THE IKESSAR FALCON by K. S. Villoso (BOOK REVIEW)
This is a year of hotly-anticipated sequels for me (hello Hollow Empire and Call of the Bone Ships!), and since I first read the self-pub version of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro in summer of 2018, I’ve been waiting much longer than people who started the series with the Orbit re-release of book one this year (not that I’m trying to be hipster about it or anything). I’ve already detailed how re-publishing with Orbit honed an already-exceptional first book, and don’t doubt the same is true again, justifying my extra-long wait…
Suffice to say, when I finally got my hands on an ARC a few days ago, I simply devoured the book. I needed to, so I could deliver this review on time (thanks Bethan! -no probs James!), but it’s not like it was an ordeal – this is a book that’s very easy to dive into and lose yourself in.
Which goes some way to answering the Big Question of whether, after the long wait, it delivered on the promise of the first. For the avoidance of further doubt: yes, of course it did.
This is a series driven by the central character, Talyien, the Bitch Queen of Jin-Sayeng; dedicated mother, wronged wife, absent ruler, and general disaster-magnet. However, book two gets its name from her erstwhile co-ruler, estranged husband, and frequent antagonist, Rayyel Ikessar. That doesn’t mean he’s that much more prominent, but his influence on proceedings is certainly a lot more direct – not to mention incredibly unhelpful.
And it’s not like Talyien hasn’t got enough enemies already. She has a knack of making them almost everywhere she goes, and then discovering a few she didn’t know she had just when things are starting to look clearer. Against this she has arrayed a small-and-shifting band of questionably-reliable companions, and her own stubbornness.
Mostly the stubbornness.
“You’re unbelievably arrogant for someone with only two guards and such a long way from home,” a potential ally upbraids her at one point, without effect. This incredible determination makes her compelling – and occasionally frustrating – but that’s not to say Talyien doesn’t have doubts, insecurities, and desires. Most of these are hidden from all but her closest companions (I was going to say “confidants”, however she really has none), but not from the reader. Externally, Talyien is a force of nature, direct and implacable. Internally, she is a mess, dealing with the (often literal) ghost of her illustrious and bloody father; an upbringing that both sheltered her from reality and forged her into the formidable foe she is; and the ruins of her relationships with a trio of very troublesome men. The consistent factor driving her on despite everything is her love and devotion to her son – and, in it’s shadow, for her people as a whole.
This duality between Tali’s internal and external narrative plays out in the written story. Told as before as a first person retrospective, the narrative intersperses fast-paced action and sharp, plot-filled dialogue with numerous reminiscences of Talyien’s past and bouts of agonising about her future. The book perhaps leans a bit more heavily on the internal than the external, especially at first, but this only reflects the fact that the poor decisions and secret plots of the (in some case, quite recent) past are huge drivers on the plot going forward. The frequent introspection does make the book a bit slow at times, despite the same frenetic, stochastic movement across the physical map present in the first book. However, momentum begins to build nicely as Talyien drives ever-closer to home – and her son – and the climax is simply breathless.
Though Talyien is still unquestionably the beating (bleeding?) heart of this novel, the supporting cast get a bit more room to grow here as well. While Tali isn’t great to her would-be friends – and worse to her would-be lovers – they are an important supporting cast, and you can help feeling sorry for them, and picking favourites (#TeamKhine btw). There are also memorable cameos from new and returning minor characters that I hope to see again in Book Three.
The book also expands on the worldbuilding, especially in terms of the fantastical. Obviously, the rich, Asian-inspired worldbuilding that helped elevate the first book is still there, but now with additional fantastical elements, such as dragons, demonic possession, sorcerous constructs, and more overt explanation of how the agan works and what it can do (mostly get Tali and her crew into more trouble, of course.) This is a world with not only breadth but depth, that the author has been writing about for more than just these two books. That history shows, and I’m sure there will be more easter eggs for readers of the Agartes Epilogues (of which I’ve only read book one, and am excited to hear are being re-published as well).
A few things niggled me about the improbability of certain escapes, the inconsequence of serious wounds, some questionable tactical decisions, and (inevitably) the operation of sailing ships, but these really aren’t the point of the book.
This book is a whirlwind wrapped around the implacable drive of one remarkable woman, a journey fraught with more setbacks than triumphs, tinged with tragedy, plagued with peril, a mountain that gets ever-higher – but one you are compelled to keep climbing alongside the Bitch Queen, right on into Book Three.
The wait begins again!