“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.”
So what’s the book about?
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.
“There are people who find themselves in a precarious situation, believe themselves betrayed, and will do nothing but run their tongues ragged in criticizing the world for not helping them better. Like wailing dogs in the rain, they strain against their leashes instead of turning gnaw their bonds to freedom, or sit in their piss and wait for pity.”
These aspects attracted me the most while reading.
- Tali is everything but also nothing. She is what her father gave her as a role and what she was also given as the woman of Oren-Yaro, but does she really want to be all that and who is she really? Tali is the perfect character to show what imposed roles mean for a person and how difficult it is to show one’s own character within this structure. She tries to take on different roles, the prescribed role of queen, but also the role of an ordinary person, that of a wife. But Tali soon realises that this is not possible and so her own conflict in this role begins. She wants to be a daughter, a wife and also a queen, but she never pays attention to what she wants. Tali often seemed lost with herself and I hope that she can still find herself. This conflict, which becomes stronger and stronger the further you read, made me feel very sorry for her. Because we are assigned roles based on our origins and gender without ever being asked. And it was all the nicer to read that Tali keeps stepping out of these roles and doing her own thing. It was especially great to read that Tali does not take on the role of a woman in the stereotypical way, but shows her character traits there. After all, she is not the beautiful female being that is expected of women and is therefore always seen as the source of “evil”, as well as having destroyed the marriage. Women who do not conform to their intended role always appeal to me very much, because we should also finally stop this stereotypical thinking. And so Tali seemed more feminine to me than some typical princesses.
- Character driven books are what may often give us readers more heartache and I can promise that this book will give you heartache, sometimes more than you would actually like. Tali is the focus here and it doesn’t take much more than that to keep the story exciting, because her life is pure adventure, filled with aching memories and bloody struggles for survival. And especially Tali’s past, which also influences the present, kept me guessing as a reader. The little snippets from the past were often even more exciting for me than the present, because they gave so much more depth to the story. You wonder what happened to her and her husband, what kind of man her father was, but also why she is the queen that makes her seem so unpopular today. So this story of betrayal, lies and deceit leaves nothing out that could not encourage the reader to read on. Because Tali has to confront the history of the past and present in a foreign city, one gets to know many facets of Tali – because she is not allowed to reveal herself. And so she gets to know numerous extraordinarily interesting side characters who don’t exactly make her survival any easier. Especially Khine could convince me, who seemed very mysterious at the beginning and you didn’t know what to expect from him, but he still managed to get a place in my heart (and I can promise that Khine will be even more interesting in the next volume!). This is a superbly told story, the numerous plot twists make you really devour the book, even if you have to shake your head every now and then because of Tali’s decisions.
- Asian cultures are the most interesting cultures for me, as they have very little in common with the European ones, in which I also live. And Villoso is a great example that Asian settings fit perfectly into the fantasy world and we definitely need more of them. Of course, having only a superficial knowledge of Asian cultures, I probably couldn’t understand the vastness of the details, but still I strongly felt the Asian influence. As a European, very influenced by the Japanese culture due to anime and manga, I rather imagined the Asian culture as very reserved, so I was positively surprised to get to know a culture that came across very harsh. And this was extremely refreshing to get to know another side of Asian culture, because of course the cultures are also different among themselves. So the world and also the people who live in this world seemed very cunning. Also that these rulers of different provinces were led by different clans with different characteristics, could expand the Asian setting even further, because by this the citizens of the province is based on different character traits that fit the respective clan. Thus, identification with the clan is very important, which naturally creates strong rivalries. And what is of course the most interesting thing about cultures? The food! Oh and I can only say that the book made me hungry again and again after reading because Tali eats only delicious food!
“Betrayal has a funny way of turning your world upside-down. As familiar as I had already been with it by that point, it still amazed me how far I could stretch that moment of denial. The thought of what had been—of what could yet be—persisted. Perhaps it is not the same for most people. Perhaps, when you love less, it is easier not to let the emptiness become a cavern from which you could no longer see the sun.”
What did not work for me!
There was actually very little that bothered me about the book. But I approached the book with completely different expectations, I had not expected that the book takes place mainly in the foreign city. Therefore, I would like to warn only, who expects a great journey here, is wrong with this book!
“I found it hard to believe that Rai used his charm to pull off such a feat—the man was about as charismatic as the bottom of a chamber pot.”
So what are my final thoughts about it?
Villoso has not only managed to create one of the best female characters – no, she’s created a great world along the way, filled with a plot that just makes your heart ache. But this fantasy book manages to do more than just tell a wonderful story, it rather confronts you with our own world. On the one hand, with predetermined roles that we must comply and also what family and its ideas about their own children means. In a world in which Tali is given a role, she has to break out in order to do justice to herself, and so should we. The book kept me thinking for a long time, so don’t forget to read between the lines when reading the book. The book also gives you time to create your own theories about Tali’s past, which are often disproved in the end, but this encourages the reader to incorporate his own ideas. Also, the exciting and unexpected ending made me want to read the second volume even more and hopefully we will get more answers in this volume. I can not wait to see how our bitch queen, hopefully becomes a worthy queen!
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