[BLOG TOUR] The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

by - December 10, 2019

The Wolf of Oren-yaro by KS Villoso. To be released on 18 February 2020.

(Look at this GORGEOUS cover! It shines in sunlight!)

The Wolf of Oren-yaro is remarkable because of its circumstances.

1. It is a Filipino and Southeast Asian-centric fantasy written by a Filipino woman
2. It was originally an indie novel that was then acquired by Orbit Books and published traditionally
3. It wasn't possible even ten years ago, when the traditional publishing sphere would have rejected a fantasy novel with an Asian protagonist and brimming with Asian cultures and references
4. It is my first physical ARC as a(n international) book blogger. This book has gone full circle; it has come home.

It is also remarkable because of its content:

  • The protagonist, Tali, like all women, struggles with everyone's expectations: to be the perfect mother, wife, and queen. She bends but she does not break. She chooses to love, even if loving is what hurts her.
  • It is luscious and vibrant and so vividly written that I could see every line unfolding in front of me
  • It is more than skin-deep. The references to Filipino culture, values, and history are refreshingly real--from a fellow Filipino. You would not recognize them if you weren't a Filipino who has truly lived here and studied history.

This is why I'm so grateful to Shealea (via Caffeine Book Tours) for hosting this tour and allowing me to be a part of it. This book means a lot to me--and while the real review comes at the end--this post is also a celebration of all that The Wolf of Oren-yaro and Ms. Villoso represent.

Because I respect her so so much and it is an honor to be here!

What is The Wolf of Oren-yaro about?

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.
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is an adult high fantasy. However, it's more action-filled than magical. It chronicles Queen Tali's journey to find her husband and return to her throne. There are dragons and magicians and ghosts in dreams but it's mostly a story about a powerless queen who fights to regain her power.

A moodboard for Wolf of Oren-Yaro

Who is K.S. Villoso?

K.S. Villoso was born in a dank hospital on an afternoon in Albay, Philippines, and things have generally been okay since then. After spending most of her childhood in a slum area in Taguig (where she dodged death-defying traffic, ate questionable food, and fell into open-pit sewers more often than one ought to), she and her family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, where they spent the better part of two decades trying to chase the North American Dream. She is now living amidst the forest and mountains with her family, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.

Check out her website here.

Why is this book so special?

Please read this brilliant interview with the author on her experiences as a marginalized writer. I have been so strongly inspired by her strength and determination. K.S. Villoso is the definition of "never giving up". And as someone who is also trying to get published in the US, I understand her experiences. In fact, hers are worse, because it's only recently that the Western publishing sphere has been opening up to more diversity.

Listen, this is a world where Rin Chupeco's Filipino fantasy was unsellable and unmarketable for years (here and here), where Reni Amayo was told to "tone down" her book cover with black protagonists for her African fantasy in 2019 (read here), where in 2018, more children's books had animal protagonists than all kids of color, combined (here). And that's not even all of it.

The publishing industry is improving slowly. More professionals of color are also becoming agents, editors, and working in the pub houses. But it's still not perfect. And we still have a long way to go.

But more on that later.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a fun, fast-paced, action-filled, sword and sorcery adult fantasy novel. It just happens to have a Filipino protagonist and a universe inspired by Asian cultures. There's no fetishization, no weird misunderstandings of the culture, no skeevy marketing ploy. It's sincere, fun, and honest in its portrayals. Tali is relatable to anyone, regardless of their culture; she just happens to be Filipino. I'm so glad this casual expression is getting more normalized.

But now that you understand how important she is... let's talk about the book itself. Why is the book so special? Well:
  • The protagonist is called The Bitch Queen. How badass is that??
  • It's full of betrayals and political intrigue. Delicious. Imagine if Game of Thrones had an Asian setting and a female protagonist.
  • There's a thief with a heart of gold. He's my fave, if you can't tell :))
  • Tali has to rely on her wits to manipulate others and survive. Sure, she can wield a sword, but she also learns to maneuver like a piece on the chessboard. 
  • At times, it's also sweet and funny. The universe is quite dark, but the author manages to inject some humor and lightheartedness in some scenes. That made it more fun to read.
What else did I like?

Well, check out these kick-ass first lines:

Hurricans destroy villages and they call it senseless; the winter winds come and they call it cold. What else did they expect from my people, the Oren-yaro, the ambitious savages who created a war that nearly ripped Jin-Sayeng apart? I almost think that if my reign had started without bloodshed and terror, they would have been disappointed.
I did not regret killing the man. He had it coming, and my father had taught me to take action before you second-guess yourself.

Read on for a SPOILER-FREE REVIEW of this novel!


1. Luscious Asian-inspired worldbuilding

I absolutely felt like I was in Tali's world with her. The worldbuilding in this novel is divine. Expect a dirty city reminiscent of Manila, mouthwatering food descriptions, characters that come alive in your head, and easy to understand geopolitics.

