This, Lo’s Ash, and Tamora Pierce’s The Will Of The Empress are, to my knowledge, the only YA fantasies with lesbian protagonists ever put out by a mainstream (not small press or specialty) US publishing house. Not only that, but Huntress has an Asian girl pictured on the cover, which is nearly as vanishingly rare in American YA fantasy.

I am really, really hoping it succeeds. It is genuinely groundbreaking and if it does well, it may encourage other publishers to put out and not whitewash similar titles. Even if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, consider whether you have any friends or relatives who might enjoy it as a gift. I’d say it’s appropriate for good readers of about eleven and up. (It contains kissing but no on-page sex, and some adventure-type violence which is treated with more seriousness than is common. But there’s no graphic details.)

Though Huntress has a somewhat wider scope than Ash, more varied cultural influences, and is not based on a specific fairy-tale, it has most of the same virtues and flaws that Ash did: a strong romance, some very beautiful passages, sketchy worldbuilding, and awkward plotting and pacing. You can probably predict with good accuracy how much you'd like one by how much you like the other, even though the stories are quite different.

In many ways, Huntress is an old-school quest fantasy. Weird and bad stuff is happening in the world, a message unexpectedly arrives from the Fairy Queen, and a party is sent forth to travel to her city and hopefully get her help fixing things. The fellowship includes several adult warriors and guards, the crown prince, and the two teenage heroines. Taisin, a sage-in-training, wields magic and has visions… and will be sworn to celibacy once she officially becomes a sage. Because Taisin had a vision of Kaede, another girl at the sage school, Kaede comes along too, even though she’s about to leave school because she has no gift for magic, and has no obvious gifts at all other than a knack for throwing knives.

En route to the fairy city, Taisin and Kaede get to know each other, fight off magical opposition, and slowly fall in love. Lo excels at depicting the slow budding of their relationship, and all their hesitant, conflicted feelings. I could have happily read a story about nothing but Taisin and Kaede going to sage school and falling in love, because the romance aspects of the story are really well-done.

Other than the romance, the book was oddly structured and paced. Most of the story takes place on the road, which is fine but a little slow-paced, but once they arrive in the fairy city, events happen extremely fast. There’s a rushed-feeling second quest, in which the Big Bad goes down with disappointing ease, followed by an even more rushed third quest, which takes all of five pages to begin and complete. The final quest made sense thematically, but it was oddly placed and jarringly fast.

The world is Chinese/Celtic, and those very different cultures didn’t mesh coherently. The omniscient POV also didn’t quite gel for me – it was mostly Kaede and Taisin, but with brief peeks into other characters. I would have liked it better if the chapters had alternated between Kaede and Taisin’s POVs.

That being said, I did like the romance very much, and I enjoyed reading the book. If I knew any teenagers who were interested in non-urban fantasy, I would definitely press it upon them.


A major city is named Cathair. Perhaps because I read the book with a cat curled in my lap, I kept reading it as Cat hair and snickering inappropriately. It's Irish and google says it's pronounced Ka-heer.

I normally disapprove of altering the spelling of real words to suit the delicate sensibilities of readers from different cultures, but this is one case in which either a different name or a phonetic spelling might have been better. Or I could be not only a complete philistine, but the only reader in the world who didn't either give it the Irish pronunciation or see it as Cath-air or Ca-thair. Probably the latter.
ginny_t: A close-up of chess pieces, the text reads "the queens we use would not excite you" a quote from "One Night in Bangkok" Photo taken by troubleinchina (intellectual snobbery)

From: [personal profile] ginny_t

There's also Wildthorn, but I can't recommend it. The writing turned me off something fierce. I'm disappointed by how many of the reviews are all "omglesbian!" *eyeroll* (No one else mentioned the terrible writing--wtf?)
ginny_t: The world's tiniest violin? It refuses to play for you because it has higher standards. (unsympathetic)

From: [personal profile] ginny_t

Wait, I missed an important word. Wildthorn is not at all a fantasy. Ooops. I leave my comment up since it's all typed and posted already.
ginny_t: You say "ulterior motive" like it's a bad thing. (GH Yasuhara Ulterior motive)

From: [personal profile] ginny_t

Hee hee! I like that plan! Well-written stealth lesbians for everyone!

