I am very, very glad that I finally got around to reading Morgan Howell’s King’s Property, Book 1 of his Queen of the Orcs series. The idea of a fantasy series with an emphasis on orcs for once sounded like a winner to me, even if it has to take the route of a young human woman being the protagonist rather than an orcish character.
Dar is a girl of the hills conscripted into serving the King’s army, a harsh and bitter existence, one in which she quickly learns that a woman’s only chance of survival relies upon her ability to secure the favor of a soldier who will provide for her. But the thought of abasing herself thus to any man–especially when she learns that the commander who’s interested in her is cruel and heartless–horrifies her. Instead, she takes the radical step of befriending a few of the soldiers of the regiment of orcs who are fighting alongside the human army. This puts her severely at odds with her fellow serving-women as well as the male soldiers, who are all pretty much convinced that she must be having sexual congress with the orcs. But only Dar makes any attempt to learn their language and rudiments of their culture, and to see them as anything other than brutal fighting machines.
And I’ll say this, it is quite a refreshing change of pace to see orcs be the good guys here, even if the orcish words Howell employs keep making me think they’re Japanese; this is what he gets for using “hai” as his orcish word for “yes”. There are times when I find their culture a little hard to swallow, though. These are orcs who, sure, deserve their rep as brutal fighting machines. In battle, that’s what they are. Outside of battle, though, there’s a lot of the orcs being surprisingly willing to go wherever humans lead them, to the point that they’re eventually willing to give Dar the same status that they accord females of their own species, and accept her orders accordingly. Soon enough the whole situation comes across as “the innocent orcs are being manipulated by the nasty humans”, with a heaping side dose of “human males suck and the only trustworthy ones are the orcs”.
But, that said, Howell doesn’t go completely in that direction, and for that I’m grateful. Some of the orcs do complain quite loudly at the influence that Dar has upon their commander, and one sympathetic human male not only gets Dar’s attention but starts contributing towards her eventual efforts to escape the army. And overall, I’m quite intrigued by the bigger picture Howell has set up here with the situation not only between the warring human nations, but how the orcs and their current queen play into it.
This is not a cheerful world, be warned. Quite a few dark things happen in it, including rape and needless murder, but to Howell’s credit he handles a lot of the darker events in an understated fashion. And even if I had some quibbles with specific details, overall I very much liked the story and am very much looking forward to taking on Book 2. Four stars.