Synopsis: All her life, the young lioness Leya has dreamed of becoming one of the karanja, the proud huntresses of her people. But there’s more to being karanja than just learning to throw a spear. Life among their tents means giving up family, safety—even love. How much is Leya willing to sacrifice for a place in the sisterhood? Does she truly have the heart of a huntress?
Author Renee Carter Hall takes readers into the veld for this coming-of-age anthropomorphic fantasy for teens and adults. This edition includes the novella “Huntress” (nominated in the 2014 Ursa Major Awards and Cóyotl Awards), as well as three brand-new short stories set in the same world.
After reading Hall’s story in Kyell Gold’s X, I knew I wanted to read more stories by her. As expected, this book did not disappoint.
Hall sketches a beautiful world, inspired by Africa, in a rather simple, yet effective way. Because it is quite clear in the stories what the surroundings are based on, there is no need to spend multiple pages describing how a single blade of grass dances on the rhythm of the wind. Therefore, Hall chose not to, for which I am very grateful. We know what it looks like, and we know what to expect from the surroundings. After all, we’ve all seen the Lion King, right? Right?
The main story revolves around Leya, a young lioness who has her mind made up about what she wants to be in life, and is willing to make sacrifices. Girl things had never interested her anyway, as she’d always played with the boys. Her mom doesn’t agree with her, and she’d rather have her daughter stay at the village, get married, and have children. Sounds familiar? The setup of this story line is not that different from any other random fantasy story about a strong-headed female lead leaving the nest. However, Leya’s story is not as simple as it may seem.
After Leya became part of the Karanja, having left love and life to follow her dream, things definitely weren’t as beautiful as she’d hoped. As a reader, this was very refreshing, and it really made Leya seem more real. Every person has their ups and downs, and so does this lioness. The way she slowly built a life for herself was very inspiring, and it made me want to keep reading to find out what would happen next.
The most shocking part in this entire story, was that Leya eventually ended up leaving the life she’d dreamed of ever since early childhood. After her first unplanned return to her village, I wasn’t expecting to see her leave the Karanja again. With permission this time.
This leads the reader to new places and new characters, who’re featured in the other short stories in the book. She learns new things and takes control of her own life once again while staying with these other characters: Ndiri, Shani, and Mtoto. The last few pages of the story were a real surprise to me, but it is definitely the perfect ending to this story.
END OF SPOILERS!
The other stories in the book are about the lives of Mtoto and Ndiri, and they create a beautiful, complete story when combined with Leya’s. They definitely add to the book as a whole.
Mtoto’s story “The Shape of the Sky” deals with Mtoto’s life as an adult living on his own. Leya is gone and Ndiri and Shani are no longer in the picture, so the boy takes care of himself. One day, a leopard and her wounded antelope arrives at the baobab tree. Mtoto takes care of them and nurses the antelope back to life, among doing other things.
Ndiri’s story “Where the Rivers Meet” is about Ndiri as a young girl, before meeting Leya, growing up as something called the bone mother. When a girl is orphaned young, it is said she is chosen by the gods to be their instrument on earth. Unlike Leya, who got to decide her own path, Ndiri’s is set in stone, and she struggles to follow it. Of course, after reading Leya’s story, we all know what happens eventually. However, it was nice to find out what happened before that.
The power of Huntress lies in the surprising, yet believable story, and the wonderful unique characters you meet while reading the story. Every significant character in the book is truly and clearly unique, which makes me quite happy as a reader.
Combine the wonderful story inside with the amazing artwork by Sekhmet on the outside, and a book is created that I simply couldn’t leave alone.