A Review by Grumpy Jenny: Huntress, Malinda Lo

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.

The cover

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.

  • You know, after reading We Were Liars and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and re-reading Tell the Wolves I’ Home (all really wonderful books, but sad sad sad), I am in the mood for some totally unrealistic happy endings. With shame I confess it. But this sounds like a Legal Sister read, doesn’t it?

    • Gin Jenny

      Yes, maybe, but I think she’d have the same problems with it that I did.

  • This sounds a little like how I felt reading Hammerfall, where there were two identical quest journeys and the second one felt repetitive. The part about how she felt after she kills someone reminds me a little of the way everyone felt when we first read The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Too much angst and not enough magic. His second book was so much better, though!

    • Gin Jenny

      His second book was SO much better. I’m well curious to see what the third one looks like.

  • aliceburton

    That sounds frustrating — I wonder if Malinda Lo’s addressed it? Like “Here’s why this needed to happen.”

    I bought Ash over a year ago, but haven’t been able to get into it. I think her writing style’s not my usual thing, so it’ll take some effort.

    • Gin Jenny

      I hear wonderful things about some of her other books, and I’ll probably give her another try. Huntress wasn’t for me. I am hopeful about Adaptation.

  • I do love stories where diversity is Just Not A Big Deal. Like how it should be.

    • Gin Jenny

      Totally agree. Present, but not fussed over.

  • Every time that you review a YA book here it reminds me that I want to read more young adult books this year. I’m failing miserably at it. Which is weird because some of my favorite books of all time are young adult. I think this one sounds interesting even if it didn’t quite work for you. I love how honest you always are on your reviews.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, oh, if you want to read more YA I have A THOUSAND IDEAS for you. I’ve been reading a ton of good YA this year and last year.

  • This is one I thought sounded really fantastic when it first came out, but I was never able to get into it so I gave it to my cousin. And she had basically the same reaction as you did. Grumpy Cousin.

    • Gin Jenny

      How validating!

  • aartichapati

    Oh, I know exactly what you mean! Like putting together a puzzle but somehow not really understanding what it is a picture of. I have read books like that though of course none of them come to mind right now.

    Lo was very popular during the first #diversiverse, but I have not read her. Perhaps one of her other books would be better? It sounds like she has promise, but this just wasn’t the best effort.

    • Gin Jenny

      I’ve heard many good things about Adaptation. Maybe that’s the one to go with?

  • I liked Ash and loved the whole ‘normal, not commented on’ nature of it. I’d read this even if I wasn’t already wanting to read the rest of Lo’s work, because it sounds very good (away from the similarity to Ash, I like the sound of the victory). Regarding the pointless quest, that does seem to happen every so often in fantasy, and I agree with you. It’s basically filler, and I wonder if there was a word count to be met. It might happen in real life but we don’t read about adventures for that.

  • Ha! LOVE your review. I sometimes feel the EXACT SAME after finishing a book, but I don’t sound nearly as sane trying to come up with reasons why the book didn’t work, when it by all rights should have/could have. And you made it fun/funny, so extra points. I’ve only read Lo in short stories, though I own her Cinderella retelling (it’s on a shelf somewhere)… and to be honest I wasn’t super impressed by her short story game, though I wanted to be. You know the feeling. *sigh*