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

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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.

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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.

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Buy it on Amazon now!

 

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A Post That Is Not About Writing

It’s about grief. So really, you can stop there if you like. I won’t side-eye you at all if you back away slowly.

But today is September 18th. This date has absolutely no importance to me or my family. No birthdays, anniversaries, deaths… there is nothing I can think of to attribute to this particular day that should matter to me. Family

And yet here we are, two years and three months out from my father’s death (Passing? Demise? Shuffle from this mortal coil? None of them sound right.) and the grief from it is pricking at me like a fresh, raw thing.

When I was a kid, there were no major deaths that rocked our family. I was lucky not to lose any immediate family members at a young age, so I imagined that grief would start out harsh and painful, loads of wailing and the whole sackcloth and ashes bit, but then it would slowly taper off, the sharpness would dull, eroded away to a pebble of sadness that would make me feel occasionally misty or sentimental when something would trigger a memory to bubble back up to the surface. That would be it. A steady progression, and nothing more.

But lo and behold, two years out from dealing with the death of my dad and a miscarriage, and the rough edges haven’t worn down. Last night, my youngest daughter wanted me to read a book about owls to her, and I sat there and bawled and blubbered through the entire story, because there was a Grandpa Owl and he took his little owl grandkids fishing and I’M OUT I’M OUT I’M DONE MY FACE FEELS THICK AND BURNY AND I DON’T LIKE THIS ANYMORE.

It was like stepping onto what I thought would be a safe, quiet, one-lane dirt road and getting run down by an out-of-state U-Haul towing a pick-up truck behind it. And I’m still feeling the repercussions of it today, like the slightest thing might set it off again, and all for seemingly no reason. 12931044_10156633333710462_5131290375944612566_n

But I guess since life is like that, smacking you in the face with things you’re not ready for and not expecting, it follows that grief (a fallout from life, really) would share the same characteristics. It doesn’t slowly fade away, all graceful-like. Instead it likes to wallop you from behind, steal your pocket change, and kick dirt on you one more time before it runs off to hide again.

So what is the point of this post? Grief sucks. There’s no way around that. And it doesn’t always get easier. It might change shape, take on new and different qualities, but it never really goes away. It becomes a part of us, like a scar, a wrinkle, that weird spot on your shoulder that you probably should get checked out… It’s there, an echo of loss that ripples out and affects those still living in its wake.

*sigh*

I miss you, Dad. And the kids miss you, too.

Snippet Sunday: January 15, 2017 – Getting There…

Today, my oldest child said, “Time is going really fast lately!” It is, sweetie. It is.

We’re already up to the third week in January. My youngest child is now eight months old. The girls started at a new dance school and are settling into their new schedules. LIFE, MAN.

Today’s snippet picks up right where last week’s left off, with Lydia arriving at her new home on a cold, wet evening.

And if you’re looking for more snippets, check out Weekend Writing Warriors for lots of reading fun!

Charlotte had prepared herself for a heavy Scottish brogue, but the old woman’s accent was more Cheshire than anything.

“Um, Mrs. Faraday?”

The woman tilted her head to one side, but gave no indication that she might be the Mrs. Faraday in question.

Charlotte cleared her throat and began again. “I’m looking for a Mrs. Harriet Faraday. My name is Charlotte Claridge. I am your… Well, her niece.”

The other woman drew in a breath and held onto it as she took in every detail of Charlotte’s appearance from head to toe. “Wipe your boots,” she said after a full minute had passed, and stepped aside to let Charlotte enter.

 

A Thief and a Lady: Chapter One, Part One

It’s the start of a new year, and so here I am, beginning something new on my blog. The new thing? A story to share with you, in its entirety, bit by bit. Like the serials of old, I’ll be posting a segment every week until it’s finished.

The story? I’ve given it the working title of A Thief and a Lady, and it takes place in England in 1799. The characters? Esther Kirkpatrick, a young woman who makes her way picking pockets and cleaning up after her often drunk and gambling father. And we also have Jeremy Dudley, a younger brother who has inherited the title of Marquess after his brother’s untimely death.

So here is Part One of Chapter One, and I do hope you enjoy it!

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A Thief and a Lady

Chapter One, Part One

He would be an easy one, Esther decided. She studied him from her place on the opposite side of the street, beneath the crooked sign for the butcher’s shop and beside a cart of mouldering potatoes that smelled of damp earth and dung. A cab trundled past, blocking him from sight for a minute, but she found him again quickly enough.

