The land of Jin-Sayeng has been torn apart by civil war, its longtime rulers, the Ikessar Dragonlords, deposed by the Oren-Yaro clan after they lost their vaunted dragons. The planned marriage between Talyien, the new queen of Jin-Sayeng and daughter of the late Oren-Yaro warlord, and Rayyel, last scion of the Ikessars, has disintegrated. So when Talyien receives a message from her estranged husband, offering her a chance at reconciliation, she leaves her fractured country in secret for a meeting in the neighboring empire of Zirinar-Orxiaro. There she finds herself ensnared in a web of plots and deceits, forced to survive assassination attempts, forbidden magics, slavers and lecherous mob bosses while struggling to discover who is responsible for the chaos and what they have planned for her and the country she wants to save.
K.S. Villoso’s The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a fascinating read, driven by a well-drawn cast of characters in a beautifully imagined world. None of the main characters is lacking in complexity, and Villoso gives each of them rational motivations. There are no truly evil figures in this novel, only people who are willing to justify varying amounts of immorality and harm to achieve their purposes. Those who come closest to a traditional antagonist’s role are merely those whose goals are selfish or banal, whose regard for other people is low. Although both Jin-Sayeng and Zirinar-Orxiaro are built on a magical bedrock, the realistic characters within them lend The Wolf of Oren-Yaro a bite that even the darkest of grimdark fantasy often lacks.
Villoso palpably renders the moral grime and corruption that pervades almost every scenario Talyien encounters. And she distinguishes Talyien’s few safe havens with a remarkable subtlety. At no point does Villoso’s own voice disappear; rather, she merely wields it differently to imply different atmospheres. The superb world building combined with the well-built dramatic structure of the novel draws the reader on in a way that solely ramping up the tension would not. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro tops it all off with a battery of cliffhangers involving Talyien’s past and the nature of magic itself that bodes well for the rest of the series.