Let me start by saying I have always liked orcs. I first met them in ‘Lord Of The Rings’ and have always thought they were given a bad press. Throughout many fantasy games and novels, they have featured heavily. More recently, they have featured in ‘Skyrim’, but they always felt flat and half-formed. Is it possible to give them a more complicated existence? In ‘Queen Of The Orcs: King’s Property’, Morgan Howell thinks so.
After a brutal, bare-foot life on her father’s farm, Dar is conscripted into King Kregant’s army. The role of a woman in this army is to service the male soldiers traditional needs, but with one unusual extra. The orc warriors have a complex series of rituals associated with their day-to-day lives, rituals which can only be performed by women. This is seen as the hardest of the women’s many hard tasks. Dar, as the latest recruit, is given this job and rises to the challenge. Much to Dar’s surprise, the orcs have an ordered structure and display discipline amongst themselves, unlike most of the human soldiers. To the disgust of the other humans, she begins to learn the language and culture of the orcs.
The nearer to battle the army gets, the greater Dar’s difficulties become. Her only chance to survive is to find a protector. Which species will she choose and what will the price be?
Howell has written a story with a nice mix of traditional and new ideas. Fantasy and SF is packed full of creatures who are sophisticated enough to have functioning societies and technology, but ultimately do little more than lumber about and growl at the good-guys. This novel makes a good job of giving the orcs a world made up of more than broad, angry strokes. In part, it tries to explain their tendency to fight and destroy humans. In the context of this story, their motivations make sense.
Howell tells a good story. We follow Dar and her difficult journey through violence, sexual brutality and the shifting fate of war. Her character is well-formed and sympathetic. We feel her pain and will her on to survive.
Ultimately, the stars of the book are the orcs but Dar holds her own.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine. 315 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $ 8.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49650-8)
check out website: www.delreybooks.com