The Wolf of Oren-yaro by K.S. Villoso

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I found K.S Villoso on reddit a year or so ago, I believe on one of the self promo threads they post from time to time.

I clicked on her name on Goodreads and found that she was from the Philippines, and writes character driven epic fantasy. It’s so rare when I stumble upon a non-western female-authored epic fantasy story I knew I had to check it out. I did not leave disappointed, Jaeths Eye had some of the best world building I had read in a long time, and the characters were endearing and fresh. Jaeth’s Eye is a book that rewards patience. For the first half of the book you’re not sure entirely what’s going on, and how everything connects. This is done intentionally, and I do want to say that it comes together in the end so nicely it’s totally worth it.

That being said, I would recommend this book over Jaeth’s Eye for new readers of KS. Villoso – I mean this in the best possible way though. This book is far more ‘accessible’ than Jaeth’s Eye because it was written very differently. Jaeth’s Eye throws a lot of names of people, places and gods at you very quickly – and it’s also multi pov. It’s one of those books that drops you into a fully realized world without explaining much outright. With Wolf of Oren-yaro it’s a much more gentle introduction to the world, there is still a great amount of world-building that makes it stand out among the books I’ve read this year – but it’s not as dense and as intimidating as it can be in Jaeth’s Eye.

And now I’ll get to the actual review!!  Long review is long.

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Plot:

The book starts out with the coronation of the new Queen of Jin-sayeng, but this isn’t a happy occasion. There are no celebrations or festivities, it’s a tense and brooding affair with no smiles. The Queens husband ran off the night before she was to be crowned, and the whole deal was their betrothal was uniting two warring houses of Jin-sayeng, without him, there could be many problems. The coronation goes through anyway since this was part of the pact signed long ago, these two had been betrothed at birth and they had been married and had a son, but even here there’s very little joy. The prince isn’t an emotional person, he’s rather distant and aloof, and there had been problems in their relationship for a while. He wasn’t faithful to her during their betrothal, and it helped spread a lot of unkind rumors about the queen and their engagement.

After he leaves, she doesn’t hear from him in 5 years, and ruling alone has proved to be an enormous challenge. The warlords of her realm are always on edge, and always ready to go to war. The rumors spread about her have gotten worse over the years, and she’s known as “The Bitch Queen”. They say her cruel and sarcastic nature drove off the prince into someone else’s arms because she’s that cold and terrible. She’s not though, she’s actually one of the more fascinating characters I’ve read about in a long time. She definitely is sarcastic, but it’s used more as a shield than a weapon unless provoked.

She receives a letter from him asking her to join him in a foreign city to discuss things, she’s advised not to go, but she does it anyway – thinking that if the people heard the prince reached out and she snubbed him, that she would be accused of wanting the power all to herself.

Things go very badly at the meeting, assassins were sent and she finds herself running through the city after being stabbed, and wakes up in a very precarious situation.

The rest of the plot is her trying to find her footing on foreign soil, figure out who is sending assassins and why, where her husband is and what his involvement was with the assassinations.

Final Score: 8.5/10

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Characters:

This story was told in first person by the Queen of Jin-Sayeng, Queen Talyie (Tali). She’s one of the most interesting Queen POV’s I’ve read, she’s incredibly dedicated to her country and her duty. She’s strong but not cutthroat, she has a sense of justice but not really for vengeance. I think her most endearing quality is her unending sarcasm, it’s not overdone but it’s sprinkled throughout the book in all the right ways. She has a deeply complex relationship with her husband, and I find it amazing how dedicated she is to trying to make it work despite how horrible he’s been to her. I am NOT a fan of this guy, at all. I kind of kept hoping he’d die so she could run off and be happy with someone else. Despite that, reading about her backstory with him and why she’s so persistent was really fascinating.

Khine is probably my favorite character in the book outside of Tali, he’s a con artist on the street who helps Tali out of some bad situations. You never really know what his deal is, he’s being nice – but why? He doesn’t know who she is so his motives remained unclear for a while.

Final Score: 9/10


World Building:

Trying to go into world building with a series like the Argates series or this new Bitch Queen series is tough, there’s SO MUCH. Everything about the different locations and countries in this world has their own flavor. Everything from the way the palaces tend their gardens, their dress, their food (so much food in this book it made me hungry), to the way the servants dressed and wore their makeup. Both of these series are so well detailed they are great examples of how to make a living breathing world.

Dragons are a thing, Tali’s ancestors used to ride dragons but it’s become a lost art. The legends say that the dragons were intelligent and tameable, but the dragons that are known to the world today are aggressive and terrible monsters, with little to no intelligence.

Agan is the ‘magic’ of this world, mages are mentioned in the book but they really don’t come into play all that much. Mages and magic aren’t embraced in Jin-sayeng, instead, children who are “afflicted” are sent away…. or drowned. Tali doesn’t know whether those rumors are true or not, but she would never sanction the drowning of kids. Mages are openly accepted in other parts of the world, however, and there was an interesting discussion about it between the Queen and a foreign noble.

Final Score: 10/10


Pacing/Writing/Tone:

The pacing of this book will vary from person to person largely dependent on if you are a plot person or a character person. This book is very character driven, so if you need a lot of action scenes or mage battles this isn’t that. For anyone who enjoys something like The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, I urge you to try this. The tone isn’t the same, and there’s much more plot than Angry Planet, but the character building is what makes the book go from good to great.

The tone is somewhat bleak, actually. The Queen gets betrayed a lot, and she doesn’t always know by who, and she’s walking around on foreign territory so it’s all very anxiety-inducing for the character, she’s almost always on the run from something or someone.

This was an ARC, so I know the editing isn’t done yet, so I’m actually going to omit this for now and rank this book out of 50 instead of 60.

Pacing Final Score: 8/10


Originality:

I’ve seen a lot of house politic books before, but not one with this sort of spin on it – where a wife is trying to find a prince/king who threw away everything at the last moment. Reading about a Queen who’s trying to rule alone without a King is also rather uncommon for me. The world building is also extensive and unique.

Final Score: 8/10 


Audience:

  • For people who like character driven stories
  • For people who like female pov’s
  • For people who like betrayal and backstabbing fuckery
  • Not for people who don’t like cursing
  • For people who like extensive world building
  • For people looking for spins on house rivalries
  • For people who like first person writing
  • For people who like single pov

Final Score: 43/50 or 8.7/10

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