Title: The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng by K.S. Villoso
Publication date: 4 May 2021
Genre: Adult | Fantasy
Rep: POC characters (Filipino)
Page extent: 448 pages
The stunning finale to the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen trilogy where the queen of a divided land must unite her people against the enemies who threaten to tear her country apart. K. S. Villoso is a “powerful new voice in fantasy.” (Kameron Hurley)
Queen Talyien is finally home, but dangers she never imagined await her in the shadowed halls of her father’s castle.
War is on the horizon. Her son has been stolen from her, her warlords despise her, and across the sea, a cursed prince threatens her nation with invasion in order to win her hand.
Worse yet, her father’s ancient secrets are dangerous enough to bring Jin Sayeng to ruin. Dark magic tears rifts in the sky, preparing to rain down madness, chaos, and the possibility of setting her nation aflame.
Bearing the brunt of the past and uncertain about her future, Talyien will need to decide between fleeing her shadows or embracing them before the whole world becomes an inferno.
I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour. This has not affected my review. This review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the series, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and The Ikessar Falcon.
Where do I even start with this epic of a book? I am raw after reading the final installment of the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, that feeling you only ever get after reading the very best of books. My heart feels hollowed out and empty, my eyes stinging with tears at this ending, this ending that has ruined me. The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng was always going to be a difficult read, wrapping up the stories of characters we love and those we hate, and K.S. Villoso absolutely nailed it. This is one of the best finales I’ve ever read, and it will be for a very long time.
The last installment in this series is a book about monsters, about the impact our actions have even if we don’t intend it, about the harm inevitable when you have power over others, and about the people willing to suffer themselves so that others can live. We start immediately where we left off, in Jin-Sayeng where Tali awaits trial to prove whether her son’s father is the Crown Prince, Rayyel, or Agos, her lover and former guard. But with Yuebek now on their doorstep with an army in toe, a gash in the fabric of reality letting monsters through in the Sougen, and her son kidnapped, it’s safe to say Tali has far more important problems. We are taken on a huge journey as all of the plotlines begin to come together and huge machinations are revealed that bind everything together. There is something so so satisfying about the mysteries and puzzles of a mammoth fantasy series all coming together and making sense in the last book, and Villoso managed this absolutely perfectly and in a way that left me guessing all the way to the very last pages. I started this book with no idea how Tali was going to get out of this mess, and I felt that all the way to the very last pages. Villoso expertly managed to tie up what I wanted to see tied up, but left the ending open in such an honest way that I think really speaks to the messiness and trauma of living and trying to rebuild after a war.
This book is one about monsters, Tali even says so herself. It’s about the way society creates monsters, how people can be twisted to become a monster but also how those in power cannot be anything other. Throughout this trilogy I think we’ve seen this play out in front of us, seen how a person can be driven to monstrosity, both in Tali’s journey and in Khine’s, both who are driven to awful actions in this last book. Tali really confronts her own monstrosity in this book, and I found such a brilliant duality in the way we see her have to take terrible, terrible actions (I’d argue by far the worst we’ve seen across the trilogy) that affect the poorest and most marginalised the most, in her bid to save the country, but with her first person POV we get to see the other side of the coin as well. We see so closely into how much Tali suffers for Jin-Sayeng, we see how much she bleeds, we see those in power around her continue to ask for more and more and in spite of the cost, Tali suffers and bears the anger and guilt and horror of what is needed to unite a nation and destroy the monsters on their shore. Tali is a monster who was made: by her father, by those around her, by the very power she has as royalty, her monstrosity is inevitable and horrific and despite this, it is still necessary for the survival of Jin-Sayeng. I adored how Villoso explored this, the idea that impact is more important that intent. It doesn’t matter that Tali does not intend to hurt those around her, doesn’t mean to hurt the poorest in her community, but her role in this requires her to sacrifice for the greater good—what else could she have done? Tali is a true morally grey character and I think this book explores this aspect of her best out of the whole trilogy. I started the book completely convinced that Tali’s actions were justified, knowing what she trying to do, believing her intent was what mattered and it wasn’t her fault that some were hurt in the process. But The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng really makes you, as well as Tali, confront and examine that idea in such a deep and impactful way. What else could Tali have done? Should she have suffered to save her country, offered herself and her loved ones up as a lamb for slaughter to Yuebek? Would that even have saved her country, or merely delayed the inevitable? Should she have fought the past, fought those begging her to destroy herself for them, instead sacrificing the people around her, her country, the poorest and most vulnerable in society, for the chance she could save both her country and herself? There are no right answers, no easy answers to this question, and I loved how much this book made me think in trying to find answers for myself.
