I am of two minds about Huntress. From the standpoint of representation and messages, I am all about it. The cover, as you can see, features a woman who is clearly Asian and clearly fierce (cause the protagonist is both of those things!); and the central romance of the story is between two women. Nonwhite queer protagonists are woefully underrepresented in YA (and in fiction generally — cf. #weneeddiversebooks, which damn, we really do). It was lovely and refreshing to read a book like this where not the protagonist a queer person of color, and the arc of her story has very little to do with being a queer person of color.
That isn’t to say I’m against stories where those types of identity play a strong role; quite the contrary. I am just greedy and I want both: Stories where people talk frankly about race and sexuality, and stories in which the nonwhiteness/nonmaleness/noncisness/nonstraight ness (etc etc) of the characters is so normal that it does not need to be remarked upon.
So from that perspective, I was delighted with Taisin and Kaede. Both of them are strong women without tipping into the “girly things are gross” danger spots, and their growth over the course of the novel feels natural. As their journey forces them to grow individually — Kaede’s progress as an archer reflects the increasing necessity that she should serve in part as protection for the group; Taisin learns new ways of using her power and struggles against outside encroachment on her visions — they also grow together. Their group diminishes, and Taisin can no longer casually avoid Kaede. They are frightened, and turn to each other for comfort.
Stupendously great also is that although Kaede goes on quite the hero’s journey, culminating in (spoilers, but like, it’s a YA book, right? you knew she was going to win) the defeat of the enemy they’ve come to defeat, her victory feels like anything but a victory. She suffers from the knowledge that she’s taken a life, and the book treats that as something serious and lasting — as it should be.
The component parts of Huntress are terrific, basically. But the book doesn’t feel like a unified thing. Kaide and Taisin spend the majority of the book going on one quest, only to find out that that was never their quest at all. I felt like asking what on earth all that questy suffering was for, then, if it was never the point? And I ended up feeling dissatisfied, even though some aspects of the book were top-notch.
And then I felt like Grumpy Misanthrope Jenny.
And then I wrote this review.