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 home beckons, strewn with a tangled web of deceit and impossible 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 confront the myth others have built around her: Warlord Yeshin’s daughter, symbol of peace, warrior and queen, and everything she could never be.
The price of failure is steep. Her friends are few. And a nation carved by a murderer can only be destined for war.
trigger warning: PTSD, suicidal thoughts, mass self sacrifice, mention of sexual abuse, threat of sexual assault, threat of rape, mention of abortion, death of a child, mention of rape, mention of child abuse, mention of atrocities and massacres, sex trafficing, death, violence, body horror, mourning of a loved one
Thank you to Angela Man and Orbit books for sending me an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.
Things K.S. Villoso is at fault for:
- my lack of sleep
- the sobbing (for the 1000th time)
- thinking about the way Khine holds Tali’s hand
- the end of part 1
- my sanity
- the sweet sweet pain
I am utterly surprised that a sequel could be this good. I am very tempted to give a 6th star just for the recap.
This is a reader lying on the floor crying into a pillow type of book. I was DMing Veronica from Moon and Coffee’s because you need someone to talk to while reading this book. Get a fluffer while you read this book. Seriously. Don’t be like me and read this while also reading the Poppy War. The sequel to The Wolf of Oren-Yaro starts straight off where it ends. Our heroine is writing her story on ink and paper.
Tali writing her own story reminds me the reader that historians often misinterpret or revise history to push the point they want to make where real people and their complicated stories are concerned. What Villoso does so brilliantly, though, is she makes us question whether Tali’s self described pride gets in the way of telling us the realities of what her actions mean for her people. Villoso wants us to analyze things through Tali to see the complicated systems of power. For people like Agos, a friend that loves her but is seething with jealousy. Growing up lower class puts him in a position of servant more often than friend. Khine, walks by her side but gets thrown in the middle of the madness of Jinsein politics. Maybe things are more complicated than even Tali is able to tell us.
This book is a travel fantasy. Our hero travels to Jin Sayeng to save him from the dangers of her enemies. Mad Zarojo politicians are moving the chess pieces against her and so Tali along with Khine, Agos and Nor cross the lands and water to reach her son. Her crown is not the most important to Tali. It is her son, Thanh. She is a mother first and foremost. In most fantasy stories where I see mothers, they’re depicted as demure because they are mothers. I also see mothers depicted as having to prioritize their power over love because otherwise she’s not considered “strong.” The “strong” heroine, often written by men, has to act like all the men in the fantasy novel in order to be respected as a hero. Women, especially WOC, should get to be messy, complicated, cruel, unlikeable, arrogant and still be loving. ‘Strong’ is such an annoying descriptor honestly because it refuses to acknowledge how women are complicated and sometimes mess up because we have these real things called emotions. The added notion of “strong” also connotes racist microaggressions for WOC since white people have this expectation that WOC especially have to be strong with all the that white people have done to them. That’s messed up.
Tali has been burned before and the result (for those of you that have read the Wolf of Oren-Yaro) was doing something stupid as a reult of placing her heart on her sleeve. She’s very calculating and untrusting of people, particularly men. In the Ikessar Falcon many of the characters are going through it. A lot of them are dealing with trauma from the first book and so we see things that (as someone that has PTSD) feels very much like stress disorders and depression.
Who wouldn’t be in her position. She tries to keep people at a distance, both because she isn’t sure if she can trust them but also because they may get hurt being thrown into the den of wolves, of whom she is queen. We see her make mistakes in this one. We see her do things that are unethical, that are kind, and that are brave. She is not a cut out character. She feels like a real person. She says and does some stupid things like real people but she also takes actions that are intelligent and badass. She is my stabby queen. I love her.
Villoso tackles a lot of the issues within Jinsein society, particularly with their class systems that many of the royals are unaware of or ignorant about. Relationships with royals and those that serve the royals may impact women in powerful positions but Villoso also reminds me that the servants in their guard suffer much more. They do not have the privilege of a powerful family behind their name. This is where Agos comes in. We get to see characters depth and personality in this book on a level we don’t in the first book. All the men (except Khine) are toxic and hypocrites. The arrogance they are allowed knows no bounds.
Tali is reminded that her privilege led her to believe that she’s deserving of a chance. Men in this world are given chances. She is not. This is not a fair world that Villoso is telling. It is one placing an eye on privilege, on class structures. It is one that feels eerie and brutal like the mass amounts of colonization Philippines and its people have experienced. Villoso likes to show us different binaries in her characters. Tali may have to work 2x as hard as men of her rank but she still has lengths on the disadvantages of lower class citizens. Agos may feel used by Tali as a lower class citizen but he also buys into a normalized toxic masculinity and therefore feels possessive and jealous over a woman that decides for herself who she wants to be with. Even the characters I’m angry or frustrated with I cry for and sometimes even agree with. Only Villoso could make me see or understand Rayyel while calling him a bitch at the same time.
The way Villoso builds up tension with atmosphere is sinfully good. The environment is used to create a build up like the eerie weather and creepy music in horror films. There is rain, rain, and more rain (my favorite weather and one of the reasons the atmosphere in this book is after my own heart). The pounding of the hunder against the windows. The way rain drenches Tali’s hair. The smell of candles and tomes being read in the middle of the night. Blood on the floor. The way a knife is pulled out. The stepping of feet behind them. Never would I imagine that sea foam would be described like it is a looming sign of death. God. I love it all.
Assassins. Tropical forests. Waterfall cave scenes with a thief and a queen (wags eyebrows). A unique magic system, a tapestry i would like on my wall, a dragon arena fight scene, thieves fighting for their hurt and broken hearts, and love so good it hurts. I am traumatized by the very way a sweet thief holds Tali’s hand. As would be expected there is gore, gore, gore. Swoon.
I want everybody to be safe and snuggled up in blankies with teddy bears but Villoso likes to unravel my heart like I’m a falcon and she’s my evil falconer. I am hurting. I am not okay. This is the most traumatizing and addictive book I’ve read in a long ass time. I had a hard time reading anything else. All I want is Khine and Tali holding hands and dancing off into the sunset. Is that too much to ask?
K.S. Villoso: smiles with a dagger
Talyien struggles between being queen and a woman; between being a leader drowning in misogynistic expectations and a woman making bad choices as a result of her husband’s actions. Villoso draws on the humanity and complexity that has been seriously overlooked in fantasy for too long. Tali is human. She cannot be the emotionless and strong woman her father wanted her to be. It is an impossible fairy tale she cannot attain. We do stupid things for love. I love it when authors mess with our perceptions.
This book is sweet pain and a mindfuck and a half. If the Wolf of Oren-Yaro was a dagger, the Ikessar Falcon is the assassin.