I really loved Malinda Lo’s Cinderella retelling Ash, which is why I’d originally put this book, set in the same world, on my 48HBC pile. It took me a couple of months to get to it, but here it is!
Huntress by Malinda Lo. Little, Brown and Co., 2011.
This book says it’s set in the same world as Ash, but as I didn’t recognize any characters in common and it’s a very different time period, it’s just as easy to read this as a standalone. The big thing that is the same is the very cool fusion of Chinese and Celtic mythology. In this world, Kaede is a sage in training there because it’s expected of someone of her rank, not because of any personal vocation or aptitude. She’s just as happy sneaking off for weapons practice and working in the garden. In the same monastery, Taisin is a poor but talented sage in training, one whose visions have earned her a place she can’t really believe in. As the story opens, she is troubled by vivid dreams that show heartbreak resulting from her falling in love with Kaede – whom she knows only by sight.
But the world has been troubled by darkness, cold and dying things, so when an invitation from the Queen of the Xi comes to the king, it can’t be ignored. Taisin’s visions mean that Taisin and Kaede are sent as part of the small entourage accompanying the Prince when he journeys to the Xi’s Midsummer festival. The closer they get to the border, the worse things get, with gruesome monsters attacking the party and babies in the village born part monster.
The story is dark and beautiful. People we care about die and no action, no matter how necessary or well meant, comes without a price. The romance, which could have been another case of wretched instalove, developed gradually and deliciously sweetly despite the heavy foreshadowing. While there is a bedroom scene, it fades to black early enough to keep it appropriate for younger teens – really, the overall darkness and violence pushes it to feeling like a book for high schoolers rather than middle schoolers in my mind. I enjoyed it greatly, and recommend it highly to readers who enjoy darker stories of the Fey.