The Wolf of Oren-Yaro (Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, #1)
by K.S. Villoso

4.5 stars, actually

As soon as you start reading, it becomes clear the bitch queen of Oren-Yaro, Tali, is going to rule your heart as well as the plot of the book. She is desperately trying to keep her fractious and aggressive small island country of warlords from tearing themselves apart without the help of her consort, the prince of another strong clan.

He’s deserted her and their son and gone across the sea to a neighboring and powerful Empire. She has to go get him.

But things don’t go as planned. There is betrayal brewing amongst her people, and as soon as she sets foot in the country where her husband has fled it becomes painfully clear how little power she wields. What follows is a story of Tali surviving, Tali surviving assassination attempts, intrigue, forced courtesan-hood, and mad princes.

It’s also the story of how Tali discovers that she can not be the wolf of Oren-yaro if she runs after a man she isn’t sure even loves her, and also about how she meets one, trustworthy foreigner who will go out of his way to help her because she reminds him of a lost love.

There’s so much of Tali being lost, and wondering, and looking for help and being turned away, and basically getting into scrapes that I couldn’t imagine how this book would resolve.

At the end I realized, it doesn’t. Not TAli’s political predicament nor her romantic one. In face, even more layers of intrigue are uncovered in her wondering that makes things even worse. It’s a true cliffhanger of a first novel. But its almost forgiveable because of Tali’s alternating wry, demanding, and vulnerable voice that carries you through the story.

There’s much said about the Philippino and East Asian influence to the detailed world created here. I don’t know enough about the Philippino culture to judge, but it certainly had a different flavor then ye olde European high fantasies…with a definite theme of clan and loyalty.

I hate obvious first book cliffhangers, but I’ll definitely be following Tali into the next part of her story.