Hello friends and welcome to Color the Shelves!
Today I’m here to bring you an interview with the author of THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO, an amazing book I read earlier this year. K.S. Villoso joined me today to talk all about her new book, a character driven, high fantasy story set in a Filipino inspired world, and let me tell you, I cannot wait for you all to read it because it’ll be different from anything you expect and it’ll blow your minds. Full of political intrigue, character development and complex layers, this book filled my head with questions to the brim, most of which were spoilery, but I managed to select a few that won’t spoil the book for you but will still give you a taste of what it is about.
Hello Kay, I’m so excited to have you join me today for this interview, especially since I enjoyed THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO so much! As I chatted about it with a number of Filipino readers (who loved it!), they said they noticed parallels between the world in the book and pre-colonial Philippines (specifically prior to Spanish colonization), which is hardly ever explored in fiction. What inspired you to write pre-colonial Philippines into your fantasy debut? And what were the difficulties you faced in the process?
Originally, I just wanted to write a fantasy world for a JRPG-style project I was busy with in my teens. I was going to do the sort of world-building that is standard in that style of fantasy, but then I realized I wanted to use my own culture instead. This was partly fueled by my own homesickness. I left when I was only 13, and spent years longing for the details that used to be my everyday. I just wanted to soak in those details and feel like I’m back home again, even for just a few moments.
The research I embarked on came with a tinge of sadness. The shadow of colonization was difficult to escape from. I decided I wanted to redefine the story instead. I could do that in fantasy. I decided to carve a nation where I could push history past the colonization, even pretend as if it never existed. I wondered what it would look like if the nation had instead simply been influenced by trade and the powers around it (East Asian cultures, in particular), but kept everything that I valued about it: the close family ties, the fierce loyalty, maybe even a dash of the pride that lies underneath. I wanted to show the world that what we have is worth something, that there is so much to treasure and explore and love—even if colonization has made us believe otherwise.
It isn’t an accurate representation of pre-colonial Philippines, in my mind, but a dream. In many ways, stories are meant to teach us about ourselves, and this is simply my contribution. The world-building is an added layer to the story (many of the nations in my books reflect a theme or issue I want to explore, all based on Filipino culture). In Jin-Sayeng, Queen Talyien’s nation in THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO, I took away the shame and the feeling of inferiority of colonization so I could properly look at the rest: toxic family values, corruption, greed, the sort of clannish mentality that has historically driven us apart, and so on.
World-building this way, of course, means I couldn’t simply take the trappings of a culture, stick it into the story, and call it a day. It took me years to understand what I was trying to do, and years more of looking within in addition to researching on the outside. Trying to define a colonized people within the context of a few hundred pages—never mind a nation as fantastically diverse and complex as the Philippines (we speak hundreds of languages there, with hundreds of different customs and cultures)—is impossible. I’m just one person; I’m not writing to represent us, but to express myself. But now try explaining that to a western audience, many of which are looking to categorize people, to try to place themselves even in worlds that don’t resemble what they know.
So I have on one hand this very deep, complex, living and breathing world… but now I had to find a way to set a story in it. Which meant I then spent years learning about (Western) story structure, because I felt that even if part of my audience couldn’t understand the world, they could at least feel the beats before they’ve had time to think. Which I think ties into your next question…
THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is a character driven fantasy which can be hard to pull off but ultimately amazing when done right, what was your favorite part of writing it?
I loved exploring every angle of this world from the point-of-view of the snarkiest, fiercest, most overwhelming woman I’ve ever had the pleasure to write from. Just describing the world wasn’t enough—I had to describe it as she would see it, which was an adventure even for me as the writer.
Talyien is the queen of an empire that’s falling apart, she goes through such an intricate character arc that makes her assume different personas, can you tell us more about her, who she is and what drives her?
To understand Talyien, you have to first understand her background: she’s the youngest child of an elderly warlord who lost his other children to a war of his own doing. The only family she’s known is this selfish old man with a vicious reputation, hell-bent on revenge. Pay attention to how she says things and not so much what she says. She grew up lonely, and her status in life has served little more than a prison. Her nickname Tali is a bit of a play on words—if pronounced with a hard i, in Tagalog it means bound, chained. Her struggles make her somewhat blind to her privilege and the power she holds—from her perspective, she’s just a woman trying to piece her life back together, just wanting desperately to keep her family from falling apart. This doesn’t necessarily absolve her from her responsibilities.
So there are two sides to her: Talyien the Bitch Queen, and Tali. And the push and play between her position in life and what she’s been led to believe, and what she truly wants, all form part of the conflict.
Speaking of Talyien, was there any real life wife/mother, or real life figure in general, whose experiences inspired her character?
She isn’t inspired by a specific person in particular. She’s a by-product of her circumstances, and a lot of her challenges—particularly with trying to figure out the balance between her needs, and her responsibility to her family—comes from the struggles of the women around me, including myself. Sort of a “she could be any one of us.”
Before we say good-bye, what is one thing you’d like to tell your reader or one thing you’d like them to take away from your story?
It’s a story about facades; about stripping away the outer layers, about tricks and fooling other people and maybe even ourselves. While it can be read as an adventure, an action-filled romp, it also invites you to withhold judgment until the very end, because the truth is never what it seems.
About the author
K.S. Villoso grew up in the slums of Manila before moving to Canada in her teens. She now writes fantasy with themes shaped by her childhood–stories of struggle, hope, and resilience amidst grim and grit. Her debut, THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO, will be released by Orbit in February 2020.
About the book
Publication date : February 18th, 2020
Publisher : Orbit Books
Genre : Adult | Fantasy
Page Count: 496
Synopsis : A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.
“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”
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.
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.