Title: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
Series: Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #1
Author: K.S. Villoso
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
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ARC provided by the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
A queen from a bloody lineage is desperate to unite her divided land in this compulsive and addicting series opener by debut author K.S. Villoso.
Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.
But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.
Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.
I must admit, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I started this book. With my obvious preference for plot-driven stories – especially when it comes to both sci-fi and fantasy – this was out of my comfort zone, but I took the plunge anyway.
And, oh boy, am I grateful I did.
The Wolf of Oren-yaro was a thrilling ride. Set against the backdrop of a country teetering on the brink of war, this is a story of love and betrayal, of family, duty, and legacy. It is a complicated tale, tangled with the politics of the world. At the center of it all, though, is one woman: Queen Talyien aren dar Orenar.
Queen Talyien is the heart and soul of this epic fantasy. This is her story.
Told from her point-of-view, Talyien is the readers’ connection to this story’s world, and there couldn’t be anyone better. She is easily one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long while. Talyien – the Bitch Queen – is a complex character: brash, proud and quick to insult, yet she is also insecure, afraid and so full of uncertainties. The daughter of the warlord who started the war that tore their nation apart, she has inherited her father’s bloody and ruthless legacy. Her marriage to the Ikessar heir, the Oren-yaro’s rival clan, and their subsequent rule is supposed to bring peace – no matter how tenuous – to their land. But one night before their joint coronation, he abandons her leaving Talyien to hold together Jin Sayeng on her own.
Talyien is not easy to like. Jumping from one danger to another and committing herself to half-formed decisions, she is infuriating and frustrating in equal measures. Still, I found myself immediately empathizing with her. Though physically capable and mentally sharp, there is this certain vulnerability about her. Talyien, having been born, bred and grown into duty, wasn’t really given any chance to get to know who she is a woman and as a queen. These two roles often blend and blur together, and it creates so much inner conflict – in addition to outside forces *hint hint* warlords, councilors with misplaced loyalty and a creepy megalomaniac prince – in Talyien and fuels much of her actions.
This is where K.S. Villoso truly shines, mining and building on her characters’ inner tumult, creating depth and breathing life into them. She works her magic from Talyien to the soft-hearted con-man Khine down to self-made lord Lo Bahn. Every character in this book stands out, their voices clear and easily distinguishable. Her secondary characters manage to both add texture to Talyien’s story, and live their own. You can effortlessly imagine what they do beyond the page-time they are given, and that is something that’s not easy to do.
The world-building, though it is not the focus, is also one of the things I love about this book. From page one, the world, its people, the food felt familiar to me. Villoso drew much of her world’s elements from Asian culture and history. But that’s not the reason why the setting of this book was instantly familiar to me because as much as Talyien’s world felt Asian, it felt, more so, Filipino. I’ll be limiting what I put here to avoid spoilers, but take Jin Sayeng as an example. The warlords who rule over their region are reminiscent of feudal Japan while the clans with their defining traits reminded me of the Philippines’ regionalism/province-centric attitude.
The book though is not without its fault. The story took more time before it really gained its momentum. The first half was slow without much happening. Talyien’s recollections of the past, while interesting, interrupted the story’s pace most times. The last quarter of this book makes up for this though, trust me.
Overall, The Wolf of Oren-yaro is a great series opener. With compelling, fully-formed characters carrying the weight, this a little bit more personal than the usual epic fantasy. You can be sure that I’ll be making grabby hands for the next installment, especially with the way this one ended. This is one book you shouldn’t miss.
K.S. VILLOSO writes speculative fiction with a focus on deeply personal themes and character-driven narratives. much of her work is inspired by her childhood in the slums of Taguig, Philippines. She is now living amid the forest and mountains with her husband, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.
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The PH blog tour hosted by Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours is still ongoing. If you have the time, please do check out the rest of the tour stops.