is well-written, and Lo appears to have avoided the sophomore slump that often happens with second novels. If I had a criticism, it is that while the main quest the characters take unfolds over most of the book, the culminating quest that is Kaede's alone gets squeezed into the last chapter or so of the book. Seems like a sign that the novel could be longer, or that it needed a sequel. But that is minor-for the most part I enjoyed immersing myself into the world that Lo had created, and I would recommend this book be included in any classroom library that was looking to be inclusive in both genre and representation.