Cover Image: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro

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https://lynns-books.com/2020/02/17/the-wolf-of-oren-yaro-chronicles-of-the-bitch-queen-1-by-k-s-villoso/
I have to hand it to KS Villoso for running me through the gamut of emotions reading the first in her Bitch Queen series.  Was I sometimes confused by this tough leading lady – oh yes.  Did she sometimes make me want to shake her, indeed she did.  Did she repeatedly get herself into a pickle of a situation where I couldn’t see any possible solution, why yes, yes she did.  Did I really think she was a bitch – truthfully, no – I’ll elaborate don’t worry.  Has she wormed her way into my affections – damn it all, yes.  Do I want to run around stabbing and strangling people who get in her way or betray her – yes, and probably also no, because I’m a raging softie.  Drat it this is an addictive book, completely not what I was expecting in a lot of respects but, because of that, better than I hoped and a great start to series.  I’m not saying I didn’t have any little issues along the way, because I did, but the twists and reveals during the final chapters are like little light bulbs being turned on consecutively in a dark tunnel – they line up and shine some much needed light in places of need, they provide a focus and also a way of looking back and seeing things differently.

Okay, this review is not going to be about plot.  Know this though, this isn’t all about war and battles.  It’s not about tens of thousands of soldiers marching upon a city and ravaging the land as they forge ahead.  Also, it’s not overloaded with magic and fantasy although there are mages and dragons – just that they’re kept low key and I suspect they’re being held in abeyance to spring on us as the story progresses.  This is much more of a character driven story that uses subtle politics and scheming to great effect.  More than that it’s about the main character in particular and her own personal journey to enlightenment.

Queen Talyien may not have been a particularly spoiled or pampered Princess and being the daughter of a ruthless slayer certainly gave her a reputation to live up to, but she is without doubt still suffering from certain delusions or at the very least wearing her rose tinted glasses firmly strapped to her noggin.  And it’s this that the story really focuses on – or at least that’s what I took from it.  It’s about stripping away everything, not just physically although that certainly helps.  Here is a Queen so desperately hoping for things to work out that she’s started thinking that hopes and wishes will create rainbows and stardust and quite simply – they don’t.

Tali (as she is known by some) finds herself travelling to distant shores and within short shrift being betrayed in such a way that she is alone on the mean streets, without friends, advisors, money or means of protecting herself.  Let’s be honest, you can’t run around blurting out that you’re a Queen when you find yourself in the rougher quarters of town – at best people would think you were delusional, at worst, well, bad things would happen.  More than that though, this is a discovery about who Tali really is.  She’s not a totally happy bunny for a large portion of the story and it takes a while as a reader to discover why that’s the case, and during that time she can come across a little bit sorry for herself.  But, she’s been raised with certain expectations and she is clearly determined to do the right thing for her people and country.

I mentioned above that I didn’t really think of Tali as a bitch.  Seriously, I’m not saying that she’s an angel, she can be a bit stabby, her actions at the start of the story clearly  drove her husband to abandon her and their child and yet she still takes up the throne alone, but, with that particular title I expected a lot more harshness from her.  In fact to be frank, I found her to be a lot more reasonable and restrained in some of the situations she found herself in and also, she definitely has a certain honesty and forthrightness that I wouldn’t associate with a bitchy person.  I certainly couldn’t understand the devotion she seemed to have for her husband, especially as things came to light along the way.  He wasn’t exactly faithful and lets just call a spade a spade here – he was something of a hypocrite, but I’ll leave that alone.  What I think Villoso really excels at here though is the final stripping away of Tali’s romantic notions.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a romance, and yet, at the core of the story, the plot driver, is indeed the romantic longing of Tali’s to have her husband back. But, whilst tali’s heart pushes the plot forward this is without doubt a book about politics, the backstabbing-deal-making type of politics that has nothing to do with romantic notions and everything to do with power.  An eye opener for Tali and the reader.

In terms of criticisms.  I mentioned above that Tali can come across a little sorry for herself at times – just bear with her though, things are more convoluted than they first appear.  I think my main two issues were.  Firstly, I expected Tali to be a lot more forceful or commanding given her upbringing, but I guess she was being diplomatic in some of the situations she found herself in.  Which brings me to my next point, a number of the difficulties Tali found herself in seemed to rely on the unexpected involvement or appearance of a certain other.  This wasn’t really a problem as it was a character that I liked but I think I would have preferred it if Tali had had to rely on her own wits for some of the situations.  The only other issue I had was the baddie.  I won’t elaborate on who this might be but I must say he was a bit of a cookie cutout.  He was all but wearing a swirling cape, twirling his mustache and laughing maniacally whilst tying some young woman to the train tracks.  That being said – I still found his chapters highly compulsive so figure that one out.  I’m clearly a sucker for over the top baddies who I can boo at from the safety of my comfy chair.  It’s that whole ‘addictive’ thing rearing its head again.

In a nutshell (which I could have said approximately 900 words ago).  I enjoyed this very much, in fact I couldn’t wait to pick it up again.  It defied me at every turn.  It didn’t give Tali any breaks or go down the conventional paths that I sometimes thought it might take.  It has great world building, moments of lightness that stop it becoming too bleak and a winning focus on the main character who discovers things about herself at the same time as the reader.  I can’t wait to read No.2.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.
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Before I get into the meat of this review, I’d like to state that I’ve started taking some new medications to try and help various health issues in my life, and those medications make me a little bit spaced out at times and make it tough to fully gather my thoughts. So if anything in this review doesn’t make sense or makes weird leaps of logic, please take it as a given that it’s because of my meds, or because this book was just that good, or a combination of both.

It’s probably both.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is one of those fantasy novels that seems, right from the outset, so very well planned and plotted and expressed that sometimes it’s easy to forget that you’re not reading historical fiction. The world is so finely detailed, the mix of cultures and mentions of different languages and dialects, all of it combine into something that feels incredibly real. As we follow Queen Talyien’s journey to reunite with her runaway husband, layers and layers are peeled back, revealing a rich and complex story coming out from what at first seemed relatively simple.

Well, as simple as politics and “It’s Complicated” relationships are, at any rate.

Talyien is one of those characters who I think it’s easy to both like and dislike, depending on the situation. I can’t help but admire her tenacity, her desire to do what she thinks is right, and her sharp mind, and in many of the situations she found herself in, I agreed with her judgment calls. On the flip side, those traits came with drawbacks that kept her from seeing things she didn’t want to see. Her strong desire to reunite with her husband, partly from love and loyalty and partly due to the political arrangement that came about from their marriage, could seem admirable… if it wasn’t for the fact that she kept overlooking that he really didn’t want the same thing, and that he didn’t view her in the same light she viewed him. Talyien wasn’t what I’d call a trusting person by nature, but she seemed to have difficulty recognizing the machinations of others, the way she was constantly maneuvered into positions that were very much to her disadvantage. While she was committed to doing her best for the kingdom (queendom?) she led, she did have more than a touch of naiveté about her, which was frustrating at times.

