Anyway, if you haven't read Ash yet, don't worry, you still should be able to read this book without any problems. I think it would stand alone nicely. The only thing those who hadn't read Ash would miss out on is the hints of King's Huntress stuff near the end of the book.
I'm going to warn romance lovers right now: although things don't end depressingly, you won't find a "happily ever after" for Taisin and Kaede in this book. I could see one for Kaede in a future book, though.
This book takes place several centuries prior to the events in Lo's Ash, in the same world.
The human world is out of balance. The sun hasn't shone in years and people (except, of course, for those who are rich) are starving. Strange, horrifying, and dangerous creatures have started appearing. When the king receives an invitation from the Fairy Queen, he sends his son, Con, several trusted guards, Taisin, and Kaede on a journey to Taninli, the place where the Fairy Queen lives. Taisin, a prodigy at the Academy who hopes to one day become a sage, saw that she and Kaede would be part of the group going on the journey. Taisin's vision also showed her several things she hopes aren't true: one, that Kaede may die on this journey, and, two, that she will fall in love with Kaede. Sages must be celibate, so Taisin does her best to ignore her growing awareness of Kaede and keep an emotional distance between the two of them.
While on their journey, the group encounters many of the horrific creatures they were told about, and several of their members die. When they finally do make it to the Fairy Queen, they learn what must be done in order to restore balance to the world. And, um, after they do that they have one other thing to do before they're really done.
At first, I was all set to say Huntress was all-around a better book than Ash. It didn't take half the book for all the main characters to show up, and the various monsters the group encountered added a nice creepiness factor. I thought the bit with the “baby” was particularly horrific. Lo was also not shy about killing people off. I was pretty sure certain characters were probably not going to survive the whole book, but I wasn't absolutely sure, and that was enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see their fates.
Although there are definitely many good things to say about this book, I took a brief break when I was maybe two thirds of the way through it, and that break got me to thinking about a few things. One of those things was Kaede and Taisin's relationship. While I liked that, this time, Lo allowed readers to see things from both characters' points of view (in Ash, everything was from Ash's perspective), Kaede and Taisin spent a huge portion of the book not really talking to each other. Neither of them knew each other very well, and Taisin wanted, as much as possible, to avoid becoming closer to Kaede, because she knew that falling in love with Kaede would put her dream of becoming a sage in danger.
There were nice moments when Kaede caught Taisin blushing and started to wonder (correctly) if Taisin was blushing over her, and Taisin's strong feelings made sense to me because I figured they were at least partly inspired by the emotions she experienced during her vision of Kaede leaving the group. Still, I would have liked to see the two of them talking to each other more often. I think Kaede might have talked more with Shae, one of the guards in the group, than she did with Taisin. To my mind, it doesn't really count that Taisin was in the same room, because she wasn't participating in the conversations.
Another thing I didn't quite like about this book was its pacing. The group spends a long time on its journey to the Fairy Queen. Things happen while they're on this journey, but those things usually just boil down to “dangerous monsters appear, and sometimes characters die.” About two thirds of the way through the book, the group finally meets the Fairy Queen, who explains what they must do and why. Then what's left of the group goes on a shorter journey to deal with what appears to be the book's villain – this happened so near the end of the book that the addition of yet another task that needed to be completed for everything to go back to normal took me by surprise.
Had the initial journey to the Fairy Queen not taken up so much of the book, maybe there would have been time for a few other things. The book ends on a relatively upbeat note (unless you read this for the romance between Kaede and Taisin – then the ending may upset you), but I would have liked the story to go on just a bit longer, so I could see how each of the characters would fare on their chosen paths.
Considering that most of my review noted the things I didn't like about Huntress, you may not believe me when I say I really did like it overall. So far, Lo is turning out to be one of those authors I simultaneously enjoy and am frustrated by. I like the world she has created, and I mostly like her characters, so I plan on reading her next book. I'm crossing my fingers that it will be set in the same world as Ash and Huntress and will take place not long after Huntress.
I have a feeling that the journey helped Kaede mature some, and it would be wonderful to see her face her father now, particularly since I suspect that Kaede will be the first King's Huntress. I can see all kinds of fun political growing pains in a story like that. I also admit to hoping that Kaede ends up in a political marriage that works out happily (in Huntress it's stated that same-sex political marriages are rare, but that doesn't mean they're impossible). I think it would be interesting to read about Kaede figuring out what the position of King's Huntress should be like, while at the same time feeling her way around a marriage with someone she doesn't know at first but eventually learns to love.
- Magic's Pawn (book) by Mercedes Lackey - This is the first in a fantasy trilogy that's part of a larger series. Lackey tries to end things on an encouraging note, but I'll just warn you right now: there really isn't a happy ending to any of Vanyel's romances. In this book, Vanyel feels like an outcast in his own family. Everything he does is viewed as "not manly enough" by his father, until finally he is sent away to live with his aunt. While at his aunt's, Vanyel finds love and finally starts to become a little more confident, but what little contentment he is able to find depends on almost everyone around him not finding out that he's gay. If you're looking for more LGBT fantasy, you might try this.
- Sabriel (book) by Garth Nix - If you liked the creepy fantasy monsters and dark, dangerous journey in Huntress, you may want to try this, the first book in a trilogy. It's been too long since I last read this, but I remember loving the magical bells Sabriel learns to wield, which allow her to lay the dead to rest.
- Chalice (book) by Robin McKinley - Another fantasy book in which something in the land is out of balance. In this book, the heroine, Mirasol, is named Chalice. She and the land's new Master must heal the land, but Mirasol hasn't had the proper training and the new Master isn't completely human anymore. Lo's writing style reminds me a bit of McKinley. I have written about Chalice, so you can read my post to find out more about it.
- The Twelve Kingdoms, Book 1: Sea of Shadow (book) by Fuyumi Ono - Another fantasy novel featuring a dangerous journey, during which many things try to kill the heroine. In this book, unlike in Huntress, the heroine is alone. Also, don't expect romance of any kind.
- King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - This one's a bit different - it stars a group of people who are infected with something called Medusa, which will cause them to eventually shatter and die. The whole group is placed in cryogenic suspension until a cure can be found, but they wake up too soon. When they wake up, they discover that the facility in which they're located is overrun by monsters. Those who most liked the initial journey to the Fairy Queen in Huntress may want to try this - there are horrific monsters galore. I have written about the first four volumes of King of Thorn.