The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng
by K. S. Villoso
640pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 10/10
Amazon Rating: 4.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.5/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.44/5

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Note: Since I hope that this series will be discovered by more readers who will also appreciate it, I did my best to keep this review spoiler-free for all three books in the series.

The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng concludes K. S. Villoso’s Chronicles of the Bitch Queen trilogy (sometimes called Chronicles of the Wolf Queen). It’s a stunning finale, simultaneously gripping with its many twists and turns and thoughtful in continuing the series’ examination of themes like identity, legacy, and power and privilege.

Now that I’ve read all three books, I even more firmly believe what I wrote in my review of the previous volume: this series is complex, character-driven epic fantasy at its very best. I absolutely loved it.

This trilogy is one big overarching story that grows vastly more complicated in each book with the final installment masterfully pulling everything together. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, the smallest-scale of the three novels, introduces Queen Talyien (or Tali), an infamous warlord’s sole surviving heir. Shortly after her birth, she was betrothed to the son of the woman her father fought against as a peace agreement between the two foes, and she and her husband were to rule their nation together one day. But their marriage didn’t exactly go well, and the first line of Tali’s narration begins: “They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me.”

The main events of Tali’s tale start five years later when she travels across the sea to meet with her estranged husband, hoping to bring him home to their son. Their reunion goes about as well as the aforementioned murder/exile incident—their dinner is filled with barbed comments and accusations about whose father started a war and whose uncle released a mad dragon into their land, and then assassins attacked—and Tali is separated from the rest of her party in all the chaos. Much of this book focuses on her struggles to survive in an unfamiliar country while reflecting on her past, particularly her upbringing as the future Dragonlord and her relationship with her husband. As it nears the end, it also introduces more of the epic and fantastic, and Tali learns new information about her father that sets her on the path to reevaluating her entire life, shattering her view of her world and her role in it—and her very identity.

The following novel, The Ikessar Falcon, ramps up the complexity as it delves more into the characters and world, both the fantasy aspects like magic and dragons and the political aspects like the various warlords and factions wielding power. The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng continues in this vein, taking some interesting turns and dropping some large revelations as Tali learns more of the truth about her father—who remains a major player, despite the fact that he’s been dead and gone for 16 years. Warlord Yeshin was such a force that he still has schemes coming to fruition, and this last novel shows the rather impressive extent of his influence and planning.

The way this new knowledge unfolds is skillfully executed, as is this entire trilogy. Each novel builds on the last with the final installment showing a clearer picture of the characters and how things came to be as they are. The mistakes that people like Tali’s father and her husband Rayyel’s mother made and passed down to their children is a tragedy, and though it’s hopeful to see a generation of people who want to break the cycle they began, it’s also devastating to realize what could have been. If Tali and Rayyel had just managed to open up to each other from the start (a situation made more difficult by their own parents’ history and manipulations), they could have been a great pair. Their different personalities would have complemented each other in many ways, especially since they did share common values like a sense of duty and both proved to be people capable of growth and change.

Everything is wonderfully complicated, from political conflicts to personal relationships to the characters themselves. The last book especially tackles the various individuals with nuance. People sometimes have different outlooks on the other characters, but all their views have the ring of truth. Sometimes that’s because multiple things can be true depending on context or perspective, sometimes that’s because the characters are fleshed out as people who were at different places at different points in their lives, sometimes that’s because these are characters capable of both good and bad even if they lean further toward one extreme or the other—and sometimes it’s a combination of factors, because these characters do live and breathe.

Each seems like an individual by the end, with most seeming far more developed than mere words on a page. The only character who is outright awful was always cruel but also in part made into a villain since he was an emperor’s beloved son and therefore did not face consequences for his actions. Although he certainly was not likable or sympathetic, it was also understandable how he came to be the way he was and why he had certain emotional hang-ups.

K. S. Villoso developed her characters so well that I even came to like Rayyel, who became my favorite character after Tali by the end of the series. Like her, he has changed and matured a lot since the early days of their marriage, and I thought he was the best developed character other than her and really enjoyed reading their scenes together in the last book. Plus, the more that was revealed about his background, the worse I felt for him. Both Tali’s father and his mother used their children as pawns in their conflict, but Tali at least seems to have some affectionate memories of her father amidst the cacophony of mixed emotions she feels about the man who raised her. However, Rayyel has no illusions that his mother ever cared one whit for him as an actual person rather than as a means to an end.

And Rayyel’s infamous mother actually makes some appearances in this book, showing the ruthlessness that made her such a strong opponent for Tali’s father. I particularly appreciated that this book had more focus on some of the women who had been mentioned in the first two novels, including but not limited to Rayyel’s mother, and how they faced their world. Some were hardened and rebellious, some just tried to survive, but each had her own sort of steel and was fascinating in her own way.

But the real highlight is Tali herself—her distinctly vivid voice that grabbed me from the first sentence, her amazing growth between the first and third books, and the depth that made her seem real in a way that’s rare for fictional characters. Her messiness and contradictions fit together in a way that makes sense for this specific person, and even when she made decisions I found intensely frustrating, I felt they were so very Tali.

She has changed a lot by the end of the third book, but her development is natural and earned as it stems from her experiences and the people around her—and because of who she is. In the final installment, I was especially struck by her courage, a bravery that goes beyond the ease with which she jumps into fighting monsters and dragons. These books are written as her chronicles, narrated by her personally, and they show someone who is grappling with a lot—not just the upheaval in her land, but her roles as a queen, a mother, her father’s daughter. So much of her identity came from her father’s vision of who she was and would be, and as she learns more, she becomes more self-aware and evaluates who she wants to be, deciding to try to do better instead of ignoring the problems around her. Her story shows all sides of herself, her best and her worst, someone human and vulnerable who doesn’t always have the right answers—and she unflinchingly faces herself, acknowledging her imperfections and vulnerabilities as she lays them bare on the page, and keeps striving.

This review has grown into a lot of words, but it still does not convey the depth of Tali and her story, which are far too complex to condense into any semblance of simple terms. It’s as Tali mused on page 270:


“Another fallacy of history books, this: the idea that who we are can be reduced to a few words. He was a hero. She was a villain. He was a good man. She was a whore. As if we don’t, at the very least, change a little with every shift of the wind, molding ourselves to what was done to us.”

These books were nearly impossible to put down, they made me want to know more of the world and its mysteries, they delighted me with banter between characters, they made me pause to consider Tali’s reflections on humanity and the world around her, they ripped my heart out. They were everything I want from an epic fantasy series, and I think they’re among the very best of the genre—they are certainly now among my own favorites.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng

Reviews of Other Books in The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen:

  1. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
  2. The Ikessar Falcon

Read K. S. Villoso’s Women in SF&F Month Essay on Queen Talyien