Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien’s life unfolded like a storybook. The shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart, her marriage to Rayyel, the son of her father’s rival, spoke of peaceful days to come.
But all storybooks must end. Rayyel’s sudden departure before their reign began created fractures that left the land as divided as ever.
Years later, Talyien receives a message from Rayyel, urging her to meet with him across the sea. An assassination attempt interrupts Talyien’s quest for reconciliation, sending the queen struggling in a strange and dangerous land. With betrayals in every twist and turn, she is forced to enlist the help of a con-artist to survive and save her husband from the clutches of those who would seek to use him for their gain…if he would let her.
I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of The Wolf of Oren-yaro from the author, so I read it once in the fall of 2017, and then read it again earlier this month to refresh my memory before typing up this review in time for the book’s release.
If you’re unfamiliar with Villoso’s previous works (or even if you have read some of her earlier books, like Birthplace or The Agartes Epilogues) I will begin by saying that her stories are primarily character-driven. Her worldbuilding is excellent, so much so that instead of laying it out for you like a blueprint, she releases it to you slowly, through the eyes and thoughts of her characters, until you suddenly have an entire town, a country, a continent laid out before you without having realized it.
The Wolf of Oren-yaro focuses on Talyien, a Queen meant to co-rule with her husband Rayyel in a union devised from their childhood in order to put an end to fighting that has torn through their lands. Unfortunately, Rayyel is gone, leaving Talyien to rule a country that doesn’t want to be ruled. Or at least not by her.
We come upon Talyien several years into this task. Her warlords are rustling with rebellion. The other neighboring lands give her little to no respect. And if she’s not careful, she and her son might be assassinated and replaced by someone… anyone willing to make such a bold move. In order to restore some semblance of peace, Talyien attempts to find Rayyel and bring him back to help her rule. But it is when the meeting goes awry that Talyien realizes there is no one she can trust, and the bubble of royalty in which she’s been raised has not fully prepared her to fight for her throne.
We see all of this through Talyien’s eyes. Told in first person, we’re never left in doubt of her feelings, her opinion of the characters revolving around her. From con artists to mad rulers, she must use all of her wits, her persistence, her courage to keep from falling prey to those willing to use her as a tool, or simply get her out of the way.
Villoso’s main strength, as already mentioned, is in her characters. But this is backed up by strong pacing, lovely prose, and underlying themes of a daughter’s feelings of inadequacy in her father’s shadow, all of which are woven through every page until it works into a beautiful tapestry that easily juggles court intrigue and politics as well.
I recommend The Wolf of Oren-Yaro to people who like or are looking for first-person narratives, female protagonists, non-European fantasy settings, female authors, and stories that might break your heart, just a little bit.
Buy it on Amazon now!