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The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen
by K. S. Villoso

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 26, 2020
Edits and Addenda on July 15 & 22, 2021

1. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro / 2. The Ikessar Falcon / 3. The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng

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"They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I [REDACTED] and exiled my king the night before they crowned me."

I edited the sentence that opens the book, not that it would spoil much, considering we don't learn the particulars of the redacted part until late in the book. It might create a false perception of the character, or it might be the correct perception, but you need to read it to decide for yourself. This is not a new book, and yet it is. Originally self-published, it is being re-issued in paperback by Orbit. My request for an ARC was declined by Edelweiss, but then I found out it was already available on Kindle, so I purchased it. I later learned about the previous publication, which I assume did fairly well, at least enough to bring it to the attention of Orbit.

The concept of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is not original, but the execution is impressive. It may be clichéd and full of standard fantasy tropes, but everything is done so well; the characterizations, world-building, plot, and exposition. We even have the unreliable narrator, Jin-Sayeng's Queen Talyien aren dar Orenar. That first sentence above also contains a falsehood. How could she exile her king when he wasn't yet a king? Talyien's father Yeshin betrothed her to the son of a rival warlord in an effort to broker peace and end a civil war he had initiated. Yeshin died while Tali was a teenager, several years before her marriage to the Ikessar Prince Rayyel. They already have a son, Thanh, even before their joint coronation, but the night before that ceremony Rayyel leaves her, and she has received only one letter from him in the five years since, just the first few lines of which she read. Then a second letter arrives, asking for a meeting. Keeping her actions as secretive as possible, she and her most trusted advisers and guards travel across the sea to Anzhao City in the kingdom of Ziri-nar-Orixiaro. Her only plan was to plea for Rayyel to return with her to the castle at Oren-Yaro, to reunite with his son and reclaim his place on the throne beside her. That plan fails.

During the meeting, in which Rayyel proposes splitting the provinces of their kingdom between them, they are interrupted by assassins. Talyien's chief of staff is killed and she is wounded. She is not able to determine if she was the primary target, or if it was Rayyel, or perhaps one of his advisers, but she doesn't stick around long enough to find out. Leaping from a window, she makes her way through dark alleys and drainage tunnels. She'd had a previous encounter with a thief and conman, Khine, who tries to come to her aid, but she doubts if she can trust him. Many other close calls follow, entanglements with other thieves, shady merchants, even a brothel madam, to whom she is indentured. Traps, imprisonments, escapes, and constant confusion as to whom she can trust. She's not sure if it's safe to reveal her identity, or whether that might put her in even more danger. It's possible her guards betrayed her, she has no way to get word to or from her court, no way to know if Thanh is safe, and no funds to arrange a trip back to Jin-Sayeng. Talyien is a strong character, but not without her faults, which include misdirection and diversion (perhaps even lying) in discussing her previous actions. It is a testament to Villoso's talent that she can present a flawed character that is sympathetic in one scene, followed by another in which she seems despicable. She may have perfect reasons for behaving as she does. I look forward to the next book to either confirm that, or if it will reveal her true nature, although based on the title it might be as much about Rayyel as Talyien.

Villoso was born and raised in the Philippines, but currently lives in Canada with her husband Mikhail, who helped her create their small press, Liam's Vigil Publishing. This book was completed in 2017, then published the following year, and used copies are probably still available, but hopefully the new publications will bring her strong voice to a wider audience. I guess I first heard of it in an Edelweiss email, or it might have been a mention on Twitter. I've been reading more fantasy of late, and seeking a diversity of authors, so I gave this a chance and was very impressed. However, I also found out that she does not like to be classified as "diverse." I won't duplicate her words here, just direct you to read her blog, perhaps you'll find her point as logical as I did.


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Posted July 15, 2021
The title of the second book is a bit misleading. Prince Rayyel does appear in more scenes than he did in the first, but not that many, and it's hardly from his perspective. A falcon is the sigil of the Ikessar family, just as a wolf is for the Orenars. Jin-Sayeng is comprised of many other provinces than just those two, each of them headed by a warlord, although a few have no royals, just the head of the most prominent merchant family. Talyien and Rayyel were supposed to rule over them all from the Dragonthrone, but there were doubts about the loyalty of several warlords even before Rayyel's disappearance. Some of the disloyalty was from within his own province. Many considered him a bastard, not a true Ikessar, but they had to accept him since succession was through the mother's line, and Lady Ryia Ikessar had declared him the true heir. Yeshin had won the war, but there was still resentment from many quarters due to his ruthless tactics. We later learn he had done things his worst critics, and Talyien, would not have believed possible from the Wolf Warlord. The first book ended with another brief meeting between Talyein and Rayyel, but they were still not able to come to a consensus about their marriage or their mutual duties to Jin-Sayeng.

