Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 426
Release Date: February 18th, 2020
Series: CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN, Book 1
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It
Note: I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in return for my fair and honest review.
It’s been five years since Prince Rayyel left Queen Taliya’s court on the eve of their joint coronation. Five years of Taliya ruling alone, holding together the fractious clans through force of will, while raising a young son. When a letter arrives from her husband, asking to meet across the sea on neutral ground in the empire of Zari-nor-Orxiaro, Tali agrees to attend and give her husband one last chance at reconciliation. But an attack on the summit leaves Tali cut off from her guards, alone in a strange city that despises her people. Unsure of who to trust, Tali will have to navigate local crime lords and foreign political agendas if she’s to find Rayyel and return home. And it seems whoever tried to kill her before isn’t going to stop trying anytime soon.
Many of you will pick up THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO because of the very tempting cover art that promises “kick-ass lady with sword,” a promise the book whole-heartedly delivers on. Tali is a capable fighter, fighting off bandits and assassins with swords, daggers, or the odd chair. She’s proactive and looks to get herself out of trouble first, even if she ends up having to admit that yes, she needs the help of the cheeky con artist in this particular instance. Tali bounces from one incident to the next as she travels through cities and countries looking for someone who both has the power to help her untangle a political snafu, and who she can trust not to sell her out at the first opportunity. Unfortunately for Tali, those kinds of individuals are extremely rare.
But the actual fighting is not what’s driving the plot of this book. In between the plots and the fights, Tali is wrestling internally with how she feels about her husband Rayyel, and the choices she’s had to make in the years since he left her side. She’ll occasionally reminisce about their complicated childhood together, how they were betrothed since birth to end a war between clans, and the ups and downs their relationship has taken. All of these emotions are coloring her judgement of Rayyel in the present, as she tries to determine just what it is that made him contact her after five years, and if he really has the best interests of their people at heart. I never found myself slowed down by these contemplations, instead fully engrossed in finding out what drove these two apart, before being thrown into yet another complication in Tali’s present-day life.
Other elements of OREN-YARO are a little more of a mixed bag. On the positive side, Khine is a wonderful companion character, a con artist who helps Tali navigate the underbelly of Anzhao City as she takes refuge from corrupt guards and local gangsters alike. Some later characters who appeared on the scene, however left me a bit underwhelmed. Part of this is due to the fact that their backstory is tied into the night that caused Rayyel to leave Tali, the truth of which is kept secret until the final pages. That left these new characters feeling a bit mercurial because they were operating on knowledge the reader didn’t have, causing some actions to feel a bit muddied in motivation.
I also had mixed feelings about the more magical elements of OREN-YARO, mainly because they are somewhat maddeningly teased about the edges of the story. This is a fairly grounded tale where a dragon or mage occasionally pops in to make life difficult. I liked what I saw of the magic, but it felt oddly juxtaposed to the rest of the story. The more I think about it, the more it reminds me of GAME OF THRONES — 90% of the story is about ordinary people and then suddenly there’s magic. It’s not really an issue so much as the appearance of magic just made me want more in the main story.
And at the end of the day, that is the strength of THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO: it made me want more. Despite some hiccups with characters and a couple plot moments, I finished the book wanting to see more of the story. As part one of a trilogy, the narrative was largely building up to Tali finally confronting her husband about the night he left her, and fully revealing what’s been driving these two characters. And once the cards were on the table, I wanted to see how things played out, what choices these characters will make going forward, and that’s something I won’t know until the next installment. It’s a book one that has successfully gotten its claws in me, and I will definitely be back for the sequel!