A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.
“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”
Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.
But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.
Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.
I went into this book not quite knowing what to expect; a series called The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen does set up certain expectations, especially about the personality of the main character. I expected the book to be about a ruthless, snarky, and mean ruler, and Talyien certainly can be. Instead what I realised quite quickly is that K.S. Villoso has written a nuanced book about a woman doing her best to keep a Kingdom together and to heal old wounds by getting answers, while the peace she has worked to build becomes tenuous and fragile.
The book is rife with wonderful and engaging characters. Talyien is such an interesting main character to follow. She is a woman in an extremely difficult situation, and though the situation changes throughout the book it only becomes more and more difficult. This book is about her navigating and getting through each and every one of them, and even though mistakes are made, it is fascinating to follow her. Khine, the con-artist we meet when Talyien desperately needs a friend, is a character I struggled to warm to at the beginning, but who had stolen my heart by the end of it. Rayyel, the man she thought she would marry and rule with, is a complex and conniving character, and his relationship with Talyien is fascinating. I can’t wait to see how it develops in the next two books in the series.
Another thing I loved about this book is the world. It is so complex; the political dynamics in Talyien’s Kingdom is fascinating, with warring factions, a bloody history, and an attempt at peace that might not succeed. The political machinations really developed the world, and made the stakes of Talyien’s determination to talk to Rayyel so layered and complicated. Then there’s the Empire, where Talyien spends the majority of this book, and I love how Villoso managed created two places that are so distinct and identifiably different from one another, from the system of government to the treatment of magic in each realm.
All the aspects I’ve already mentioned just served to heighten my enjoyment of the plot. The way that the world-building, the complications of being in a foriegn land in particular, were so deeply felt because of Villoso’s strength as a character-driven author. The plot starts out straightforward — a woman scorned gets the chance to get answers — but it quickly becomes so much more. All aspects of Talyien’s character (Queen, leader, wife, mother) come into play with every decision made. I was amazed by how well Villoso wrote a character-driven story that still felt like a page-turner. Taylien’s decisions are pivotal to the plot, as are the decisions of any other character, and Talyien’s character is so well-written that all those decisions made sense.
For all of those reasons and more, this book is a magnificent example of character-driven fantasy done well. The ball starts rolling precisely because Talyien is stubborn and hurt, and can’t resist the potential to confront the man she thought she would marry. When shit hits the fan (which it does, quite spectacularly), and whenever she gets into trouble, she works a way through it using her wits, her abilities, and her stubbornness, sometimes for the better but also for the worse.
Talyien is called a bitch, but is very much warm and caring with a heart that has been damaged by losses throughout her life. These have hardened her, but the core is still there and I can’t wait to read how Talyien navigates the chaos coming her way, and whether she keeps that caring core or whether she has to shed it.