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King's Property, the first book of the Queen of the Orcs Trilogy, narrates the story of Dar, a young woman with a difficult past who is taken by the king's army to serve with an Orc regiment. Her forehead is branded in order to let everyone know her place is with the army, and if found elsewhere, she is a deserter who is fair game for bounty hunters, who can redeem her branded head for a reward.
The orcs, by custom which has the force of law, can only be served by women, and the novel reveals how Dar first loses her fear of the strange, forbidding creatures, then tries to learn their language. She finally realizes that, despite their reputation as fearsome butchers, orcs are actually honorable, honest creatures, who are more human than the rest of the army.
But Dar's army existence isn't limited to interacting with orcs. There are also men in the army -- men to whom a branded woman represents the lowest form of humanity: a person to be used and abused as each sees fit. Dar quickly -- if accidentally -- gains a powerful protector, but fears that she has stepped from the frying pan into the fire, and is forced to walk a tightrope between keeping his protection and keeping him at a distance.
There are other, darker powers which, though not concerned with Dar in the least, unleash a chain of events that bode ill for the orc regiment and its servers. In the end, the forces come together with a bang, and a logical conclusion. Of course, we don't know the ultimate ending -- you have to read the whole trilogy for that -- but the book closes satisfactorily.
As an overall conclusion, I have to say that this one surprised me. I wasn't expecting much, but I found a fast-paced, uncomplicated fantasy adventure of the type we all love to read. I read it very quickly -- a tribute to the page-turning nature of the prose, and to the fact that I really ended up caring about what happened to Dar and the orcs. A good read.
Another point in this book's favor is that the sense of being on the march with an army is well-developed and adds to the reading experience, as does seeing war from the less-glorious side.
There aren't many nits to pick with this one. It does what it sets out to do, which is to be entertaining and enjoyable without being overly pretentious. The fully developed orcish language sprinkled through the text could have been irritating, but wasn't. It also didn't create a sensation of depth the way Tolkien's Elvish does, but that might not be a bad thing -- the shelves are currently saturated with huge, hyper-complex fantasy series in various states of completion.
All in all, an entertaining book which is realistic enough to avoid being silly, but light enough to read just for the fun of it.
Click here to buy Queen of the Orcs Book 1: King's Property, by Morgan Howell on Amazon
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