A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.
“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”
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.
Trigger warnings: for murder, blood depiction, torture, mention of rape, threats of rape, arachnophobia, talk of cheating in past, mention of pedophilia, and talk of suicide.
I’d like to preface this review by saying that I genuinely didn’t think I’d love this book as much as I did? I thought maybe the heavy politics and dark fantasy vibe wouldn’t be for me but I was SO wrong and this book is now one of my favourites of all time. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro was a brilliantly paced, intricately woven and tightly focused fantasy with a female lead I loved instantly and a whole host of other characters that were well developed and enrich the book.
One of my favourite things about this novel and one I think will be a huge draw for many readers is Talyien and the journey she goes on as a character. From the first chapter, no the first few lines of the book we’re immediately thrust into this world where Talyien in particular has the weight of her fathers – Warlord Yeshin’- brutal legacy on her shoulders as well as her fractured marriage and maintaining the fragile balance of power. As the story progresses we see Tali emerge from the moniker of ‘bitch queen’ which others have placed upon her and we see her come into herself more. Talyien is smart and cunning and extremely skilled in battle and she is very capable in a lot of ways but her position is also very vulnerable and we see her navigate the ins and outs of being Queen and face betrayals after betrayal and adversities galore. Heavy is the head that wears the crown after all.
I also loved that K.S. Villoso has written a ‘strong’ female character who is multi faceted and not just restricted to being a one dimensional archetype. Talyien can fight and make tough calls, she is willing to do a lot of questionable things to survive and defend herself but she is also compassionate and loves her son and husband fiercely, despite the latters abandonment of them. I liked that her strength wasn’t written at the expense of her having a heart and expressing herself, because I’ve read a lot of books where this is the case and I can’t stand it. I don’t think I’ve read many fantasy novels where the main character is already married, has a child and has established some power prior to the novels start. The usual narrative follows a characters rise to power, rather than their downfall and struggle, so this reversal of sorts was really interesting to me and made Talyien’s arc catch my attention more.
As well as the main character perspective being compelling, I thoroughly enjoyed Villoso’s writing and the way she crafted this story full of politics, intrigue and twists and turns. I loved how Villoso is able to set the stage on multiple levels – starting from the mystery of why Tali’s husband and prospective king Rayyel fled the night of their joint coronation, to Tali maintaining her power, conspiracies behind every move and characters with their own motivations and mystery. I thought that the novel was quite unconventional in many ways, which made me like it more. I also loved how a pivotal theme was history and the ways it can repeat itself as well as how heavy it can be.
While there are a host of secondary characters who enrich the novel, my favourite would undoubtedly be Khine, a quick witted con artist who befriends Tali and helps her in the treacherous streets of Shang Azhi. I think Khine was such an interesting character precisely because he’s unlike any other character I’ve read before, I couldn’t quite figure out his motivations and he’s kind of mysterious. I also liked that he’s the opposite of Tali and they have opposing views and experiences but they manage to create this unique bond which surpasses their ‘stations’ and how much they really understand each other. I also appreciated that there were hints of romance or deeper feelings there but it wasn’t a focal point, just a nice little addition to the complex web of events.
Overall, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is an absolutely brilliant book, and I would recommend this to readers who enjoy really intense and twisty fantasy or even for fantasy readers who want a unique take and read in the genre. It may take a little while to get into but trust me, it’s worth it.
Until next time,