So Talyien’s journey throughout The Wolf of Oren-Yaro wasn’t just the physical journey of getting her husband back, or trying to solve the increasingly complex set of circumstances surrounding the reunion (assassins, betrayal, and disappearances abound!), but her journey to see the world in a new light. She’s not the same person at the end of the book as she was in the beginning. She’s seen the lengths people will go to get what they want, she’s seen the reality of life for people she wouldn’t have even noticed in the past, and she learns far more about the what’s going to be expected of her as even her political situation changes. She’s still very much herself at the end, but it’s a self that’s more mature, in some ways, or at least more apt to see the sheer amount of deception around her.

Villoso’s gorgeous writing really brings this Asian-inspired world to life, showing the reader the highs and lows of various locations, the best and the worst of people, and all their varied complexities; nobody is wholly good or wholly bad. With possibly one exception, though I’m not going to spoil that for people who have yet to read this book. Despite having very little ability to concentrate on things lately due to my ongoing health issues, once I started reading The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, I kept being motivated to push past my limits, to read just a little further, even when my eyes didn’t want to focus properly or I realized I’d just spent 5 minutes staring blankly at the same page, because I was that invested in the story. I know I’ve said this about other novels, but it stands true here just as much as there: this is a novel that really draws you in and refuses to let you go. Once you give it even a slight chance to ensnare you, you too will find yourself pushing past your limits, doing the, “Just one more chapter,” thing, until before you know it, you’ve reached the end and there’s nothing else to do but reach for the sequel and continue the epic fantasy adventure.

Long live the Bitch Queen!
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For someone who loves fantasy, this is such a satisfying read because every aspect of it is done well. And it makes me so much proud to know that a book- as great as this one- that is unapologetically Filipino, exists.
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The Wolf of Oren-Yaro // by K.S. Villoso

"They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me."

The first time I heard this line, I got a little chill. I didn't jump at the chance to read this book right away but seeing great reviews here and there since its publication kept me coming back to consider picking it up. A line like that just couldn't be ignored and when I finally did decide to read it, I felt my anticipation rise with each day knowing I was getting closer to the excitement of reading this whole series all at once since the publisher was generous enough to send me all three books to read and review. Sadly, I have to say though that I was rather disappointed overall. I do want to start out with some positives though.

The synopsis promised an epic journey in an unknown land with a desperate queen that is struggling to put the pieces of her shattered marriage and fractured kingdom back together. It promised love and desperation, intrigue and danger, strength and struggle, and ultimately life and death. I felt the beginning set up the queen's home country, culture, and struggles well. I was drawn in incredibly quickly, forming opinions of characters from the start that shifted all throughout the book as I found out more about them. I liked especially how my understanding of the queen's husband changed throughout the book, helping me understand the conflicting feelings she herself had about him. The author also did an excellent job introducing a mystery at the start that kept me glued to the book the entire way through so I could find out why it was such a big deal. While I did have an inkling as to what the issue might be, I was never 100% sure and therefore just had to continue on to find out for sure!

Though it did have a relatively strong start as mentioned, once the assassination attempt that was promised in the synopsis happened, it started to get a little shaky. I was under the impression that Talyien, the queen, wasn't the most impressive fighter. While we do learn that she was raised under a strict father that didn't coddle her, a fighting scene at the beginning of the book still made me doubt her skills a bit in that area. Due to that, I had a really hard time believing that she could get out of so many sticky situations that happened throughout the rest of the book. And by "so many" I really mean SO MANY. Anything that could have happened did happen with some extras sprinkled - no poured - onto the top. I never really understood the term "Mary Sue" until I met this character but it really did not matter what was thrown at her, she could find her way out relatively easily all things considered. In this same vein, the magic seemed rather... convenient. Whatever was needed at the moment, happened without any real explanation of the magic system itself. I do have to say though that it felt like the author was setting things up for us to learn more about that aspect in the rest of the series. The glimpse I did get was pretty interesting. 

I feel like it would've been better if the author had chosen just a few of the situations that Talyien had to endure and put more detail into them. There were some elements that I felt were very well chosen in general, such as being picked up by a stranger, making unlikely friends, or seeing someone from your past unexpectedly (trying to be as vague as possible here). If she had focused on those, they could've really propelled the story forward and provided us with some excellent character development. But instead, they often felt rather flat both concerning the actions themselves as well as some of the characters. I love dragons, I love magic, I love history, new cultures, character development and growth, all these things. But none of them seemed to go into enough detail. The queen never seemed to learn from her mistakes. If there was a wrong decision to make, that's the one she would go with. And the big reveal at the end did not really make up for the struggles either, in my opinion. I had hoped that the characters would’ve grown enough by then to have their priorities a bit straighter. 

So there definitely are a lot of ups and downs in this book. I can say this for sure though: this author is full of creativity and while there are parts of this book that could've benefitted from more fine-tuning, I do want to point out that this is her debut fantasy novel. I am impressed by the work she has put into this book and I am still looking forward to reading the next two books to see how she has grown in her writing skills. The ideas are obviously there and I'm excited to see where she will take us in the future.

Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I think I’m ready to start this one off by saying I was floored by how many people started their goodreads reviews with some variation of “the series title is apt bc Talyien sure is a bitch”. We are all entitled to our opinions, but I want it clear that I think all those opinions are wrong and I would personally like to throw hands. Respectfully. 

THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO has been on my radar for a hot minute, and I’ve only heard good things about it, yet I am still in awe by just how much I loved it. The characters, the world, the intrigue and betrayal, the storytelling, the gentle inclusion of horror and fear; this book knocked so many factors out of the park for me it might be tough for this review to be more than a transcript of me screaming.

In this story we follow Queen Talyien who has inherited a bit of a mess of a nation as their first ever queen and the extra burden of having to do it alone since her husband disappeared the night before their Coronation. Five years after this night Talyien receives a letter from her estranged husband requesting they meet across the sea for a cute little chat. Despite the protestations of her advisors and fueled by hope and anger, Talyien crosses the sea into what is soon revealed as hostile territory and so, the shit show begins.
This was the first first-person single POV fantasy book I’ve read in a while and I loved it. Usually I enjoy multiple POVs so I don’t get tired of one voice, and that along with third-person often allows for a larger scope of the world, but this is about Tali’s journey, and being with her from start to finish was an absolute treat. While the scope of events is smaller, the scope of emotions is far greater, and I do love emotional moments. We know from early on in the book that we are reading Tali’s account of these events and based on how things unfold it’s safe to say that Tali only reveals all the details when it suits her, which definitely impacts the way we react to the story and different characters. The writing was sharp, well-paced, and truly capable of making me Feel™.

A lot of things happen in THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO, most of them bad. Villoso tells a thrilling character-driven story, filled to the brim with emotion, political intrigue, and adventure; balancing pure fear ad dread with soft and tender moments that had my heart aching. The plot was fast paced while stretching over long periods of time, and I couldn’t put the book down, unless it was to steady myself.