He stood with the confidence of one too often given his own way. He held his chin that half an inch higher than those around him, his dark hair combed in a style that gave him the air of a puffed up cockerel. The corners of Esther’s mouth twitched with the urge to grin. Yes, he looked a fool, and a bored one at that. She could only hope that he would be disinterested enough in the sights and sounds around him to prevent his noticing her progress towards him.

Esther tugged at the ends of her shawl and stepped off the pavement. Horses pulling all manner of vehicle clattered past her, leaving behind piles of droppings to be cleared away by the crossing sweepers. She maneuvered through the maze of traffic, both wheeled and shod, and found herself on the other side of the street, only a few paces behind the bored fool with the starched cravat.

People dashed about her on every side, taking no pains to mutter even the briefest of apologies as their elbows and shoulders knocked into her slight frame. That she was a diminutive creature often worked in her favor, allowing her to slip in and out of places that larger persons could not navigate without attracting attention towards themselves. As a child, she had lamented being given so small a figure. Now she rather enjoyed the benefits of being underestimated due to her petite frame. It always caught people off guard when she so deftly outwitted them.

Continue reading “A Thief and a Lady: Chapter One, Part One”

And Then It Snowed

It’s funny. A few days ago, I referred to the coming weekend snowstorm with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude when I called it the “Storm of Doom.” And here we are, those few days later, with over 30″ of white stuff on the ground and the schools are closed and bridges are closed and… oh, we weren’t really expecting more than the forecast 8-12″ we’d been told all week.

And I’m sure there are so many blog posts going up all over the Northeast filled with tales of the storm, to which I probably don’t have much to add. It snowed. We played in it. My husband shoveled it. We drank hot chocolate. We played in it again. We took hot baths to relax the aching muscles obtained from trudging through thigh-high snow.

Today, things are starting to get back to normal. The kids are doing school work. The girls have dance classes tonight (though story time at the library is cancelled this afternoon). The dish washer is running. More baths will be had. It’s just another Monday, but with mountains of snow covering our patio and… well, everything.

And I mean “everything.”

 

 

 

Another Week Slips Away

 

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My kids are upstairs, running around between batches of schoolwork. My son is sitting on the potty, playing Angry Birds on my banged up, scratched up tablet, because it’s one of the few things that will get him to sit long enough on the potty for anything to “happen.”

It’s been one of those weeks. Nothing terrible occurring, but just a week that seemed to only move forward because something was nipping at my heels. Exhaustion, stress, that lingering bit of a cold and sinus headache that has not broken since New Years. The kids wake up every morning with a cough and runny nose, though by the time breakfast has been cleared away and the cartoons turned off so schoolwork-type things can commence, they’re fine and back to their crazy, rambunctious selves. Just with a few extra coughs thrown in.

But the house is a mess. I’m slowly catching up on a few things, but… no, it’s a mess. And three kids later I think I’m only just now beginning to understand that this is how it’s going to be. I homeschool. The kids don’t go to daycare. They’re always here with me. We will soon be a family of six in a house that measures round and about 900 square feet. There will always be a mess. So I can’t look at pictures of other people’s houses on Facebook, with their toys all picked up and in bins, and their windows free of fingerprints, and everything so neat and tidy when I know their life is not my life.

I mean, I could spend all day chasing my kids around with a vacuum cleaner. I could be in the kitchen right now, washing dishes or scrubbing the stove top or scraping Tinkerbell stickers off the linoleum floor. Or I could write this and empty my brain, or do some puzzles with the kids, or bake something and add more mess to the grime already accumulating on my kitchen counters.

Because I’ve learned that I can’t do both. I can’t have the immaculate house that I want with everything scrubbed and de-cluttered and folded AND sit and watch a movie with my kids or let them help me make pancakes or spend hours cutting out paper snowflakes to tape all over the walls. And I’m sure there are magical women out there who can do all of these things and also not walk around their house wondering what that smell is. But I’m not that woman. I don’t have the multi-tasking skills to pull it off. And when faced with the choice between going outside to play or attacking my bathroom sink with a toothbrush, I will choose going outside Every. Single. Time.

In other news (that is not the unplanned, several-hundred-word posting from above), other things are moving forward. I’m 24 weeks pregnant, and Torsten is constantly moving around in there, but it’s still at the pleasant baby kick stage, not the oh-I-think-you-took-out-a-rib baby kick stage. I’m writing, steadily, and should have another excerpt to share in the next few days. And good reviews for The Half Killed and Knotted are continuing to trickle in, which is always wonderful.

And now I think I’ll head into the kitchen (my messy, cluttered, grimy, Tinkerbell-stickered kitchen) and make some hot chocolate. And then maybe I’ll watch a movie with the kids once Freja has finished her handwriting practice for the day. We’ll see.