I keep talking about how it's so undeniably, subtly Filipino. You might be wondering why. Well, culture is an iceberg. The obvious things like language and clothing and food are just the tip of it, but the majority is underwater, not easily seen. Values, attitudes, and history make up that underwater majority. It's not easily identifiable unless you're truly aware of it.

Ways that The Wolf of Oren-Yaro reflected the Philippines in a fantasy-setting:

A. Tali's devotion to familial duty. 

I think everyone is aware of how family is so important to Asians. And how families can control our lives. It's normal to live in service of the family, even if it means sacrificing yourself. Tali always puts duty before herself, which is so painful but so noble and real.

B. Tali suffering because of other people's opinions of her.

Saving face is very important in our culture. You can't just be blunt and offensive. Every move must be respectful and calculated, even if you hate someone. As queen, Tali has an even bigger burden of reputation on her shoulders.
They were Oren-yaro, and loyal to me, but people were always watching, always talking. There was nothing I did that wasn't torn apart and re-examined, hidden meanings wedged between my words, the shadows growing taller than the truth.
I liked smiles. In my world, they could mean anything: a hidden joke to a friend, a threat to an enemy. There are songs written about my smiles and what usually comes after them.
He didn't at all understand that people judged him for how he looked. Even worse, he didn't understand that people judged me for how he looked.
C. Hiding poverty behind glamour and glittering walls.

The Philippines is a third-world country where the majority of the population lives under the poverty line. The divide between rich and poor is soaringly high. Sometimes it's just a matter of one wall or one block dividing the ultra-wealthy neighborhoods with skyscrapers and mansions and the ultra-poor shantytowns with no access to clean water.

Tali travels to a city that seems very beautiful and advanced at first, but as she explores the heart of it, she discovers that the high, fortified walls that keep the king in were just hiding the true nature of its citizens. Starving children and beggars. Urine-soaked streets. Sewers and muck. The king who lives lavishly doesn't care about his citizens at all.

And well, yeah, that reflects our corrupt country entirely. But more literally, this has actually happened. Politicians have set up walls to hide the poor from the rich. Check out this article for more information. Imelda Marcos, obscenely lavish wife of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, tried to do that in the 1970s... and it happened again in 2012. Ugh.

This might be a negative reality, but it's a real issue, and I'm so glad Villoso mirrored it in an accurate manner (that was neither insulting nor over-praising)

D. The nature of regional politics.

The warlords don't get concerned about each other. Jinseins worry about their provinces before the nation, and the warlords are only concerned with their cities and their bannermen.
I can't explain all of Philippine history and geopolitics in one book blog post, but basically, this country is a melting pot. Even the concept of Filipino is colonial, since the exact borders of the Philippines were formed by the Spanish and the Americans. Before we were Filipino, we were Tagalogs, Kapampangans, Ilokanos, Bisaya... etc. And while obviously, we have national unity, we have similar cultures and ethnicities, there are still some major differences between each region and province. In fact, some of these people speak different languages entirely. Somebody from the north of the Philippines might not be able to understand someone from the south, assuming they both speak their native non-Tagalog language.

It's normal to meet a fellow Filipino and ask where are you from? They might answer: I'm from Bulacan, I'm from Cebu, my family is from Davao... When you meet someone who's also from the same province as you, who speaks the same language, then it's like coming home. We divide ourselves not just through ethnicity, gender, or social class, but also through home provinces and language. It makes sense, of course, that you feel more connected with your home province than the abstract entirety of a nation.

Moving on, what else I liked:

2. Likable characters

There's a crooked thief with a heart of gold and a queen fighting for her family. Both of them have captured my heart.

3. Non-stop action

I couldn't stop reading because I needed to know what happened next! And I actually enjoyed how, for the most part, we focused more on plot and character development than romance. Well, the romance is an important part of the plot, but it's tackled in a very objective way. Most of the time I need a love story, but I can also appreciate a strong independent woman and the friends she makes along the way.


1. Most of the male characters are... horrible

I just hated how most of the male characters treated Tali. Although I understand that it's meant to prove a meta point, considering Tali has been underestimated all her life for being a woman AND an Oren-yaro. But still. Ugh. Men. The only two likable male characters were Tali's old advisor and the thief-with-a-heart-of-gold who eventually becomes her friend.

Basically, none of these men deserve her, my queen.

2. Plot twist ending that came out of nowhere

I like plot twists, but I also like them to be believable. I felt that the ending plot twist was a bit too out of left field and didn't have any build up leading up to it... but eh. It was a major holy shit moment, and it made me wonder what Tali would do in Book 2 to save herself and her kingdom. It was a total sequel hook, which I am not always a fan of, considering I prefer standalones. So maybe this is a personal preference.

But despite that...

I rate it 4/5 stars. If you love high fantasy, action-adventure, and women fighting despite their oppression then you will enjoy this novel. If you want a refreshing, nuanced take on an Asian fantasy written by an Asian, then you will enjoy this novel.

It will be released by Orbit Books in February 18, 2020. I can't wait!

Add it on Goodreads | Preorder on Amazon | Book Depository

Interested to read more about this book? Check out the schedules for this blog tour:

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