This story is filled with interesting characters, and simply put I love them. Even when I don’t, I do. Talyien, my queen, my unreliable narrator who does indeed contain magnitudes. Queen and mother and vulnerable woman who will fight tooth and nail for the benefit of her kingdom and her family. There was never a dull moment with her; from her wit, to grit, through snarky dinner interactions, and (often rash) fight scenes, I would lay my life down for her, end of story. The side characters all held their own, none of them falling flat. My favourite was Khine, a conman who just wants to do right by his family, with a penchant for finding Tali. I even enjoyed Rayyel, the world’s most infuriating hottie (I hate to say that it took me far too long to fully join the Anti-Rayyel agenda, because Tali and I are both clowns who cling on to small soft moments!). 

With intricate world-building, driven by tense relationships across the board this story fast became a personal favourite. THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO feels like a gut punch, swiftly followed by a kick to the face, and just when you manage to dust yourself off you realise you’ve been robbed of your shoes 😊 And honestly, I would go through it again, multiple times over, with a smile on my face.
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3.5-3.75 stars

you know when an ending just sucker punches you...

Okay this book wrecked and confused me so much I don't quite know what to say. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is an incredibly character-driven story that takes place in a divided kingdom where loyalties are tested and our main character finds herself surrounded by enemies. Talyien was, in short, difficult to like which is a struggle since she's the focus of the story. Difficult as in the decisions she made were so infuriating at times I needed to take a breather. Despite that, K.S. Villoso continued capture my interest to keep reading - Talyien was obviously hiding something from the reader and it led to the question of if everything falling apart was somehow linked to what was being hidden. I am unbelievably excited to continue with the sequel as part of Caffeine Book Tour's #DethroneTheDragonlord just so I can (hopefully) see the downfall of certain characters. 😇
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Hail the Bitch Queen!!!

OMG. This book and all the themes and ideas it tries to highlight is just mind-blowing. My first impression when I heard about this cool, new fantasy novel was that it was going to be loud and noisy. I imagined the main character to be such a badass, take no prisoners type of person who is almost perfect.

Oh boy was I glad to be wrong.

🐺

Talyien, who I fondly refer to as Tali, is the opposite of this brash, bigger than life person that I have engineered her to be in my head. She absolutely smashed all of the preconceived notions of what a queen, mother and woman should be. She is serious and duty-bound to the things she holds dear in her life, and is such a complex character that it was interesting to see her navigate through the situations she was in. Although there are some who may say that she is weak or just plain crazy to make all the decisions she chose, I pegged her as someone who is strong.

I love how this story delves into the role of women and allows us to question our and society’s preconceived notions about them. I fumed at certain parts because I can see how Tali is challenge by the people because of who she is– a woman and a leader. The plot allows so much growth for the characters, specifically Tali, that I cannot help but get swept away with her thought process as she tries to make sense of everything that is happening in her life. You can see how her past and upbringing plays a huge part with her decision-making–her father’s ruling, her country’s past, her values and her beliefs. All of these things molded Tali to be this Bitch Queen who doesn’t take shit from people.

Aside from the main character, I absolutely adore the world-building. I can see a mix of the Philippines and some other Asian countries with the way the world is set-up. You can see that the political situations and the systems they follow (like the caste system) is very similar to the things we learned about our own country and other Asian countries as well. Another favorite is K.S. Villoso’s manner of describing food. I can tell it is very Asian and I squeal whenever I read a familiar dish (hello, fishball!). It makes it more authentic and familiar, like an old friend.

Overall, it’s a much quieter version of the usual fantasy novels that I have read, but it does not disappoint. It has action, cultural Easter eggs, magic, angst, drama and a whole lot of character development. To be in Tali’s head was such a refreshing way to perceive a novel, and I am glad I got to read it.
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A-/B+ | Despite the fact that Talyien was one of the most frustrating characters I have read this year, I truly enjoyed this magnificent, character-driven novel with its lush Filipino-coded world. Talyien is surely one of the most interesting characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. The worldbuilding is woven into the story in such a superb way that I could vividly see, smell, feel, hear, and taste the universe. This adult fantasy novel is unapologetically Filipino and it reflects so much of both the good and bad aspects of Filipino society. It is a thrill ride full of heartbreak, betrayal, love, family, duty, and politics.

— REVIEW:
As a Filipino woman, I can’t even begin to tell you how important this is to see and read. It took everything in me NOT to weep. Finally, after so many years of wanting and wishing (& jokingly saying one day, I’ll write a Filipino-inspired fantasy), to see a Filipino write a fantasy that is so unapologetically Filipino makes me so happy.

I read this book in less than 36 hours. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. The moment I stepped into Talyien’s head, I got to meet one of the absolute most complex, interesting characters I have had the pleasure of meeting this year. She is loud, brash, and quick to reach for a weapon when she’s insulted, but she’s also insecure, needy, and someone who never had the chance to be just Talyien.

Do you know what Villoso refuses to let you do? Breathe.
The plot is just non-stop. It rolls and rolls and nothing seems to go right for Talyien which means she’s on her toes which forces us to be on our toes, too. She makes a lot of mistakes over and over again. The tension is palpable and it is right there from the start.

How else do you think I finished a book like this in less than 36 hours?

Nothing that I expected to happen ended up happening in this novel. That feels so, so, so GOOD to read. Yes, it’s fun to be able to guess what happens in a novel and have it come true, but it can get frustrating after a while. This book doesn’t fall in line with your stereotypical fantasy.

The worldbuilding shines bright in this novel.
I love the worldbuilding here because it is vivid and alive. It’s easy to picture almost every aspect of this world, its people, its history. This world isn’t your pseudo-medieval European world. It’s unequivocally Filipino with inspiration from other sources in Southeast Asia. Not once does Villoso allow you to believe this is anything but a fantasy set in a world inspired by the Philippines.

However, she doesn’t resort to info-dumping or long expositions to get her worldbuilding across to the reader. It’s natural and seamless. This world comes to life through Talyien’s eyes. We are in Talyien’s head, therefore the information comes to us as naturally as it would whenever we’re thinking about something.

Furthermore, Villoso brings in real-world aspects such as xenophobia and economic inequalities. Now, she doesn’t do this for shock value. They are important to the story and are called out for what they are — inequalities that those of us who are privileged need to help correct.

This allows this world to feel so alive and so much more realistic.

But what helps this is the fact that the characters are so very human.
Talyien is a truly complex, intriguing character. She is loud and brash and quick to reach for her sword when insulted, but she is also insecure, needy, and imperfect. What is so great about this story as a whole is that she isn’t allowed to have a moment of peace. All of her actions have consequences. Mistake after mistake, she is forced to deal with the end result, thus leading her to more mistakes.

Her imperfections are what make her a fantastic, realistic character. Yes, she is frustrating. Oh without a doubt you’re going to go, “Who is that foolish?”. I certainly did a number of times throughout this book. But, let’s be honest: how many of us can actually say we wouldn’t make the same mistakes?

Now, what also makes Talyien feel so very human is the circumstances that surround who she is and why she is the way that she is. We know that Villoso took inspiration from the Philippines. We see it in the worldbuilding, yes. But we see this inspiration in the characters as well which lead to me being very frustrated with Talyien at first because I just didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand why this woman — this strong, independent character — was so desperate to get her husband back.
I didn’t understand why she was so insistent on bringing him back for the sake of family. It bothered me so much how her son continued to ADORE a man who had abandoned them to the point where she had to get him back otherwise she feared her son’s reaction. Sure, she used the kingdom’s future as an excuse. But what she really wanted was her husband back so that her family was complete.

