A Tunnel in the Sky

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Chronicles of the Bitch Queen
by K. S. Villoso

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 26, 2020

Book 1: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro / 2. The Ikessar Falcon

"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, but it might create a false perception of the character. Or it might be the correct perception, but it could also be deceiving, too soon to tell. This is not a new book, and yet it is. Originally self-published, it is being re-issued in paperback by Orbit next month, February 18. My request for an ARC was declined by Edelweiss, but a later search revealed it was already available on Kindle, so I purchased it. I later found out about the previous publication, which I assume did fairly well, at least enough to bring it to the attention of Orbit.

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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 (sometimes) unreliable narrator, Queen Talyien aren dar Orenar, whose father Yeshin betrothed her to the son of a rival warlord in an effort to broker peace after a civil war he had initiated. Yeshin died while Tali was a teenager, several years before her marriage to Prince Rayyel. They have a son, Thanh, but before she is crowned Queen, Rayyel leaves her, and she has received only two letters from him in the five years since. Then a third arrives, asking for a meeting. Keeping her actions as secretive as possible, she and her most trusted advisers and guards travel to Anzhao City in the adjacent kingdom of Ziri-nar-Orixiaro. Her only plan was a plea for Rayyel to return with her to Oren-Yaro, to reunite with his son and reclaim his place on the thrown 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, who kill Talyien's chief of staff, and wound her. 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's not sure she can trust him either. 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 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, to find out if Thahn is safe, and no funds to arrange a trip back to Oren-Yaro. Talyien is a strong character, but not without her faults, which include misdirection and diversion 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, and I look forward to the next book, The Ikessar Falcon (due in September) to either confirm that or reveal her true nature, although from the title I assume it might be more about Rayyel.

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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 "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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K. S. Villoso


Amazon links:
Wolf of Oren-Yaro
Ikessar Falcon

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