Kit reviews Huntress by Malinda Lo

Huntress / Malinda Lo

Little Brown and Company, 2011

If you could change your fate…would you?

Argh, wait. Wrong story.

At its heart, all the same, Malinda Lo’s Huntress is a beautifully written, sometimes strangely distant story that tackles fate, free will, and the joy of a journey.

Two girls study at The Academy—a wrought-iron centre of learning at the edge of The Kingdom. We meet them in alternate POV chapters. The first, Taisin, is a farmer’s daughter, and so skilled at Sage craft—the spiritual/quasi magical order at the heart of the Academy’s learning—that she is considered the most talented of her generation. Taisin cares little for that. She has just wanted to be a Sage her whole life, and is prepared to take the necessary vows to do so. These vows include celibacy. Kaede, the daughter of the King’s Chancellor, has always struggled with the rituals of the Academy. She is too wilful; too fierce, and too protective of herself, to be any other way. She feels rather lost in the Academy as she works through her last year, knowing that her father will marry her off for political gain one way or another, and that she is running out of time. (There hasn’t, a friend reminds her early on the novel, been a political union between two women in recent memory).

The Kingdom, meanwhile, is falling to pieces around them. Crops wither, people starve, and a strange, lingering winter encroaches upon the land. When the King receives an envoy from the long-closed off fairy realm of Taninli, with possible clues to the end of this winter, Taisin also experiences the clearest vision of her life: she will be going somewhere far, and icy, and strange. Kaede will be going with her. And Taisin is in love with her.

How do you look someone in the eye when you know you’re meant to fall in love with them, but haven’t yet? Huntress is very delicate as it examines this question, and its companion themes of whether love compromises or aids duty. Taisin’s chapters are full of quiet frustration and questions and confusion, while Kaede—who spends much of the book blessedly unaware of her companion’s anguish—learns skills out in the wilderness with a few friends that she could not have picked up in her father’s home or her old school. I loved the strength—the capability—of both these girls. It shows early and never falters, as the two of them embark on one of the better-written quest narratives I’ve read. There is inclement weather; changeling babies; flirting and jealousy and daggers and stunningly well handled exposition. By the end of the road, you feel like you know every character well, but never like that knowledge has thrown at you. Taninli (which, along with The Wood, will be familiar to readers of Ash, Lo’s debut novel that is set in this world some centuries later) is as fascinating, imbued with Tír na nÓg allusions as much as the Academy and Kaede’s city of Cathair are imbued with Chinese folklore and philosophy. The two women themselves, with their non-romantic Prince Companion and bantering coterie of guards, feel like a link between these two different scaffolds. I think the best example of this fusion is in the name of the fairy folk themselves: Xi—which, at least phonetically, reads as a Chinese transliteration of sidhe.

My linguistic ramblings are digression, however. It’s easy to find something to love in Huntress. I found myself looking rather sidelong at the love-story between Kaede and Taisin, no matter how much I love simple queer representation in fiction (not a spoiler! Predestination!) precisely because it was hard to separate myself out from Taisin’s initial near-panic about it. But what does develop between the near-Sage and growing-Warrior is still beautiful, often humorous, and real. The warmth and strength of this relationship lingers with you, just under your skin, and I found that I adored it. The ending (oh god, that ending) feels right—though I dare not spoil it, and people may disagree with me.

As strong as the character development is, the physical world-building (with the exception of the Academy, Wood, and Taninli) is less well done. The map at the beginning does not make The Kingdom’s geography. The path of Taisin and Kaede’s quest, for all the place names and descriptions of taverns, and snow and flowers and hills, never really feels set. I had a similar problem with Ash when I read it, though less so, since Ash was a retelling of Cinderella and often in more ephemeral, fae places than Huntress, for all its otherworldly ending. As a quest story, it would have been good to see where the characters were going, along with what was happening inside their heads. This feeling of disconnect was the only thing that stopped me from being utterly infatuated with the novel.

Guest Lesbrarian Erica reviews Adaptation by Malinda Lo

The night I finished reading lesbian author Malinda Lo’s third young adult novel, Adaptation, I dreamt of plane crashes, government conspiracy cover-ups, and my new, super-natural ability to hear the most minute of sounds. In short, it was a restless night—but so worth it.

Adaptation takes place in post-9/11 America in the not too distance future. The bisexual protagonist, Reese Holloway, is away from her native San Francisco with her debate coach, Mr. Chapman, and debate partner, David Li, when planes start to crash all over North America. Their journey home ends in a car crash—and Reese waking up 27 days later, distinctly but indescribably different than she was before. What ensues is a quest to understand what exactly is going on set alongside Reese’s exploration of her feelings for David—and a girl who, literally, knocks her over on their first meeting.

With much success, Lo delivers a fast-paced science-fiction page-turner coupled with a queer teenage romance in its most complicated form. Lo also provides refreshing diversity in her cast of characters without it ever feeling didactic; more simply, her text reflects the racial and sexual diversity of San Francisco as well as gifting our near-future with a few less gender constraints. If you’re a sci-fi lover, X-files nerd, or a fan of contemporary queer YA, you’re definitely in for a treat.