It didn’t make any sense to me. I spent the majority of the book just wanting to SCREAM at Talyien. Hell, I even joked on GR that I wouldn’t want her to be my queen because she’s a fool! He left. He abandoned them. Yet, she still loves him.

Snap out of it! Who gives a shit what men think? Be the bitch you claim to be!

But then, I started to ask. Why was this frustratingly foolish character reminding me of some of my relatives? Then it clicked and once it did? I began to see Talyien in a different light — a more sympathetic light.

Talyien is no different from the real-life Filipino women that are out there. She, like countless of other Filipino women, carry the burden of needing to be perfect in all the roles they are placed it. Whether this role is daughter, ate (older sister), wife, mother, tita (aunt), best friend — whatever it is — she needs to do it all perfectly. And even if she does it perfectly? The moment one of the males in her life screws things up? It’s on her to fix it and make it right.

This is exactly how it is with Talyien. She should not be blamed for her husband running away and abandoning his people, his kingdom, and his son. And yet, she’s blamed and it’s on her to do everything in her power to fix it.

This perhaps is the most frustrating aspect of this book, but also something I appreciated. We sometimes become complacent to the point where the sh!t that should make anyone angry simply makes them shrug their shoulders. We turn a blind eye because it’s life. But by calling it out, we are forced to remember and confront it head on or at least do better to call it out when we see bullsh!t like this.

Overall Thoughts?
This book is an absolute must-read. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially those who want a SE Asian-coded fantasy. This book is filled with inspiration from the Philippines and I couldn’t be more happy with it. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
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The Wolf of Oren-Yaro was actually a self-published series and was recently picked up for publication by Orbit Books and has been on my radar ever since.

There is a ton of set up and back story that is such a mood setter. We have a woman named Talien who is queen of her people and many years ago, her father basically launched the land into civil war. It's truly an awful war in the way that a very kind of shaky peace was negotiated that his daughter, Talien, was going to marry the son of the rival on the opposite side of the war and they are going to rule together. So they have been betrothed since birth. They marry, have a child and the night before they were going to be coronated, her husband leaves and no one really knows why. 5 years later, she receives a letter from her estranged husband....

This book was truly enjoyable. As you can imagine, there is a lot of set up for the actual story so initially I found it a little bit hard to get into but once I sat down and read a bigger chunk, I was settled in for the ride since a lot of action doesn't happen until 100 pages in or so. The world building is done in such a way that it really folds into the story and you're being fed a lot of information about the world. Particularly about politics, history, and relationships between different people. There are 2 main regions in this world and they are very distinctive. The author does a great job separating these two places in your mind.

All in all, this was a fantastic start to a series and I'm very much looking forward to the next one.
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The BItch Queen is a formidable character and I utterly love her! K.S. Villoso's prose is not only accessible but also engaging making the reading experience more entertaining. Knowing that this story was injected with multiple Filipino references on culture made me even more proud to be reading this work of art. Overall, this book is definitely a great fantasy that everyone should read.
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finished this book loving the relationship I was not meant to root for, and liking people I am certain I am not meant to. Suffice to say, this is plenty of fuel for me to go on with the series and see whether I will be vindicated. While I wanted to see more from the bitch-queen herself, there was enough compelling tension and character to keep me interested in the book.

Queen Talyien of Oren-Yaro lead an almost fractured queendom, her rule overshadowed firstly by the specter of her father's bloody and violent war, and secondly by her husband's mysterious abandonment of his family. As a female monarch, Tali is evaluated by both enemies and allies alike from the context of the men around her, and she chafes against these restrictive views. The novel takes us behind Tali's various epithets and examine the woman behind the legends. This book felt very introspective as we largely engaged in following Tali's internal struggles, and although she is at times an unreliable narrator, what we get is still a revealing exploration of her character.


Although the book positions itself as Tali's story, beyond the influence of her father and husband, the narrative in this book is largely centered around one of these men - namely her ex-husband Rayyel and his betrayal. The narration shifts between her first meetings with him and the present day, where he reappears as an enemy to both Tali and her nation. The account is at odds with her image as the Wolf-Queen of Oren Yaro, and initially I was often frustrated with her choices when it came to Rayyel. However, the reasoning behind her decision become apparent with the final 15% of the novel, where the layers behind her motivations are made apparent.
One of the things I both struggled with and respected the book for was how indulgent it was in peeling away the layers of Tali's story.  This meant that aspects such as pacing or the characterization of some side characters faltered at times. However, it also resulted in a rare fantasy that revolved around the past and feelings of one woman alone, the grander scope of destiny and politics be damned. While Tali was not an exemplary queen or leader, I liked that the book gave us a representation of a flawed Asian woman - it gave her the space to fail numerous times and examine the outcome of those missteps. 

In opposition to Tali, her husband Rayyel made for an enigmatic and frustrating antagonist. As someone who naturally gravitates toward the trope of second chance romance, arranged marriage, and lovers to enermies, I could not help but be compelled by their shared history and ponder over Rayyel's endgame. Like his wife, Rayyel is incredibly flawed underneath his veneer of calm and civility. The tension bubbling underneath the surface whenever these two encounter each other kept me turning the pages. I don't even count Khine as a love interest at this point, charming though he may be - Tali and Rayyel truly deserve each other, and I can't wait to see the two tear one another apart.

Another strength of the book was in the intimacy and evocative glimpses into Tali's world, which draw influences from Filipino history and culture. Everything was beautifully detailed, from the inviting description of the foods, to the sights and smells of Tali's world. The quieter aspect of this novel allowed the reader room to appreciate the details in the setting, even though the world is not as distinctly drawn on a grander scale. I look forward to aspects of the politics and geography of this world to be expanded in the sequel.

Despite my mixed feelings about the series, the entanglements in the character relationships will definitely have me coming back for the upcoming sequel, The Ikessar Falcon. Have you read this book, what did you think of it?
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From the very first sentence, I knew that I was in for a ride, reading THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO and I was definitely not wrong. Although the book was vastly and drastically different from what I expected it to be and from what it seemed to be in its very first pages, once I adjusted my expectations and got going, it blew me away, and kept blowing me away until the very last page, making me crave the sequel while simultaneously causing me a HUGE amount of emotional distress and I WANT TO SUE!!!

I’ve procrastinated writing this review for weeks because I had too much to say, didn’t know what exactly to say or how to keep it non-spoilery, and now…I forgot everything I wanted to say, or well, most things I wanted to say so this review will probably turn out to be the most chaotic one I write as of yet. “Where are your notes?”  I hear you asking, well, I have a couple but I was so sucked in that I forgot to write most of my thoughts down, so that alone is indication enough of how much I loved the book. Right off the bat, I was taken by the narration, the writing style is very representative of Talien as a protagonist, it’s a mix of serious and funny, the funny side being equal parts sarcasm and self-deprecation. A bitch queen after my own heart.