It takes almost half the book before she is back in Jin-Sayeng, nearly a full year since her departure. Both before and after her return, she is confronted with many other people and groups pursuing their own agendas. This is a much longer book than the first, and also more disjointed in plot progression and pacing. Some of the elements may come back into play in the concluding volume, but there were times I felt there was too much padding, too much repetition of action, and several awkward info dumps. There is a positive progression of Talyien's awareness of how she had been manipulated in the past, by her father and other council members. She learns things about the other provinces that she should have known before, and she realizes most of that was less her fault, and more that information had been withheld from her. One thing that I don't like about a lot of epic fantasy is huge battles, nameless, faceless warriors dying for their king or queen or warlord. There isn't much of that here, and what there is is mainly reminiscences of past wars. There are minor skirmishes, but there isn't much tension there when you realize those fighting against Talyien aren't using their best efforts, since they are more concerned with directing her movements for their own advantage. The last thing they want is her dead.

There is another character, whom I won't identify, who keeps getting injured, very seriously on occasion, and several times Talyien thought she was rid of him, but he keeps popping back up and finding her again. One thing that might explain that is the agan, supposedly the fabric of a reality beyond the world, the source of power employed by mages. Talyien had thought that magic was outlawed in Jin-Sayeng, or at least in the majority of the provinces, but many had been using it in secret for years. Even she may have been affected by it, perhaps the reason behind her connection to a spirit world in which she encounters her dead father, even her dead brothers whom she had never met since they had died before she was born. I won't mention one other thing that the agan may have made possible, but I'm hoping all will be resolved in The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng, which I've already started. So, not as good as the first book, but mainly because of the pacing and repetitive action. Still an interesting story of a remarkable woman, who may turn out to be exactly what her people need, if they give her the chance.

One other thing. Some places across the 'net identify these books as Chronicles of the Wolf Queen, while others, including the author's website, use Bitch Queen. Not sure why there is a discrepancy, considering the first sentence of the first book, which is quoted on the back cover of the paperback. At times Talyien is admirable, but she can also be bitchy. If she is a wolf, since she's female I suppose bitch would be an appropriate designation. I'm keeping that for the URL and title of this review page.


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Posted July 22, 2021
I have to keep my comments on The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng brief, since to explain all my disappointments would involve too many spoilers. This has nothing to do with Villoso's writing talents, which impressed me in the first book, and even in the second, although to a lesser extent. It's mainly about the plot choices she made, which may have been inevitable based on previous events, but still not what I expected or wanted. It may have worked better in third-person, because Talyien's telling is full of many gaps, places she started to reveal something but then didn't, not to mention all the action that was going on in other areas. What we get is what she knew at various times, or things she was told by others that she reveals to us, then later she receives new information. I choose to think of the fourth section being in third person means it's either an alternate ending, or maybe a dream sequence. I'd prefer to think Talyien's fate is what is assumed at the end of part three.

There is more fighting than in the previous two books combined, but it's not just the brutality that was depressing, it was the way almost everyone continually shifted allegiances, as well as how some of Talyien's actions repulsed me. Talyien had always been torn between the love she felt for her father, and disgust for how many of his actions had constricted her means of forging her own destiny. Why did she continue to follow his wishes after the many negative things she learned about him, and the many things she discovers that had been withheld from her? Yeshin was sixteen years dead, yet the plans he had set in motion even before Talyien was born still controlled many of her councilers and armsmen, and eventually Talyien herself, no matter how many times she wanted to turn away from them. Why did Yeshin not deal with the problems himself instead of relying on his daughter to complete the task? How could he have foreseen future events, and how could he be sure Talyien would act the way he expected? The rift in the fabric of the agan was known for a long time. How could Yeshin be sure it would not totally engulf Jin-Sayeng before Talyien was ready. Thirty years!

My reaction to these books seems to be the opposite of the majority, at least the way they're rated on Goodreads. I gave the first book a solid four stars, perhaps as high as 4.5, but less than 4 for the second book, and only 3 for the conclusion. The consensus is the reverse of that, with the third book ranked almost a full point higher than the first. Epic fantasy is very popular, and I have enjoyed some, but have bounced off others that have been highly recommended. I can't say I won't read any more of them, in fact I have a few others I may get to soon. How I react to them will help determine how many others I'm willing to try. As in all things, YMMV.


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K. S. Villoso


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