In fact, I adored how much my opinions of some characters changed throughout this book. In addition to my thoughts on Tali, I found my feelings for Rayyel took a complete U-turn! I started the book hating him, as I have for the first two, because he is a hypocritical arse. And then you find out something early on which makes you even more disgusted in him. But after the latter half of the book, how can you ever hate him? When you see what he goes through for Tali, for Jin-Sayeng, for his son? There are so many layers to every single one of these characters, with each subsequent book in the series my opinions have changed and developed as more and more is revealed. And it takes such skill to do this so expertly, to slowly reveal the many facets of these characters as if peeling back more and more of them every time.
One of my favourite things about Villoso’s writing is how sensuous it is – by which I mean Villoso is an author that makes use of the senses so much when writing. In such a close POV, we are pulled into this world by Villoso’s use of description. We see, hear, taste and smell everything Tali does and it makes for such an intimate story. From the very height of action in the midst of battles to the quiet moments between when Tali travels, Villoso uses the senses to envelop us in this world so we feel everything Tali does, from her fear to her peace. These moments of peace were really perfect as well. In such a confronting and traumatic story, these moments of peace and calm were so necessary to break between the terror and horror. And of course, Khine was at the centre of so many of these, his presence like a ray of sunshine through the darkness of this story. His hope and love just shines on the page and he remains my favourite character.
There is so much to wrap up in this book, so many different plots and threads to bring together, none more important than Tali’s son, who was kidnapped by Dai Kaggawa for leverage at the end of book 2. This is what makes The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen so fresh and unique for me: this entire series has been driven by the love Tali has for her son, and I really can’t think of a single other fantasy which does this. So often fantasy focuses on orphans, on absent parents or parents who weren’t there, and I find it so brilliantly wholesome and fresh to read a fantasy where the defining relationship, the one that drives the main character’s actions the whole way through, is the love a mother has for her son. Because of this, there is an inevitability to this book that stuns you. You can see what has to happen, for Tali to save her son, there is no question of whether she will do it, because it her son and she loves him beyond anything else. He is her weakness, she knows it, and she does not care. And so you can only read on in stunned silence as everything you feared has to come true, because Tali will do whatever it takes to save her son. It was so lovely to see her finally get some time on page with him, to see her joy at seeing him, it makes my soul hurt and eyes tear up just thinking about it again.
I feel like this getting to be an essay so I better try wrap this review up… I am in awe of what K.S Villoso has created with this series. It’s a story about monsters, power and the love a mother has for her son. It has one of the best characters in any fantasy in Queen Talyien, a morally grey character who must confront and accept her own monstrosity as the cost in order to save her son and country from even worse monsters. It is a journey of such epic proportions I will never be able to sum it all up in just one review, but suffice to say, I think it’s one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read.
About the author
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.
About the blog tour
Please check out the rest of the amazing bloggers involved in the blog tour over the next two weeks! You can find the full schedule here! There is also a HUGE giveaway as part of the tour, and I highly encourage you to enter so you can win copies of this amazing series!
The prize is The Literary Culture’s Revenge of the Bitch Queen collection (inclusive of exclusive tapestry, book sleeve, and merchandise inspired by the series). There will also be TWO winners, one from the Phillipines and one international. You can enter the giveaway here!