Like I mentioned, THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO drew me in for the very first sentence. That’s the truth, but not the whole truth. Although the first sentence was one of the best and most powerful ones I’ve ever read, it only managed to carry me through the first few pages of the book, afterwards my excitement kind of died down and even though I was still somewhat interested I started doubting how much I’d enjoy the book, especially since the world was confusing me and the story wasn’t heading the way I thought it was heading. But after the 20-ish% mark and once I got a grasp of what the story was shaping up to be, everything went smooth sailing and I thought that the spin it took was even better than what I was expecting out of it.

What’s the story like? You ask. Well, THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is the character driven story of a queen who is hated by her people and who everybody is trying to kill for one reason or another. The queen’s name is Talien and her character arc and exploration are some of the best I’ve ever read, I was impressed by how much the author was able to do with her character and how much she put her through. It was genuinely A LOT but also so well paced and well distributed and realistic and it didn’t feel like a reach, everything she went through fit in the context of the book and of her growth as a woman and a queen.

Talien is an amazing character to follow and a very fascinating one. One of her major challenges is the fact that she inherited her brutal father’s reputation as a tyrant and a murderer but deep down that’s not who she is, or at least not entirely. So seeing that battle between who everyone sees her at and the facade she has to put up and who she wants to be and wants to be seen as was very interesting, especially since it wasn’t this loud or in your face part of the book, it was just sort of…implicitly there and you get to witness it as it happens. Talien is blunt and hot headed, definitely too impulsive for her own good at times, she’s very distrustful and for a reason, she doesn’t know who to trust, and even you, as a reader, don’t know who’s on who’s side and that was the most roller coaster like, anxiety inducing, reading experience I had had in a while. 

Talien’s journey is not only emotional as I talked about above, but it’s also physical as she travels through a considerable distance, gets betrayed and backstabbed, trying to uncover what went wrong, why and who is trying to assassinate her, and the more she discovers, the more the plot thickens and she realizes how little she actually knows and that the people she should trust aren’t necessarily those she would go for.

My favorite thing about this book is that even though it’s introspective and very in tune with the main character’s growth, it still manages to keep high stakes and to keep the reader engaged in them, and I feel like managing both those things is a character driven story while keeping it character driven is an incredible feat.
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The Wolf of Oren-yaro is remarkable because of its circumstances.

1. It is a Filipino and Southeast Asian-centric fantasy written by a Filipino woman
2. It was originally an indie novel that was then acquired by Orbit Books and published traditionally
3. It wasn't possible even ten years ago, when the traditional publishing sphere would have rejected a fantasy novel with an Asian protagonist and brimming with Asian cultures and references
4. It is my first physical ARC as a(n international) book blogger. This book has gone full circle; it has come home.

It is also remarkable because of its content:

The protagonist, Tali, like all women, struggles with everyone's expectations: to be the perfect mother, wife, and queen. She bends but she does not break. She chooses to love, even if loving is what hurts her.
It is luscious and vibrant and so vividly written that I could see every line unfolding in front of me
It is more than skin-deep. The references to Filipino culture, values, and history are refreshingly real--from a fellow Filipino. You would not recognize them if you weren't a Filipino who has truly lived here and studied history.

This is why I'm so grateful to Shealea (via Caffeine Book Tours) for hosting this tour and allowing me to be a part of it. This book means a lot to me--and while the real review comes at the end--this post is also a celebration of all that The Wolf of Oren-yaro and Ms. Villoso represent.

Because I respect her so so much and it is an honor to be here!


What is The Wolf of Oren-yaro about?
A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice. 
"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.
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is an adult high fantasy. However, it's more action-filled than magical. It chronicles Queen Tali's journey to find her husband and return to her throne. There are dragons and magicians and ghosts in dreams but it's mostly a story about a powerless queen who fights to regain her power.


Why is this book so special?
Please read this brilliant interview with the author on her experiences as a marginalized writer. I have been so strongly inspired by her strength and determination. K.S. Villoso is the definition of "never giving up". And as someone who is also trying to get published in the US, I understand her experiences. In fact, hers are worse, because it's only recently that the Western publishing sphere has been opening up to more diversity.

Listen, this is a world where Rin Chupeco's Filipino fantasy was unsellable and unmarketable for years (here and here), where Reni Amayo was told to "tone down" her book cover with black protagonists for her African fantasy in 2019 (read here), where in 2018, more children's books had animal protagonists than all kids of color, combined (here). And that's not even all of it.

The publishing industry is improving slowly. More professionals of color are also becoming agents, editors, and working in the pub houses. But it's still not perfect. And we still have a long way to go.

But more on that later.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a fun, fast-paced, action-filled, sword and sorcery adult fantasy novel. It just happens to have a Filipino protagonist and a universe inspired by Asian cultures. There's no fetishization, no weird misunderstandings of the culture, no skeevy marketing ploy. It's sincere, fun, and honest in its portrayals. Tali is relatable to anyone, regardless of their culture; she just happens to be Filipino. I'm so glad this casual expression is getting more normalized.

But now that you understand how important she is... let's talk about the book itself. Why is the book so special? Well:
The protagonist is called The Bitch Queen. How badass is that??
It's full of betrayals and political intrigue. Delicious. Imagine if Game of Thrones had an Asian setting and a female protagonist.
There's a thief with a heart of gold. He's my fave, if you can't tell :))
Tali has to rely on her wits to manipulate others and survive. Sure, she can wield a sword, but she also learns to maneuver like a piece on the chessboard. 
At times, it's also sweet and funny. The universe is quite dark, but the author manages to inject some humor and lightheartedness in some scenes. That made it more fun to read.
What else did I like?

Well, check out these kick-ass first lines:

Hurricans destroy villages and they call it senseless; the winter winds come and they call it cold. What else did they expect from my people, the Oren-yaro, the ambitious savages who created a war that nearly ripped Jin-Sayeng apart? I almost think that if my reign had started without bloodshed and terror, they would have been disappointed.
I did not regret killing the man. He had it coming, and my father had taught me to take action before you second-guess yourself.
Read on for a SPOILER-FREE REVIEW of this novel!

WHAT I LIKED

1. Luscious Asian-inspired worldbuilding

I absolutely felt like I was in Tali's world with her. The worldbuilding in this novel is divine. Expect a dirty city reminiscent of Manila, mouthwatering food descriptions, characters that come alive in your head, and easy to understand geopolitics.

I keep talking about how it's so undeniably, subtly Filipino. You might be wondering why. Well, culture is an iceberg. The obvious things like language and clothing and food are just the tip of it, but the majority is underwater, not easily seen. Values, attitudes, and history make up that underwater majority. It's not easily identifiable unless you're truly aware of it.

Ways that The Wolf of Oren-Yaro reflected the Philippines in a fantasy-setting:

A. Tali's devotion to familial duty. 

I think everyone is aware of how family is so important to Asians. And how families can control our lives. It's normal to live in service of the family, even if it means sacrificing yourself. Tali always puts duty before herself, which is so painful but so noble and real.

