The thing I loved the most about The Ikessar Falcon is the dragons. This second book in K.S. Villoso‘s CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN, published in 2020, has plenty of action, world-building, political intrigue and romantic conflicts, but in this book, we learn much more about the dragons, their connection to the magical substance agan, and their role in the nation of Jin-Sayeng.
This review may contain spoilers for the first book, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. By the way, Orbit, the publisher, has put the words “Chronicles of the Bitch Queen” right on the spine of the hardcopy books, so that’s what I’m calling it. Amazon chooses to call this series the “The Chronicles of the Wolf Queen.” I do not know why.
After her husband walked away from their marriage before he could be crowned alongside her, Queen Talyien tried to rule the fractious nation of Jin-Sayeng alone. Given the infighting among the warlord clans and Talyien’s apparent ignorance of governance in any form, it was a rough five years, with Talyien’s focus mostly on raising her young son. In the first book, a request for a meeting from her ex, Prince Rayyel, led her to the Empire of Zarojo, into an ambush and betrayal. Talyien began to realize how many external forces were arrayed against her nation. At the end of Book One, she had uncovered a magical plot, but her husband betrayed her again (to be fair, he did have a reason), and her son’s life was in jeopardy.
In The Ikessar Falcon, Talyien struggles to return to her country and her capital to save her son. She only has two of her original retinue at her side, but some Zarojo locals are helping her. Trying to find a way out of the Empire, Talyien discovers that the villain from the first book, who she was sure was dead… isn’t. She manages to reach the shores of her country, but betrayals and double-crosses continue, along with monster attacks, chases, and dragon attacks. The book came to life for me with the first dragon attack, when Talyien leads a group into the mountains to rescue the warlord’s son the dragon carried off. When she actually faces the dragon, it’s not only a breath-taking scene, but it’s educational, as we (and Talyien) learn that much of what she’d been told about the beasts is false.
That isn’t the only lie Talyien was brought up with, as it happens. More secrets are uncovered as she tries to reach the city of Oren-Yaro, where her son is being held, and her enemies have gathered.
I liked that the truth about the Jin-Sayeng’s civil war, started by Talyien’s father, came out, along with much more information about magic. The two Zarojo villains are despicable and convincingly evil. If you like your protagonists flawed, then you’ll love Talyien, who is impulsive, ignorant, self-indulgent, brooding, and often behaves stupidly. On the other hand, she is single-mindedly determined to save to her son, and physically brave, so while she isn’t necessarily admirable, she is definitely engaging.
The plot of this book requires Talyien to do things that are stupid, like getting separated from her retinue, or riding off and leaving them behind. Somehow, they always catch up with her in time to help save her, while scolding her for leaving them. Talyien ricochets from one scheme to the next. Actions she takes don’t grow organically out of the story. This makes the scenes where she is focused on one thing — like surviving a dragon attack — even more vivid and enthralling, because in those sequences we see her fully focused. Another thing that dented my suspension of disbelief was the problem of a first-person narrator who comments on things she observes, and then ignores them. One example — a character whose eyes change color and who lapses into a strange way of talking sometimes. Talyien comments on this, and then, days later in the story, is startled when a truth about that character is revealed. While on a side quest with Khine, she hears a sound in the woods, ignores it, and is then surprised when her two guards show up soon after.
This leads directly to her blindness about the people around her, so she is shocked when betrayal happens — one in particular, which was basically telegraphed in Book One.
Her worst flaw as an action hero is one she shares with many, many action heroes — when she thinks someone’s dead she doesn’t check to find out if they really are.
I’m making it sound as if I didn’t like this book, and that’s not true. Talyien has a kind of charisma. It affects the people around her, and it apparently affects me as well, because while I was constantly exasperated with her, I didn’t want to stop reading. At one point, when Rayyel grudgingly admits that he “didn’t behave as he should” (his code for acting with rank hypocrisy and double-standards) I yelled “Finally!” so loudly my husband poked his head around the door to ask what had happened.
I am eager to read The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng to find out what happens. Can Talyien deal with the dragons? Can she confront the magicians of the Zarojo Empire? Can she unify her shattered nation? I need to know.