Another somewhat delayed post. I had been debating what to write about this week, as while I have been continuing to work my way through the books, I am currently reading, none of them has hooked me to the point where I wanted to talk about them. Then on Tuesday I got an email saying that my preorder of ‘The Wolf of Oren-Yaro’ by K.S.Villoso was ready to collect, off I went, and unable to resist the lure of a new book especially one that I was incredibly excited for I started reading it on the bus.
I have just finished it, and the first thing I have to say is that I loved this book.
After struggling with the books, I have been reading, ‘The Wolf of Oren-Yaro’ was like a breath of fresh air, and I was immediately pulled into the book from the moment I read the excerpt at the front.
‘They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me.
Hurricanes destroy the villages, and they call it senseless, the winter winds come, and they call I cold. What else did they expect from my people, the Oren-Yaro, the ambitious savages who created a war that nearly ripped Jin-Sayeng apart? I almost think that if my reign had started without bloodshed and terror, they would have been disappointed.’
How could I not be intrigued? There is also something starkly beautiful about the writing, and I think that was the first thing that swept me away. In turns lyrically vivid, and brutally factual, just as you would expect from a character-driven narrative.
The world-building was excellent too, from the geography, cuisine, to the history of the world, it was rich and layered, and a lot more was hinted at. And I am sure that when I inevitably re-read this book, I am sure that I will find new details that I have missed the first time, and that is what I consider the best kind of world-building. There were a few places, particularly towards the start where the world-building became a little bit of an info-dump, but for the most part, I think that worked in this case, especially with the way the narrative shifts between past and present, which could have been confusing without that foundation. As it was, having that information made me more invested in the world because I had that frame of reference.
Then there were the characters. I have seen other reviews commenting on the fact that the title ‘Bitch Queen’ was very apt, and I would have to agree to a point… Queen Talyien does create that impression on the first meeting, and yet even then there were layers, indicators that there was more to her than that. However, I was not prepared for how much I came to love this character. Even, when leaning into that ‘Bitch Queen’ persona, she is more than that. Were there times I questioned what she was thinking? Absolutely. Just as there were times when I wanted to shake her or shout at her, or even hate her. But, that was what made her so enjoyable to experience the world through, because she was real. Her decisions were clouded by false information and emotions, so even when you questioned what the hell she was doing, you could understand, because Talyien was beautifully, frustratingly human. She wasn’t infallible, she was strong, she was weak, and I think she will remain one of my favourite female characters for quite some time.
Although Talyien is the pov character, the rest of the characters did not suffer from this fact. There are times, particularly in the earliest stages of their interactions were the readers’ view can be coloured by her perspective of them, but even though her eyes, we see them develop. See their reasons, their relationships and motives or not (because the intricacy of the connections in this book, and the twists and turns were beautifully done), and with the pov, we are given, we are caught as off guard as she is when those around her act unexpectedly. In particular, the standouts for me were Khine and Yuebek – the former came to feel like a friend by the end of the book, the latter was a well-written nightmare that had my hairs standing on end.
Two other things that stood out to me about the characters was one how we got to experience more of the world, the different cultures – concepts of honour, duty, love – through them, and how they interacted with Talyien and other characters, making it seem more real than worldbuilding would in some cases. Secondly, was the portrayal of strength and weakness – sometimes there can be a tendency to portray characters as one rather than the other, or at least have it unbalanced – that was not the case here. Zhu, for example, was weak because of her situation, and the ties she had, but there was a strength in the way that she dealt with it. Khine’s strength was understated in many ways, with his flaws well documented. Yuebek’s strength was more blatant – but his confidence it was his weakness. Talyien had moments of strength, where it was hard to see how people could stand in her path, contrasted with moments of vulnerability, where she couldn’t survive without others.
As much as I adore the worldbuilding in this book (and I would quite happily go explore some of those locations just to try the food), it was the characters that really sold the story for me. They were real people, with all the complexities that come with that – and some I loved, others I despised but was still riveted by what they were doing and what was going to happen to them.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for character-driven stories, with multi-faceted female characters, a very unique voice and Asian-inspired fantasy. And I for one will eagerly be awaiting the release of ‘The Ikkessar Falcon.’
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro (Chronicles of the Bitch Queen 1) – K.S. Villoso (Orbit, 2020) ***** (5/5 Stars)
(You can pre-order the book Here)
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.