B. Tali suffering because of other people's opinions of her.

Saving face is very important in our culture. You can't just be blunt and offensive. Every move must be respectful and calculated, even if you hate someone. As queen, Tali has an even bigger burden of reputation on her shoulders.
They were Oren-yaro, and loyal to me, but people were always watching, always talking. There was nothing I did that wasn't torn apart and re-examined, hidden meanings wedged between my words, the shadows growing taller than the truth.
I liked smiles. In my world, they could mean anything: a hidden joke to a friend, a threat to an enemy. There are songs written about my smiles and what usually comes after them.
He didn't at all understand that people judged him for how he looked. Even worse, he didn't understand that people judged me for how he looked.
C. Hiding poverty behind glamour and glittering walls.

The Philippines is a third-world country where the majority of the population lives under the poverty line. The divide between rich and poor is soaringly high. Sometimes it's just a matter of one wall or one block dividing the ultra-wealthy neighborhoods with skyscrapers and mansions and the ultra-poor shantytowns with no access to clean water.

Tali travels to a city that seems very beautiful and advanced at first, but as she explores the heart of it, she discovers that the high, fortified walls that keep the king in were just hiding the true nature of its citizens. Starving children and beggars. Urine-soaked streets. Sewers and muck. The king who lives lavishly doesn't care about his citizens at all.

And well, yeah, that reflects our corrupt country entirely. But more literally, this has actually happened. Politicians have set up walls to hide the poor from the rich. Check out this article for more information. Imelda Marcos, obscenely lavish wife of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, tried to do that in the 1970s... and it happened again in 2012. Ugh.

This might be a negative reality, but it's a real issue, and I'm so glad Villoso mirrored it in an accurate manner (that was neither insulting nor over-praising)

D. The nature of regional politics.

The warlords don't get concerned about each other. Jinseins worry about their provinces before the nation, and the warlords are only concerned with their cities and their bannermen.
I can't explain all of Philippine history and geopolitics in one book blog post, but basically, this country is a melting pot. Even the concept of Filipino is colonial, since the exact borders of the Philippines were formed by the Spanish and the Americans. Before we were Filipino, we were Tagalogs, Kapampangans, Ilokanos, Bisaya... etc. And while obviously, we have national unity, we have similar cultures and ethnicities, there are still some major differences between each region and province. In fact, some of these people speak different languages entirely. Somebody from the north of the Philippines might not be able to understand someone from the south, assuming they both speak their native non-Tagalog language.

It's normal to meet a fellow Filipino and ask where are you from? They might answer: I'm from Bulacan, I'm from Cebu, my family is from Davao... When you meet someone who's also from the same province as you, who speaks the same language, then it's like coming home. We divide ourselves not just through ethnicity, gender, or social class, but also through home provinces and language. It makes sense, of course, that you feel more connected with your home province than the abstract entirety of a nation.

Moving on, what else I liked:

2. Likable characters

There's a crooked thief with a heart of gold and a queen fighting for her family. Both of them have captured my heart.

3. Non-stop action

I couldn't stop reading because I needed to know what happened next! And I actually enjoyed how, for the most part, we focused more on plot and character development than romance. Well, the romance is an important part of the plot, but it's tackled in a very objective way. Most of the time I need a love story, but I can also appreciate a strong independent woman and the friends she makes along the way.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


1. Most of the male characters are... horrible

I just hated how most of the male characters treated Tali. Although I understand that it's meant to prove a meta point, considering Tali has been underestimated all her life for being a woman AND an Oren-yaro. But still. Ugh. Men. The only two likable male characters were Tali's old advisor and the thief-with-a-heart-of-gold who eventually becomes her friend.

Basically, none of these men deserve her, my queen.

2. Plot twist ending that came out of nowhere

I like plot twists, but I also like them to be believable. I felt that the ending plot twist was a bit too out of left field and didn't have any build up leading up to it... but eh. It was a major holy shit moment, and it made me wonder what Tali would do in Book 2 to save herself and her kingdom. It was a total sequel hook, which I am not always a fan of, considering I prefer standalones. So maybe this is a personal preference.

But despite that...

I rate it 4/5 stars. If you love high fantasy, action-adventure, and women fighting despite their oppression then you will enjoy this novel. If you want a refreshing, nuanced take on an Asian fantasy written by an Asian, then you will enjoy this novel.
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When I first got hold of the book and read the beginning, my immediate reaction was, “She is so badass.” (referring to Talyien). But as I near the end, there is so much more to her than being the bitch of Oren-yaro. The whole book is basically the Tali trying to salvage a failing arranged marriage but discovers a lot more than what she is bargained for.

The first of the trilogy, the novel is a character-driven fantasy. The novel begins with the new queen of Jin-Sayeng, Talyien aren dar Orenar of the Oren-yaro’s coronation but not a joyous occasion to be celebrated. Her husband and supposed to be co-ruler, left her and her son. This added to her already not-so-good reputation. After five years, her estranged husband sends a letter to meet her. She was advised not to go but proceeds. The meeting did not go as it should be because of an assassination attempt that killed some of her companions and resulted to her left alone in a foreign land. The rest is detailing her journey in a foreign land, uncover who betrayed her and wanting to kill her, and what is his husband’s role in the big mess after he left.

The readers see through the eyes of Tali. We get to know her thoughts and introspection. I see a character with strong sense of duty to her citizens and country. She wants peace for her people. Her ideals were a product of her father’s teachings and training. Talyien is a complex character and in all honesty, I have mixed feelings as I read the novel through her: pride, pity, frustration, among others. She has the potential to be the ruler that she is meant to be but at this point, she is a weak one because she let her love for her husband get the best of her.

I pity her because she traveled so far, putting her life in jeopardy, thinking that she has hope but then that hope got snatched away. It is frustrating.

Everyone, regardless of gender, wants someone to love them despite their flaws and ugliness. They want romance and try to hold on to it. Tali is not that different. She is still a woman who wants to be swept by her feet and live a happily ever after. Tali also feels insecure for a number of reasons. That feeling of insecurity resonates with me. Also, the feeling of not being enough for the person you love. I get that because I felt that many times. I also want to shake her good because why would she still pursue her husband? I understand why she did what she did because I have also been that way before. I can’t help but be frustrated about her choices, how she thinks, and some of her decisions. I was hoping that she will have someone at the end that she forgets her ass of a husband but I did not expect that revelation near the end.

I like Khine, the con-artist stranger she met but turns out he is more than that. He helps Tali and at this point, we don’t know the extent of his motives. At least, there is someone like him that Tali can depend on.

I love how K.S. Villoso breathed life to the whole universe of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. I really like the novel and will definitely support the next one. This is my first time reading Villoso’s work and I might try to find more of her works and queue it to my already long list of TBR. The world building is great. Even if I have not read the novels which the world of novel is set in, I can say that it is made well.
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The story follows Talyien Orenar, fondly known as The Bitch Queen, who is the first queen of Jin-Sayeng and the last heir of the Oren-Yaro clan. She is the only living child of Warlord Yeshin, the man who started a civil war that almost torn Jin-Sayeng apart. She was betrothed to Rayyel Ikessar, the last heir of their rival clan, and their marriage was hoped to bring peace to the nation. But Rayyel leaves her, and their son, the night before their coronation, leaving her to rule the divided nation on her own. But five years later, Rayyel requests a meeting in an empire that was unknown to Talyien. But despite her doubts, she decided to go meet him in hope of reconciliation and bringing him back. However, their meeting didn’t go as expected and now Talyien is running for her life in a hostile nation without no one she could trust.

