Book: “The Wolf of Oren-Yaro” by K.S. Villoso
Publishing Info: Orbit, February 2020
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: “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.
Review: I was sent an ARC of this book from the publisher. Having never heard of it, I kind of glanced at it and put it on the pile. But, after a few disappointing reads (ones that gave signs of being disappointments almost from the very first page), when I picked this one up, started reading, and looked up not long later having already somehow read ten chapters, I knew that I had finally found a read to break the spell. The rest of the book didn’t let me down!
Talyien has grown up knowing what it is to be immediately distrusted and disliked. Her father lead an unpopular revolt, and even though it ended with a marriage proposal between his daughter and the leading rival family’s son, Talyien’s people have walked a tight line ever since. When her husband of three years mysteriously walks out on the eve of the both his and her coronation, Talyien finds herself ruling alone, now disliked and distrusted more than ever. Now, years later, Queen Talyien hears from him once again, and all too soon she sees herself betrayed, cut off from all that is familiar, and left on her own to prove that she is the strong queen her father raised her to be.
The other day my husband and I happened to have a conversation about the differences between books written in third and first person. I was making the argument that first person often reads s younger, hence it often being found in YA novels. Since the narration is limited to only one point of view, the narrative has to work hard to draw in details with regards to scene and setting. The narrator is also unreliable to a certain extent as they are only able to speak to other characters’ thoughts and motivations through their own lens and perceptions. This leaves a lot of room in the narrative voice to focus on the internal emotions and thoughts of the main character, a strength in particular for YA protagonists and stories where these types of internal musings typically shine. For adult novels, these challenges and limitations are often enough to prompt many authors to stick to the more common third person perspective. All of that to say, this book was an excellent example of an adult fantasy novel turning all of the challenges of first person narration to its advantage.
Talyien has a very distinct voice right off the bat. It’s also made clear early in the book that we don’t know her entire history and that her views of those around her are formed from her own experience of the world. Her father’s history, her own experience as a disliked queen abandoned by her husband, all color her distrusting and stark outlook on humanity. At the same time, she’s incredibly brave, stubborn, and determined to do what she thinks is best for her son and her country. I’m hesitant nowadays to make “Game of Thrones” references, but in a lot of ways she reads the way I always imagined Daenerys to be. Talyien can be ruthless and goal-oriented, but, through the very personal nature of first person narration, we also see the vulnerability and self-doubt that continues to plague her. Plague her, but never stop her.
I really enjoyed the world-building in this story. It is a refreshing new world that is pulling from inspirations that are clearly no European. I’d be hesitant to place it anywhere specifically, as it is clearly a fantasy world, but details about the culture, food, and naming conventions all read as coming from Asian inspiration. I believe the author was born in the Philipines, so I imagine that was part of the backbone building up this world. Again, it is challenging to build a compelling and realistically detailed world through only the eyes of one main character who, in theory, would know much of these facts and have no reason to share them with a reader. But the narration is seamless, and as the story expanded, so did the world surrounding this story. The use of flashback also continued to add layers to our understanding of not only Talyien, but the complicated political history of her nation and its many clans.
The story doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger, per se, but all is definitely not well at the end of this book. We finally learn some of the secrets that Talyien has held so close to her chest throughout much of the book and these reveals explain much about not only her choices but her general views towards those around her and how she chooses to interact with them. There were definitely some unexpected twists to the story, and I was left not knowing how I felt about certain other characters. This speaks to the very fleshed out nature of even secondary characters. They all felt real, and real people aren’t simply good or bad.
I can’t wait to get to the next book in this series. Talyien is at a pretty low point and the stakes are incredibly high, not only for her nation, but on a very personal nature for her. Hopefully I can get my hands on the next book soon! I know the author self-published this one before Orbit picked it up, so I’m hoping they will be able to release the second one quickly! Fans looking for a refreshing new fantasy epic featuring a strong queen who doesn’t give a sheep what you think of her, this is the book for you!
Rating 8: Talyien is everything I want in my fantasy heroines and I can’t wait to see what she does next!
“The Wolf of Oren-Yaro” is on these Goodreads lists: “Upcoming 2020 SFF Books with Female Leads or Co-Leads” and “Asian-Authored Books in 2020.”
Find“The Wolf of Oren-Yaro” at your library using WorldCat!