I’m kinda snobbish when it comes to certain labels in fiction. For example, prequels. I consider a prequel story to be one that directly affects the main/previously told story, be it explaining backstory or showing the events that laid to the plot of the ‘present’ tale. If it’s a story that happens to be set in the same universe, only at an earlier time and has no direct influence on the previous story, I really hesitate to refer to it as prequel story. (Same goes with stories set AFTER the main plot and have really no ties aside from the same world.)Such is my case with Malinda Lo’s Huntress, set centuries before the events of Ash. Yes, I’m nit-picking over an arbitrary label, but in the case here, I do think that slapping a prequel label may be a turn-off to people who may share my mindset. Which is a shame, because you can just start here or with Ash and be completely fine. The only thing that Huntress sets up here is explaining how the position of the King’s Huntress came to be, and the Kingdom’s earlier relationship with the Fae. I’d even say that this a better introduction to Lo’s work over Ash. (Not that I didn’t like the first book, but I think that this makes a much stronger impact.)First things first: Asian-inspired high fantasy. *grabby hands* (And represented on the cover too!) I really love how Lo takes the European ideal of the Fae and juxtaposes it with the world here, and makes the Fae even more alien. The Asian setting of the normal world is so well-done and so subtle that if you’re not familiar with the elements, it’s not so “Look look look ASIAN STUFF ITS SOOO DIFFERENT” but rather worked in quite naturally. (Two things, I’m not familiar with the I Ching, which Lo drew a lot of the elements from, and I think that really helps; secondly, I’m very curious as to how this culture mutated from the heavily Asian-inspired to the standard European-fantasy setting of Ash. I really want to read that story too.) This has a much different feel from Ash—the language and the writing style are very similar, but the characters and their motivations are very different. And that’s really exemplified with Taisin and Kaede. I really liked that even though both girls has some defined goal/desire in their lives, they’re unsure about how they’re going to achieve that or what the future exactly holds. Taisin wants to be a sage, but she’s uncertain about what that will entail and is scared of her own power. And even though she wants to give into her own desires, but is afraid of letting go of her main dream in the process. Kaede feels a little more rote—the rich girl who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere and doesn’t want the life that’s been laid out for her, but even then she’s not sure what that’s going to entail. One of the things that I really loved about Kaede’s character arc is that even though it’s set up that she will be the first King’s Huntress, it’s not because she’s a skilled hunter but more of what she had accomplished during their journey to the North and what she learns on the way. (And the connections. It’s never really outright stated that Con is the one to instate Kaede, but I liked that it’s implied.) And why I really like Taisin and Kaede is their relationship., particularly how they can’t help falling for each other. Seeing as how Taisin’s vision is the first thing that we see, I did think that this was going to fall into “Because destiny says so” territory. And what really helps is that we see the majority of Taisin’s feelings through Kaede’s eyes. It’s not until very late into the story when Taisin reveals what she felt during the vision, and by that point, Kaede has already began falling in love with her. It made it more believable because that we don’t really see Taisin internally freaking out over her dilemma, and seeing as how we see her actions through Kaede’s interpretation, it feels like they’re really falling in love. I don’t think that their feelings for each other are as strong as the beginning implies, but where they stand with each by the end of the book is very believable.(Hats off to Lo for pulling off a MacGuffin vision beautifully. The revelation and build-up to how that moment played out eventually was really well done and played with my expectations. And also, I really like how Taisin uses her knowledge of the future to the group’s advantage; it’s very well-handled and never resorts to “Well, the vision looked like this so that’s exactly what has to happens.”) The rest of the group that travels to the Faerie Lands isn’t as strong as the two main leads, mainly because the half of the group is taken out before there’s any major character development. I wanted to get more of Tali and Pol and they don’t really make any huge impact before they’re taken out. Shae’s a little better, but then she’s even taken out fairly quickly. I really like how she kind of takes both girls under her wing, and I love her own not-so-secrets feelings towards Con. Con is the only one that we get any major development, but only because they’ve established his relationship with Kaede very early on. I do like their relationship—I liked that Con’s a surrogate older brother to Kaede and he’s extremely supportive and willing to protect her, and yet there’s never a hint that the two would be expected marry.If there’s any one issue I have with the book, it’s the revelation behind why the world is so messed-up as it is. I really loved the creepy forest scenes, the creatures that Kaede and Taisin encounter and the strangeness that the Fae display. However, when we finally learn about Elowen’s motivations and reasons, it comes so late into the book to have as much impact. A lot of it ties more with Kaede’s development, and I liked that, but it felt like an eleventh-hour addition. Not that Lo doesn’t bring her out of left field, but I wanted more of Elowen’s direct influence when the group is traveling through the forest, instead of strangely prophetic dreams.But as I said in the beginning, I really liked Huntress and a lot more so than Ash. (Which is saying something because I loved Ash.) I liked the more high fantasy feel, I really liked the relationship here, and I think that this does a fantastic job of bringing a new reader into Lo’s world without retreading too familiar fantasy ground. Again, I’m very conflicted on which book to recommend to readers starting with Malinda Lo, and it’s going to come to a personal preference, because this is just as fantastic.