Now, if you haven’t put this series in your TBR yet or if you are still thinking about reading this one, then I am giving you 5 reasons why you should read this amazing book.

1. A STRONG & BADASS FEMALE LEAD
I loved Talyien. She is one of the most complex and interesting characters I have read recently. She is a ruthless ruler. She is loud, unapologetic, wants the respect she deserves. She is hot-minded and doesn’t think for a moment before reaching for a weapon if someone insults her. Though she is tough outside, secretly is a woman who is afraid for her child, who is insecure about her future, who wants to be with her husband and wants to live a normal life. Moreover, she wants someone trustworthy after the betrayals she had. She does live up to her name of the bitch queen.

2. FANTASTIC WORLD-BUILDING
The world-building is really great. The world that Villoso has created is rich and lush. There is no info-dump at all (considering there is a series written by author before this book) and world-building is spread throughout the story. She has revealed a little about the world at each point and that keeps the readers invested in the world-building. The world is heavily inspired by Filipino culture. The author has drawn on her experiences to brought us this imaginative universe. and her attention to detail is amazing. The issues like classism, bigotry, racism and xenophobia were heavily present in the book.

3. AN INTRIGUING SET OF SIDE CHARACTERS
All the side characters are distinct in their own ways and play an important part in the story. Actually, most of them aren’t likeable at all! Khine was my favourite. I think he was included to provide lighter moments in the story, what otherwise is a tensed one. I was constantly looking forward to reading Khine and Taylien’s interactions as they were so moody and interesting. What started as banters soon converts to friendship.

I am not sure what I feel about Rayyel though. I was frustrated of course because he left Taylien and then asks her to meet him. I hope we get to see more of Rayyel’s side in the next book. We don’t get to see much of Agos but I suspected his role in the story at the beginning itself. He was a childhood friend of Taylien and was sent away by her on the same night her husband left her. Though I liked him, in the beginning, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him at the end. Then we have Prince Yuebek. Oh God, I hated that man so much and at this point. I don’t even want to describe him apart from the fact that he was a madman.

I was amazed by the variety of characters Villoso had introduced. They were so different from each other and represented different sections of society. We have thugs, bandits, royals, priests, scholars, governors, con artist, warlords, city officials and whatnot.

4. FAST-PACED AND ENGAGING PLOT
Though this is a character-driven story, the plot is never dull. It is quite fast-paced and well, very intriguing. I was utterly lost in the story within the first few chapters. Though the beginning was a little slower, after 10% the pace was quite steady and by the end, it was like the real action was happening there.

Talyien’s journey was the one to remember. You will feel yourself with her at every moment. There are so many twists and turns and each of them made me worried for her. I can say there was no room for me to catch my breath. One after the another, bad things were happening to Talyien and she was facing so many obstacles and that kept me turning the pages. I was afraid for her, for her life. I wanted to see her with people she could trust. But at every point, there were more surprises.

Throughout the story, we get flashbacks of Talyien’s past–the moments she spent with her father, how she met Rayyel and how their relationship progressed–and these flashbacks help the readers to connect with Talyien in a better way. Those flashbacks show how lonely she is and how much she misses the assistance of her father, how much she missed her partner. And then you would certainly feel for her.

5. AMAZING WRITING AND CLEVER USE OF FIRST-PERSON POV
The writing is one of the strongest points of the story. It is difficult to see a first-person POV being handled so well in an adult fantasy. Actually, I think this story worked BECAUSE the narrative was told in the first person. It was the requirement to see the world from Taylien’s eyes to understand her better. Though the story is mostly dark and tensed, Villoso threw some humour here and there and I cracked up at a few places. Those light moments were definitely needed in the story.


Overall, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a mesmerizing story of an ambitious Queen and the efforts she has to make to survive and save her nation from another war. She is fierce, badass, graceful and ruthless. With an amazing world-building, fast-paced plot, wonderful side characters, gripping writing and most importantly a strong female lead, Villoso has woven a story that is hard to be forgotten. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. If you are a fan of above-mentioned points, then this one is highly recommended.
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Firstly, the most important thing you need to know is that I devoured this book and loved it a lot more than I initially thought possible. Whilst reading this book I had two very different experiences, which I’m happy to say finished on the positive side.

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve read an eBook, and that’s how I started this. Unfortunately The Wolf of Oren-Yaro reminded me why I’m slowly phasing out eBooks from my TBR pile all together. Personally I find there’s a huge disconnect between me and eBooks, which was really frustrating for me know that I was enjoying the story but struggling to keep the focus on reading.

However, the moment I swapped to my paperback copy this was not the case. (Seriously, thank you so much Nazia, you really allowed me to enjoy this fully) I dove in head first, and swam at top speeds to devour this book.

I certainly really appreciate what Villoso pulled off with this character driven story, and I’ll happily read anything they write again. This is a book you’ll thank me you read!
Hail the Bitch Queen

Queen Talyien is the Bitch Queen, and seeing the world from her point of view isn’t always easy or agreeable. She’s not the most lovable of characters (d’uh, Bitch Queen!) but I still rooted for her throughout.

Talyien is fierce but because of the journey she goes on, we’re also able to see her vulnerabilities. She experiences a lot of trouble and turmoil, both within her palace, and out on the streets.

One of my favourite elements of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro was learning about the politics of this world. How Talyien has an understanding of her world as Queen, but also has to learn the politics of it as one in need. These experiences for her are vastly difference, and highlights to her how her advisors have lead to some being failed.

For example, being able to follow Talyien as she’s having to learn new and important elements for survival was what made this book have such an impact. For her to experience the world without relying on her title was very interesting. Books that explore the disparity between social classes successfully are hard to find, and Villoso really did this justice.

Additionally I loved Talyien make use of her existing skills. The skills and knowledge that being a woman already entail and those from trying to be female ruler! How men underestimate us but yet WE FIGHT.

Talyien is very much a real character. She is experiencing what most women do when in positions of power – constantly being undermined and taken advantage of. The journey she goes on really opens her eyes to this for her, and therefore shows the vulnerable side of her too.

Meanwhile we do get some comedic relief, with thanks to Khine. His character is one that I really enjoyed reading. Due to the fact he values others, wanting the best for those who deserve it. Above all bringing a good balance to the darkness we’re forced to experience.
Need more reasons to add The Wolf of Oren-Yaro to your TBR pile?

Basically this is an action packed and fast paced story which makes use of keeping us on our toes at what to expect. I love watching the world and story unfold whilst be held captive with Villoso’s writing.

Then lastly, take the time to read some Filipino reviewer’s thoughts too. As they’ve all be so happy with the representation, seeing themselves and their culture on page. Kate and Myta‘s are two examples!