I tried Fingersmith, but it didn't grab me. I'm rather a fusspot about books.
lferion: (TPM_Qui_noblestrong)

From: [personal profile] lferion

I was never able to get more than a few pages into the Shannara books because even at 14 I couldn't deal with a wizard named Al-Anon (Alanon really, but I went to the AA place every single time I saw it). It did not help that I also found him a very poor copy of Gandalf.
twtd: (Default)

From: [personal profile] twtd

I'm so glad you posted about this because I had no idea that she had written a second book. I enjoyed Ash despite its flaws, and it seemed like the problems in Huntress were at least a little less glaring than they were in Ash. As with Ash, I feel like the story after the story would be more interesting than the one in the page, and I'm dying for her to actually get into the real implications behind her sketchy world building. Reading it felt like a good use of my afternoon, so I'm not going to complain.
lenora_rose: (Default)

From: [personal profile] lenora_rose

Elizabeth Bear used that name in her Edda of Burdens, but with the extra o (Cathoair) and I never even had that thought. Probably because his nickname of Cahey gave a pretty good hint how it should be spoken, but also, the o really saved it.

From: [identity profile]

Fantasy names--I was having horrible headaches about them yesterday. Ughhh.

Kaede is Japanese for maple.

You read Keeper, right? The understated gay young-love story in that blew me away for beauty and magic and yet naturalness.

From: [identity profile]

I thought maple was momiji? I am terrible, terrible, terrible at inventing names.

I haven't read Keeper, and I didn't know it had a gay love story! That puts it much higher on my to-read list.

From: [identity profile]

Um--it's a very small part of the story, but I found it a very beautiful part. And, it's very, very important to the ending, and the way it works out, in my opinion, is *beautiful*.

...I think I liked that story more than the actual main story.

You may be frustrated by the pacing of Keeper (I was, and by elements of the narration. But other things I liked a lot.)

From: [identity profile]

And oh yeah, momiji is maple, too, but it's also more generally fall leaves. You can point to a Japanese maple tree and say "momiji no ki," and you'd be right... I think "kaede" is maybe what they use for non-Japanese maples? Although they call those momiji, too. And any fall foliage can be momiji....

("Kaede" has a very botanic feel to it, whereas "momiji" is very natural and everyday)
Edited Date: 2011-05-30 06:35 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile]

Oh, yes, Keeper! I thought the romance very well handled.

From: [identity profile]

The Japanese-looking names in Huntress are NOT pronounced the way they should be. I liked the book a lot, but if I hadn't been really sure I would, I'd have stopped at the glossary, which had me thinking "no, no, NO!" For instance, Kaede is to be pronounced Kay-dee. *TWITCH*

From: [identity profile]

That's a continual problem with people using authentic Celtic spelling in fantasy. Sure, they can put a pronunciation guide at the front or back of the book, but (1) flipping back and forth is annoying and (2) I'm still going to see/read "Cat hair" first.

In general, for fantasy fiction, I think less harm is done by coming up with an alternate spelling that conveys the actual word, than adhering to a correctness that alienates the reader.

(Of course, there are times when alienating the reader is what the writer intends. This seems not to be one of them.)
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)

From: [personal profile] rosefox

I immediately read Cathair with the Irish pronunciation, but I've actually studied Irish Gaelic. You'd think eight years of cat ownership would have outweighed two semesters of language classes but apparently not.

I also wouldn't transliterate it "Ka-heer"; more like "Ka'yr". Irish really doesn't work unless you put on a tremendous thick brogue and slur like you're drunk. I realize how stereotypical this is, which is why I resisted it at first, but once I gave in, my native-born Irish teacher kept complimenting me on my pronunciation.
Edited Date: 2011-05-30 06:45 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile]

*cheers* I like this book loads, and likewise hope fervently it succeeds. (B&N enraged me by not taking it everywhere, which I can only put down to Asian Lady On the Cover.) Malinda Lo is so, so smart, and it shines through the book, which is very much and deliberately an epic hero's quest fantasy tale, except of course with an Asian lady, which changes things. Messing with tropes, my one true love.

