THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO by K. S. Villoso.
Orbit. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Queen Talyien, Dragonlord of Jin-Sayeng, or the Bitch Queen of Oren-yaro as many like to call her, gained her reputation not just through the murder of one man and the exile of her husband. Their union should have brought the clans together but she sits now at Oka Shto castle with only her son and her advisor for company. Arro, loyal to a fault, brings her the letter she has waited for and dreamed of these five long years since her husband left. Finally Rayyel has made contact.
He wants to meet and no matter how part of her might want to ignore it, she cannot. This could be her chance to deliver the father back to the son who so desperately wants him and to present a united leadership both to her people and to her husband’s. With Arro, a servant and the Captain of her Guard, and no doubt against the advice of her notorious father’s general, she leaves her shores behind.
Rayyel was never crowned Dragonlord though it has clearly not stopped him from using the title. A cold arrival awaits Talyien and her meagre party when they reach Anzhao. Faced with the people of Zarojo, their harsh manoeuvrings and rumours of dragons returning to Jin-Sayeng, Queen Talyein may discover she is not quite as ruthless as her reputation would have. Help for the Bitch Queen apparently comes at a very high cost.
Politics have always ruled Talyien’s life and her arrival in Zarojo quickly propels our protagonist out of the world she knows and into a situation she is not familiar with and does not know how to get out of. The Wolf of Oren-yaro tracks Talyien’s journey where she is drawn from one extreme situation to the next and quickly reduced from queen to slave, pawn and survivor. Her background paints her as a strong character but she never seems to find her feet after a difficult start and the events of this first book in the series leave matters far from resolved.
Villoso gives us a journey into the plight of the female struggle in a male world where female oppression, misplaced affections and political hatreds are rife. The themes are powerful and topical and a lot of content is covered here, but the handling feels at times too light to leave a strong impact; the grave experiences Talyien endures seem to fade quickly and leave too little in the way of an after effect.
That said, the world-building is strong with well established cultural differences in the various people evident, and the tantalising promise of dragons and an ongoing conflict – both in the wider world and in Talyien’s own life – lay good groundwork for the next in the trilogy.