Overall, I’m looking forward to finishing this series. Adult fantasy can be a hit or miss for me, but this one was worth it. Keeping me hooked and hyped!
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THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO, originally self-published back in 2017, fought its way to the top of the fantasy charts on Amazon, catching enough people’s attention along that way that Orbit plans on publishing a trade paperback version in February 2020.

So what’s the hype about?

Well, THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is an epic fantasy with world building elements pulled from a variety of Asian countries and a compelling female protagonist.

Cool, cool, cool. Sign me up.

Talyien has ruled the country of Jin-Sayeng for the last five years. Her husband Rayyel was supposed to be her co-ruler, their marriage uniting the warring clans of their country and bringing peace.

If only it were that easy.

Rayyel walked out on Talyien the night before their coronation; now, five years later, he’s contacted her and proposed meeting in the foreign city of Anzhao to discuss important business. Talyien is intrigued and terrified, angry and hopeful. When she arrives in Anzhao, she also suspects that she’s out of her depth, politically and personally. The meeting with Rayyel goes terribly; specifically in the ways that meetings interrupted by assassins tend to go.

After barely escaping with her life, Talyien is left alone in a foreign city, without money or guards, and a sinking feeling that her throne and her child she left behind might not be as safe as she thought. Talyien must learn to survive on her own, ask for help, and figure out the mystery of what’s really going on in her marriage, her past, and her country.

THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO kept me guessing, both plot and story-wise. The plot is intricate, with short and long cons, and plenty of assassins and flashbacks, so that the narrative requires a good amount of attention. There are opportunities here where Villoso could have smoothed some of the connecting threads for readers, including a few twists at the end which, while surprising and fun, could have used a tad more telegraphing. What’s the saying? The ending should feel surprising but inevitable? It was surprising and logical, but the inevitability could have been signaled more clearly.

Story-wise, I really enjoyed that I was never quite sure where Villoso would take Talyien next. When I read the synopsis, I assumed the novel would be mostly courtly politics and intrigue. However, instead of playing the great game on her home turf, Villoso ruthlessly isolates Talyien from her own support system. As a warrior-queen, Talyien is experienced in battle, but not at being alone or struggling with assassins, slumlords, and a host of other colorful characters. Her unease and isolation allow Villoso to focus on Talyien’s personal struggles; specifically, admitting and owning her strengths and weaknesses as a woman and a ruler.

Talyien is very human, and the novel is written entirely from her POV. We are also introduced to Khine, an immigrant to Anzhao and a likable rogue with a heart of gold. This is a trope that I’m always HERE for, and I loved his interactions with Talyien. We see little of Talyien’s husband Rayyel other than through flashback, but Villoso builds an interesting portrait of their relationship. There’s a large-ish cast of secondary characters, including old guards, old lovers, and new enemies. All of these felt flatter. Villoso has a light hand on character description, which can be a good thing, but in this instance made it hard for me to picture or recall many of the characters.

In THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO, K.S. Villoso has introduced readers to a broken and complicated nation and queen. She also gives readers an exploration of the tension between our past and our present selves, the difficulty of finding the truth when we’ve blinded ourselves with our own narratives, and the price to be paid for believing our own stories.

I’m genuinely interested to see more of Talyien and her journey.
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The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso is a lush, intricate, and gripping fantasy tale that kept me engrossed until the very end.

I really enjoyed exploring this fascinating fantasy world Villoso has created and found myself quite mesmerized at times. The different settings, the world-building, the history of the clans and different cultures, and all the wonderful details made me feel like I was right there with Queen Talyien. The pacing is good and the plot (even though it took me a few chapters to really get into it) is actually pretty amazing. It has action, adventure, mystery, suspense a little humor, some romance and heartbreak (but not too much) and plenty of twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and glued to the pages. I also really like the flashbacks and learning what happened in the past. By the halfway mark, I was definitely more excited and incredibly eager to see where the story would go and how it would all end.

I really liked the characters and thought they’re all quite interesting and likable in their own ways. I enjoyed following Talyien on her journey and seeing her determination and strength was quite inspiring. It was exciting to see her rise and overcome so many obstacles as she tries to save her kingdom. She’s complex, flawed, fierce, smart, and just the type of heroine who you’ll root for even though she’s made mistakes.  I don’t know much about King Rayyel to decide whether I like him or not, but by the end, I can say that I don’t despise him at all. There is so much more to his story and character development so hopefully the next book will be in his POV or at least some parts of it. Now, if there is one character that is just so charming and fun, that would be Khine. I absolutely adored him with all my heart and can say that he’s my favorite character. I really loved getting to know him and I enjoyed all the scenes with him so I really hope he gets his own POV too.

All in all, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso is an interesting and thrilling fantasy story with plenty of intrigue, action, mystery, betrayals, twists and turns. And with that ending, I’ll definitely be back for the sequel!

I received an advance reader copy of this book from the author and publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review and for participating in the blog tour hosted by CAFFEINE BOOK TOURS. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I loved its concept and themes. It was a delight to follow a story of a woman who must survive not just for herself but for her son, her father’s legacy, and her nation, amidst all the power hungry and evil men surrounding her, plaguing every places she goes and threatening her life – it’s about a woman playing politics.

The main character, Talyien, is multi-layered and is deeply flawed. She felt like a real human being to me and doesn’t exactly fit into any stereotypes. I loved how she never stopped thinking of her duties as a Queen and as a mother. And seeing her balance her roles as a mother, as a wife, as a Queen and just as a human and face its challenges.

The themes and topics explored reflects reality: here comes a female leader with a bad reputation hence, despite her position and capacity to serve, her people disbelieve, disrespect and betray her which they probably wouldn’t dare do to a male leader; women being blamed for the actions of men in their lives; people acting as if it’s a wife’s duty to babysit her husband; the ease in how men twist women’s words; how different men and women deals with cheating; different forms of government and their different implications. It also tackles marital issues, leadership, love triangle, power imbalance and the implications of politics to whole nations, and common people who don’t hold any power.

There was a lot of nod to Filipino culture. Some Filipino foods and customs were present. I have also seen hint of other Asian cultures. And I was just so here for it.

I felt disconnected with the book right from the start. This started as really underwhelming for me mostly because of the main character and the world-building – which are huge deals for me especially in fantasies. I wanted so much to root for Talyien. Most of the characters felt flat for me at first but I eventually liked some of them. I liked Agos. Rayyel was a trash. I loved Khine and liked her sisters. I liked how other side characters take part in the story. I had a hard time immersing myself into its world. 

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is full of complexities – from the main character to the situations they were in and promises a next installment full of political intrigue, unpredictable plot twists and challenges for the characters. I think I didn’t love this as I expected for mostly “me” reasons. I can see why majority would love this book. I would recommend this for fantasy readers who loves character-driven narratives and lots of political intrigue.
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This is one of the best Fantasy books I've ever read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and all I want is to reread it all the time. It was so so so!!! good. Talyien is one of my favourite characters and I hope everyone can meet her by reading The Wolf of Oren-Yaro!
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