'Cathair' naturally I read the way it is said, but I admit, as an Irishwoman and an Irish speaker, obviously I was going to. Still... I would've been pissed, I think, to see the language altered. So I'm glad it wasn't.

The romance being great, and hot and allowed to be hot in a way many such relationships aren't in books--because people feel they have to be so damn careful, and it's not that they're wrong--but it is SO GREAT and freeing to see hot ladies having a fine old time together. It made me very happy.

From: [identity profile]

B&N didn't take it? Or just didn't put it in all their stores? I hate that a single purchaser has such an enormous impact on a book's overall sales.

It was interesting that the romance was left up in the air, with a "not now, but maybe later" conclusion. At first in YA gay romances invariably ended in tragedy, and then there was a push toward "happy endings or you're saying that gay romances MUST end tragically." I like that at least in this one book, it's neither tragic nor happy ever after.

From: [identity profile]

Didn't put it in all (but there's a difference between not being in all, and being specifically limited) and I hear you! Sad to say, if B&N doesn't take a book at all, said book is pretty screwed.

This one book does many awesome things, and I wish there were loads of other books like it. ;)

From: [identity profile]

I tend to be of the opinion that it's fine to not modify the names if you're okay with people mispronouncing them. (I read a book when I was about ten with a character named Niamh, which I mentally pronounced Nee-um. I was a little embarrassed to find out, a few years later, that I had been drastically mispronouncing it... but the mispronunciation did my enjoyment of the book no harm at all, so, no problem.) But in general I think it might be prudent to check a few people in your target audience who don't already know the name/language, and see how they'd pronounce them to avoid anything terribly un-euphonious.

(It's entirely possible Lo did this. As it happens, I do know how to pronounce "Cathair," and I have no idea how common it is or is not to know that among Lo's target audience.)

Relatedly: I was in the car with my husband and his mother; MiL is blind. We were trying to find a place to eat. "Cora," MiL said, "why don't you read us restaurant names as we pass?" ...The first thing I laid eyes on was "Phuket Thai." I still have not lived that one down.

From: [identity profile]

Speaking of names, the use of Xi as the name for the faerie folk made me very happy. (Look up the pronunciation, if you haven't already.)

I agree on the rushed pacing of the final climax, but enjoyed the book enough to be able to still enjoy it--quite a bit. It just felt like one of those books that pushes lots of the right buttons for me.

(Another small thing I really liked: it's another story that deals with the whole business of destined love. As in, knowing she's destined to love Kaede doesn't make magical we're-destined-for-each-other sparks fly when Taisin meets here. It makes her feel awkward, because whatever is going to happen between them, it hasn't happened yet.)

From: [identity profile]

Shee, right? As in Xi'an? I thought that was clever.

I did also like the destined love! As you say, but also it wasn't really destined, just predicted. And also because just because you love someone doesn't mean you're obliged to be together your entire lives.

From: [identity profile]

And also because just because you love someone doesn't mean you're obliged to be together your entire lives.

Yes. The fact that the characters don't give up everything for love, and the love is no less real and true for it, was also lovely.

Destined/predicted love doesn't have to be forever love, either.

(And yes. Shee/Sidhe. This made me irrationally happy, even as it added to the worldbuilding, for me.)

From: [identity profile]

Xi/Sidhe was one place where the worldbuilding really did make sense to me. Otherwise, I wanted more of a demarcation between where one culture ended and the other began, or more clarity about how and why they sometimes seemed mixed together.

From: [identity profile]

I am only vaguely familiar with Irish, but I read "Cathair" as "Cath-ayr," I think because in English 'th' in the middle of the word is pretty much always pronounced 'th' and not 't-h'. Even after you pointed out "cat hair," my brain doesn't separate the 'th'. But it is amusingly incongruous!

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