This is the first review I’ve written since January so I hope I’m able to convey to you how incredible this book was, even if I am a little out of practice. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a dark, gritty adult fantasy & has some of the best plotting that I’ve ever encountered – Tali’s story was precisely what I needed during this horrendous time.
⚠️ Graphic & bloody violence throughout, attempted & references to sexual violence, classism & poverty, sexual references, fire, threats of violence against a child & other gritty subjects ⚠️
Queen Talyien has ruled on her own ever since her husband left the night before their coronation – with a son to care for & people to lead, Talyien has had to become the strong & fierce leader her father trained her to be, whilst secretly trying to nurse a broken heart. Years after that horrible night, Talyien receives a letter from her husband asking her to meet him, so in the middle of the night the Queen gathers a small troop & rides off to find the man she loves. But, nothing goes how Talyien expects & there are even more traps & lies surrounding her than she ever could have ever predicted. This is a fast paced, gritty & shocking adult fantasy that swallowed me whole. It was brilliant.
From the get-go I really liked protag Talyien (or, Tali); the way that she thought about things felt incredibly familiar to me, & I found it easy to connect with her. Tali was brought up by a father who was a cruel & brutal man so the world’s perception of Tali is that she is the same as her late-father; & she is just as fierce & strong as her father. But, unknown to those who surround her every single day, she also has a softer side that is still hurting after her husband left. Tali isn’t a perfect ruler, she messes up & often has moments of monumental self-doubt, however it’s impossible to deny that she only wants the best for herself, her son & her people. The journey that Tali is forced to endure during this novel is brutal, but I never doubted her capability to survive.
I also want to briefly mention another character, Khine. I fell in love with this man almost immediately; I loved his laid-back attitude & his banter with Tali, but it was always clear that there was more to him that what he first appeared to be. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that when Khine & Tali first meet, he doesn’t know who she is, but when all is finally revealed he reacts in a way so different to what we normally see – he doesn’t get mad, he doesn’t hate her for lying or accuse her of using him; the truth is, Tali couldn’t hide her heritage & up-bringing completely, no matter how hard she tried, so Khine was able to work out that she came from a different background to what she had claimed, & so a different background to him. We learn during the book that Khine is a very intelligent man, & I love that Villoso was true to that when writing his reaction to Tali’s identity. His reaction to Tali’s secret is the main reason I fell for him, but he’s also just wonderful in general & I would like to claim him as my book-boyfriend.
The hardest part of this review is definitely this bit, the bit about the plot, because damn Villoso absolutely smashed it. I know almost every fantasy like this book comes with twists & uncertainties, but the standard of them in this book was outstanding. It’s so unclear what’s going on & the reader is left just as unsure & un-trusting as the protagonist. It was so refreshing reading a story where I couldn’t predict anything at all. This is definitely a character led story, but the character leading it is not Talyien – in fact, the plot of this book is almost completely & entirely a ruse set up by one of the characters in the book… & we don’t even see much of that character, which just adds to the shock-factor. Throughout the story you think you’re learning more about certain characters, but by the end you realise you actually know nothing about them (especially one character in particular). The story ends with Talyien in a very similar situation to what she was a the start, & it’s a total headfuck. A fantastic, inspiring headfuck.
I really hope I haven’t completely forgotten how to write a review because I really loved this book & I would hate for my words to not measure up to my feelings about it. It’s seriously been a long time since I was wrapped up in a story like this & I’m so thankful that I was able to read it during the pandemic. If you’re able to treat yourself to this fantastic story during this incredibly difficult time, then please do!
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