The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro, by K.S. Villoso, is equal parts compelling, refreshing, engrossing, and frustrating. The novel has a problem– it has an extremely rough start in the service of setting up a brilliant finale. Before I dive in and start lauding the book’s many positive qualities, I want to say this upfront: if you get easily frustrated with dumb characters, or you don’t like investing in unenjoyable characters for long term payoff, this book likely isn’t for you. However, if you consider yourself of great patience, want to read a refreshing fantasy story, and like character growth, I may have a treat for you.
Oren-Yaro grabbed my attention right off the bat with its premise. Our story follows Queen Talyien. Princess of a country that lost a bloody war, she was sold off as a hostage bride to the winning side in order to secure peaceful days for both nations. This works (for a while) until her husband metaphorically goes for a pack of cigarettes and just never comes back. Left to raise their only son and govern a hostile nation, Talyien suddenly has problems. However, she manages to make do and come out on top, until she receives a message from her deadbeat co-monarch (duarch?) that he wants to meet and talk. She agrees to meet him and this is where our story takes off. The story follows Talyien as she navigates her way to the meeting, deals with the meeting (which is a request for a divorce), and decides what she wants to do. All of it is a rollercoaster of both good and bad.
The good: Talyien, when alone, is really fun to watch. There are a number of “princess slumming it” scenes that are very endearing with great dialogue. The investigation of divorce in a feudal state is interesting – and Villoso’s idea of how it might play out is captivating. There is a clear air of mystery and unreliable narrator in the first 90% of the book, and the reveal of what has been hidden at the end is pretty good.
The bad: Talyien, when with other characters, is awful. She is obnoxious, seems to drop several points of intelligence, and is just grating. The politics and lore of the world feel unnecessarily dense and confusing due to their stark and vague descriptions. Several of the supporting cast, like Talyien’s son, have zero character depth other than “make Talyien feel bad.” Seriously, her son shows up like five times in the first quarter of the book and all he ever contributes is “why did you make dad go away?” The unreliable narration is a little too unreliable. Talyien comes off as unlikable due to a perceived lack of consistent character for the majority of the book and it can be very hard to read.
The ending of the book is awesome, but I had to be told by someone else to finish the novel as I quit Oren-Yaro my first time reading it due to frustration. I think Villoso played her cards a little too close to the chest in order to make a grand reveal– though the reveal is indeed grand. If you have a lot of patience and you find the premise compelling, I hesitantly recommend The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro. However, I think its choppy narration and its sometimes difficult characters would make it hard to recommend it to everyone.
Rating: The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro – 6.0/10