Warning: This review contains spoilers for The Wolf of Oren-Yaro.
“For if Yeshin’s sons had not been killed and he had not been compelled to march to civil war, I wouldn’t have been raised the way I was—the bearer of everything, his heir in every way, both sword arm and womb. I would have never been betrothed to Rayyel, never been born.”
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 to Jin-Sayeng beckons, strewn with a tangled web of deceit and unimaginable 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 come face-to-face with the worst enemy of all: Warlord Yeshin’s daughter, symbol of peace, warrior and queen, and everything she could never be. For the price for failure is steep, her friends are few, and a nation carved by a murderer can only be destined for war.”
At this stage it’s fair to say that I’m something of a fan of Villoso’s work, and after the absolute delight that was The Wolf of Oren-Yaro I was super excited to dig in to The Ikessar Falcon. I’m pleased to be able to report that it’s a very worthy second entry in this series, neatly avoiding some of the issues that so often bog down those difficult middle books. However, there are key differences with the pacing and ‘feel’ of The Ikessar Falcon that set it apart from its predecessor.
Where Oren-Yaro was a claustrophobic tale of a woman lurching from one disaster to the next, Ikessar widens the scale of the story and shows us a woman deeply in conflict with herself. Here the shadow of her father looms larger than ever, as Talyien’s greatest critic, advisor and constant (though not necessarily welcome) companion. Here we see Villoso at perhaps her most introspective, successfully balancing themes of loss, loneliness, determination, and the true self versus the façade. All this within an ambitious and exciting tale of political intrigue, conspiracy, and at the center of it all, a parent desperate to protect her child.
Fans of The Agartes Epilogues will be delighted to find that there is quite a bit of crossover here, which is cleverly handled and likely to intrigue those who have not yet read the original trilogy rather than confuse them. The fantasy elements in play are also turned up to 11, with dragons taking the central role in a conspiracy that could change the face (and power balances) of Agos-Agan forever. Talyien finds herself adrift, pulled this way and that by the ruthless and the power hungry, isolated and never fully sure of who to trust. The easy chemistry and playful banter she shared with Khine in the first entry has been replaced by stiff formality early in the novel, increasing her sense of anguish and leaving her no-one with whom she can be herself. It is often heartbreaking to read, especially given that her first instinct is usually to blame herself for her situation. For readers who want their protagonists to always make smart and logical decisions, Tali might not be for you. But for readers who appreciate a protagonist who feels truly human, she’s a real treat. It’s often a pitfall of first person PoV novels that the other characters can feel flat since we’re not privy to their inner thoughts, but Villoso does a fantastic job of making all of her main cast into complex voices with their own motivations and needs.
The worldbuilding, as always, is top-notch. As well as the beautiful cultural details peppered throughout, I found myself marveling at the new information we are given about the inner workings of the Agan, the bestiary of the world and the depth of its history – I cannot imagine the amount of notes this must require. It is easily one of the richest fantasy worlds I have had the pleasure of inhabiting. The pacing is something of a slow burn in the first half, but when it accelerates we’re treated to a number of truly memorable scenes and events, my favorite of which involves a dragon and an arena – it’s real edge of your seat stuff. Overall I’d have to say that if Villoso can keep up this momentum, The Annals of the Bitch Queen will likely take its place as one of my favorite fantasy trilogies ever, and an excellent example of the potential of self-published work.
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Non-Western Setting
- Published in 2018
- Features a Mountain Setting
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings
- RRAWR Author