Saturday, September 29, 2012
Huntress by Malinda Lo
Aarti over at BookLust is hosting a week long celebration of some amazing authors of color who also happen to write speculative fiction. Over the past week, we have met some mighty good authors who have written some very impressive speculative fiction on a wide variety of participating blogs. Why not head over to BookLust and check out the schedule of posts there. And thank you, Aarti, for hosting and organizing this special week.
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 stone are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerour 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 own 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.
I chose to re-read Huntress by Malinda Lo as my contribution to A More Diverse Universe. I had read it when it first come out, and while I am not the kind of person who generally re-reads books, I wanted to revisit Huntress because I felt I simply had read it too quickly the first time around.
Huntress is called the prequel to Ash, Malinda Lo's retelling of the classic fairytale Cinderella but with a nice spin of her own. It is still a fairytale, but Ash is a strong protagonist not interested in any Prince Charming carrying her away from all her woes, but she finds herself rather attracted to the King's huntress, Kaisa, also a strong woman. But it should be said, that despite being a prequel, Huntress, like Ash, is an excellent stand-along novel.
So, what about Huntress?
Well, it is an adventure story, a coming of age story, a love story, a fantasy story and it is all stands under the umbrella of a quest story - a quest for harmony, for balance. In fact, the cover of Huntress says it all.
Lo has said that she was influenced in part by Chinese philosophy and one of the main tenets in both Taoism and Confucian thought is that nature and man should live harmoniously with each other.
But in Huntress, nature is out of balance in the human world and so the adventure begins as young Kaede, Taisin and the others in their party set off on a dangerous journey to see the Fairy Queen at her invitation, to see if they can restore this delicate balance.
As a coming of age story, Kaede and Taisin must journey deeper into the dark, threatening wood they must travel through to see the Fairy Queen, running into obstacles along the way. They set off on their journey as young, tentative, confused schoolgirls who get to know themselves and each other better, and maturing as they discover their true natures. Lo presents their journey to self with all the tenderness and shyness you would expect of young women on the cusp of adulthood.
The love story in Huntress is very interesting to see develop. In the beginning, Taisin has a vision of loving but losing Kaede. Anticipating this causes her to hold back her feelings. But that doesn't feel right either, and it is only after she can accept and allow herself to express her feelings towards Kaede that she is then able to find the harmony that comes with knowing what is right for herself. And, in fact, the same happens to Kaede.
Huntress has all the tropes we have come to accept in fantasy stories. But here, Lo brings her own special touch to the fantasy novel. First, there are the lesbian protagonists who are lucky enough to live in a society where one's sexuality is a none issue, so choosing to love another woman or not isn't fraught with societal judgement as well. Second, Lo shows us what Chinese philosophy can look like when it is a part of a fantasy novel.
And it all works together so well that in the end form and content are in harmony.