Lo has also written Ash, a lesbian re-telling of Cinderella, and its companion novel, Huntress. Adaptation is the first in a duology, with the second novel due out in September 2013.

Check out more of Erica’s writing at So You’re EnGAYged and on Twitter @eoflovefest.

 

 

 

Danika reviews “Good Girl” by Malinda Lo

“Good Girl” by Malinda Lo is a short story contained in the collection Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti. It’s a dystopian collection, and I can never resist dystopian stories. Add in that there’s a lesbian story by a known author, and I couldn’t resist! In dystopians, I feel like the world is the most important character, so I tend to focus on that. It takes most of the story for the background to be revealed, so I’m marking it as spoilers.

[spoilers] “Good Girl” takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, where most of the US (world?) is completely unlivable, except for pockets that are protected in sealed domes, waiting generations for the world to be habitable again. Inside the dome the main character, Kyle, lives in (New York?), the government strictly controls people’s lives (think The Giver). The government has also instituted eugenics, claiming that mixed-race children are diseased and die. Kyle knows that she and her brother are mixed race, though she passes as “pure” Asian. When her brother disappears, she goes into the underbelly of the city, “the Tunnels”, to try to find him. Instead, she finds herself falling for one of these “mutts”, a girl named Nix, who has a tattooed shaved head.

In some ways, it reminded me of Shadow Swans in that there is a semi-secret society of outcasts living under the city, and that a “good girl” finds herself sucked into it, but where Ruby is a bored rich person, Kyle is living in her own dystopia above ground. [end spoilers] I thought the story was well-written and plotted well. It could very easily be its own novel, and I am really intrigued by the world. I would love to know more about the government and its history of eugenics, and about whether the other cities have a similar system or are entirely different. I would even love a story that took place after they first could walk out on the world again, and what it would look like when these isolated communities came back together. Not to mention that I would love to know what takes place after the end of this story with Kyle or Nix! I highly recommend this one, especially if you’re a dystopia fan.

Link round up: August 15-21

      

AfterEllen posted Batwoman #12: Happy anniversary, lesbian superhero! Here, have a Wonder Woman!

Autostraddle posted

      

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posted New Stories by Mariko Tamaki and Zoe Whittall; Plus, Queer Feminist Read Dating in Toronto!

Lambda Literary posted

      

lesbian meets books nyc posted Hunting the Slipper: Bringing Back Out of Print Lesbian Books.

The Outer Alliance posted Coming Out #8: Barbara Ann Wright on The Pyramid Waltz.

Sistahs on the Shelf Literary Promo Blog posted Sistahs on the Shelf featured in reSOUND magazine! and SOTS Books 2 Check Out – August 2012.

Women and Words posted Upcoming event in the UK for LGBTQ readers & writers!

      

Ivan E. Coyote will be at the Vancouver Writers Fest (October 16-21 2012).

Malinda Lo posted Presenting…the official trailer for Adaptation!

Catherine Lundoff posted The Highs and Lows of Promoting Lesbian Fiction by Catherine Lundoff.

KG Macgregor was interviewed at Lambda Literary.

“Kung Fu Lesbian – Book Trailer” was posted at One More Lesbian.

      

Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino was reviewed at Good Lesbian Books.

OMGQueer edited by Katherine E. Lynch & Radclyffe was reviewed at Good Lesbian Books.

Sidecar by Ann McMan was reviewed at Good Lesbian Books.

Everything Pales in Comparison by Rebecca Swartz was reviewed at Winnipeg Free Press.

 

As always, check out even more links by following the Lesbrary on twitter!

Laura Mandanas reviews Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash by Malinda Lo

The first chapter of Ash by Malinda Lo stopped me in my tracks. Lo’s writing here is not the type that should be read hurriedly — speed reading here would be like sprinting through the Taj Mahal, blindfolded, and calling it sightseeing. Such a waste! No, readers will do best to advance slowly. Pause. Ponder. Resume wandering, slowly. Bask in each word of the luminous and evocative prose. This book is one worth lingering over.

Placed in a vaguely medieval secondary fantasy world, this “Cinderella” retelling follows young Aisling (“Ash”) as she comes to terms with personal tragedy and struggles to work out her place in the world. Curious, independent, and full of longing for her lost mother and the fairy world, Ash reminds me heavily of the character Saaski from The Moorchild. Like Saaski, Ash has to make a choice between two very different worlds. Unlike Saaski, Ash has no human boy companion to help her. Prince Charming does no rescuing; indeed, Ash shows very little interest in him whatsoever. But this does not mean that she is alone.

