Title: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
Author: K. S. Villoso
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Shelves: Female-fronted, Female-authored
A challenging story about complex characters in a flawed society, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a book that takes a long time to get to a point where it offers us any answers, but it’s a fascinating journey getting there.
K.S. Villoso challenges so many conventions of the fantasy genre, it’s hard to know where you stand with the story or what to expect. It was one of those rare novels that honestly left me with no idea where it might be headed. Everytime I thought I had a grasp on a thread or a relationship, she pulled a fast one, redirecting the story and denying any promise of easy closure. For a book that is so much about love and romance, there is very little of either to be found upon the page. There are a myriad of moments where you expect Queen Talyien to give in, to take a lover, or simply acknowledge a friend, but Villoso subverts every expectation.
The pacing and story structure here are so odd, I can’t decide whether they are flaws that hold it back or facets and propel it forward. The novel opens with a murder that literally changes everything, sundering a marriage and setting a realm on a path to ruin, but it is not until the closing chapters that we find out who was murdered or why. There is so much that Queen Talyien holds back, and what she is hiding proves to be far more important than what she reveals. What seems like a simple story of simple motives becomes something else entirely at the 80% mark with revelations that shake the very foundation of the story. Some of the plots and betrayals revealed are fitting, perhaps even obvious in hindsight, but others are completely beyond anything we could possibly know or expect.
This is a novel that succeeds, for the most part, because of the strength of its characters. Queen Talyien is frustrating, exasperating, and infuriating, too much of a self-proclaimed Bitch Queen to be truly sympathetic, but we do emphasize with her. I found myself questioning her motives and her actions repeatedly, so much so that I was all but screaming at the book. For such a strong woman, a Bitch Queen destined to rule, she spends a lot of time resenting her father’s shadow and mourning the abandonment of her husband. She’s human, but the way she flips from angry defiance to self-pitying sorrow does get tiresome. Or, at least it does until we begin to get partial answers in the closing chapters, which suddenly casts many of those decisions in a very different light.
Kline, the physician/con-artist who assists her throughout the story is probably the only completely decent human being in the book, but he’s surrounded by such filth and degradation, we never fully trust him, instead expecting betrayal at every turn. He’s not just a source of light, but of humor in a book that sorely needs it. At the risk of giving anything away, Yuebek, fifth son of the Emperror, is far and away the most interesting character in the novel, even if we don’t meet him until the second half. We have no idea whether he is an insane monster or a calculating fiend, but his chapters are so vastly different from anything else in the novel, we’re left reeling by every new development, and shocked by deeper revelations. I loathed him, and yet my heart raced with excitement whenever he stepped onto the page.
As novels go, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is fascinating and yet frustrating at the same time. I’m still not sure whether I felt cheated by the twists and revelations at the end, or whether I want to applaud Villoso for pulling them off. As the first part of a saga, however, this is a opening that gets its hooks in deep and which has me anxious to see how things develop in The Ikessar Falcon – but don’t read that blurb until you’ve finished reading this, or you’ll spoil those final twists.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.