Mild spoilers ahead for The Wolf of Oren Yaro.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I read and reviewed The Wolf of Oren Yaro. I can distinctly remember it being the first book I read on my first annual leave of the pandemic and it utterly taking over my brain for a few days. The sequel is going to stay with me even longer I think.
The spiral to madness begins with a single push. Abandoned by her people, Queen Talyien’s quest takes a turn for the worst as she stumbles upon a plot deeper and more sinister than she could have ever imagined, one that will displace her king and see her son dead. The road home beckons, strewn with a tangled web of deceit and impossible horrors that unearth the nation’s true troubles – creatures from the dark, mad dragons, and men with hearts hungry for power. To save her land, Talyien must confront the myth others have built around her: Warlord Yeshin’s daughter, symbol of peace, warrior and queen, and everything she could never be. The price of failure is steep. Her friends are few. And a nation carved by a murderer can only be destined for war
This one left me feeling fairly hollow, I will admit. I mentioned in my review of the first book how fantasy as a genre loves a story about a Queen. Another well loved trope is that of the journey, the long walk home. The undertaking that a person must take to go home and save their people and of course, their family. That’s exactly what this book is, this is the long, difficult journey Queen Talyien has to take to make her way home and rescue her son, Thanh. This isn’t there and back again. Tali is going home but she has no guards, not many allies and no idea what to expect when she gets there.
We start off where the previous book ends, Talyien still in Shang Azi and still without the husband she came for. With Agos, Nor and Khine, she aims to make her way back to Jin-Sayeng by whatever means she can. Something I thought lacked in the previous book was the world building and the development of some aspects mentioned in it. That is more than remedied in this book. The journey back is a slow, arduous one for Tali and her party. There is brutal loss along the way, like far more grim with far higher stakes. The advantage is definitely for the reader since each stop the characters make along the way, allows us another glimpse into the different parts of the Queendom. One part for example is trying to tame dragons, to disastrous results. Another is being overrun with creatures of the Agan, the magic that is considered severely taboo to the Oren Yaro. This is a hard, unforgiving world that is managing to just about keep itself going every day and it’s very clear it’s all happening under Tali’s nose. And she has no idea
So I already mentioned how this book is focusing more on the journey where the last focused on Talyien the Queen. What I really enjoyed about this book is how we continue to see Tali develop but a lot more focus put into her allies, particularly Agos and Khine, as they try to go home. I’ll touch back to Tali in a bit but I do want to give a special mention to Agos. After the reveal of his and Tali’s affair at the last part of the book, I’ve really been interested in where this book would take his development. He is loyal to her to the last and he also clearly loves her, which can be destructive and dangerous.
Agos is definitely my favourite character in this book for many reasons that would spoil the book but I especially enjoy him as a foil for Tali. He is loyal to the point of bloodshed and makes it clear, many times in fact, he will happily kill her husband Rayyel for what she has had to put up with due to him leaving. He is a powerful warrior, often leaving as many as 5 people dead in one fight. He speaks plainly and he will always see Tali as a Princess. But it only goes to show, when you have a character as angry and determined next to Tali at all times, how not so unlike him she can be herself. Agos and Khine develop a lot over the plot as well, which I like. It makes sense that Agos wouldn’t be happy to have another man being important to Tali but i do like how he does come to care for Khine. He trains him to use a sword, praises Khine for his skills as a con man and a medic and there is some healthy respect there come the end. It would be good to see more of this in fantasy so hats off to K.S Villoso for this.
I think the true stand out of these books will remain to be Tali herself however. We got some God tier development from her in the first book, we even got to see how guarded she was where she hides things from even the reader. Her affair with Agos and the innkeeper who was killed for catching them for one! I was shook by that! But she somehow, has so many more layers we get to see here. Her constant measuring of herself to herself to the vision of her that her father, Yeshin, impressed on her. Her journey back to Jin-Sayeng and the harsh reality of many places she has never bothered to visit have such an impact on her. Even where she tries to help, one moment in particular with a wild dragon, leaves her still in a no win situation. She’s really got to come to terms to where the Queen begins and ends in her. As more and more trauma strip her armour from her, we clearly see what she is at the end of the day. A mother who just wants to hold her son, a woman who wants to be loved and a child who wants her dad.
There is no other words I have for how this book left me. I genuinely felt the grave circumstances that are made very real by the end of this story. The way moments at the start of the book come back to be mirrored at the very end only add to the emotional weight of what comes and makes me both scared and excited for the final entry in the series.
Thank you to Orbit books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for review. Thanks for checking in guys, stay safe and happy reading.