Though Ash never declares a label for her sexuality, her burgeoning relationships indicate bisexuality. (Note that as a young adult novel, there’s no explicit sex of any kind in the book.) In this world, same sex relationships are as commonplace and unremarkable as opposite sex relationships. Lo explains on her website, “In Ash’s world, there is no homosexuality or heterosexuality; there is only love. The story is about her falling in love. It’s not about her being gay.”

My favorite thing about this book is the depth and realism that Lo depicts in her inter-character relationships. Heartwarmingly full of that familiar first time awkwardness, Ash’s relationship with the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, is a pleasure to watch unfold. Conversely, her incisive relationship with the dangerous and seductive fairy Sidhean is bone-chilling… but mesmerising. Even the complicated sisterly bond Ash has with her two stepsisters — absolutely beautifully rendered.

I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will warn you that it comes without fanfare, tacked on almost as an afterthought. It wasn’t terrible, but the big, book-long buildup had me expecting more. Luckily, there’s a prequel?

Guest Lesbrarian Shanna

This is a new author who has written a beautiful take on the Cinderella story, with a twist.

Ash’s mother is dead, and, following in the tradition of almost all Disney movies, epic poems, and fairy tales, her father dies soon after.  She’s left at the mercy of her stepmother, forced to clean and look after her stepsisters: all events that closely follow the original Cinderella.  Ash absorbs herself in a single book of fairy tales her mother bequeathed her, and spends all her time searching the woods for a fairy troupe that is rumored to connect people with their dead loved ones.

Wait, the good part’s coming: Ash soon becomes torn between the fairy Sidhean and his dark promises to reunite her with her mother, and Kaisa, the Queen’s Huntress.  When Kaisa and Ash meet in the woods one day, something within Ash changes.  Ash and and Kaisa fall in love in a natural and charming way.  However, Ash still must reckon with Sidhean and his claim on her.

Ash’s world:

Fans of fairy tales will enjoy the book.  I was not necessarily a fan of the unwieldy triangulated relationship between Ash, Kaisa and Sidhean, but I really loved the dark, slightly creepy, slightly sad feeling to the book.

If you’re looking for a light fantasy read, try it out.

Lo, Malinda. Ash. Little & Brown: New York, 2009. 272 pp. ISBN: 0316040096

 

Thank you to Shanna for this Guest Lesbrarian review! Check out her book blog, Fortitude and Patience.

Also see Emily’s Guest Lesbrarian review of Ash.

If you’d like to do a Guest Lesbrarian review, shoot me an email!

Guest Lesbrarian: Emily

For Once, Being Gay Isn’t the Problem

Most lesbian literature to date, it seems, details the common struggles of coming out and of dealing with the consequences of being a homosexual in a heterosexual world. Not Ash, the new teen novel by former afterellen.com editor Malinda Lo.

A revisionist Cinderella novel complete with pagan holidays and faeries reminiscent of those rampant throughout Irish and British folklore, the novel is indeed a modern fairy tale. Instead of a submissive Cinderella, Ash is a rebellious teenager. Instead of getting wishes from a kind fairy godmother, Ash makes a deal with a dangerous fairy knight. But what at first appears to be the most significant twist, that Cinderella falls in love with a woman, is not. What is truly refreshing about this story is that her falling in love with a woman, not a man, doesn’t bother anybody.

“It was clear to me from the beginning that I didn’t want to have a world where there was homophobia,” said Lo in an interview with afterellen.com’s Heather Aimee O’Neill. “I decided to not make [homosexuality] an unusual thing.”

It’s easy to see, reading her book. Casual references to women loving women are sprinkled here and there throughout the text, and when you read that “a young couple stumbled away from the dance hand in hand, one woman dressed in gold, the other woman in green”, or that one character nonchalantly voices her opinion that Ash, the cinderella character, is one of the “many who would cast themselves as the huntress’s lover”, you begin to understand that in the world of Ash, there is no “gay” or “straight”. There is only love, and the gender of the person you love doesn’t matter.

“She has enough problems,” said Lo, without having to deal with a world discriminatory towards gays. It is the difference in class between Ash and her “true love” that rankles with her society, not the lack of difference in gender. While many factors impede the progress of their relationship, stigma associated with sexual orientation, for once, is not one of them.

Ash really is a fairy tale. A world in which being gay isn’t a problem—doesn’t that sound like happily ever after?

Interview with Malinda Lo, conducted by Afterellen’s Heather Aimee O’Neill on October 15th, 2009: http://www.afterellen.com/people/2009/10/malinda-lo

Lo, Malinda. Ash. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. p. 106

Lo, Malinda. Ash. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. p. 184

Interview with Malinda Lo, conducted by Afterellen’s Heather Aimee O’Neill on October 15th, 2009: http://www.afterellen.com/people/2009/10/malinda-lo

Thanks to Emily from Wacky Word Woman for this excellent guest review! I’ve been wanting to read Ash for a while, and this just moved it up the list. Definitely check out Emily’s blog. It’s new and awesome, but she doesn’t have a lot of followers yet.

Have you read Malinda Lo’s Ash? What did you think of it?