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King's Property, by Morgan Howell
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2007
Review Posted: 10/16/2007
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10

King's Property, by Morgan Howell

Book Review by David Roy

Have you read this book?

Discovering a new author can be quite thrilling, especially when said author actually produces a good first book. Morgan Howell's "Queen of the Orcs" trilogy was evidently strong enough that Del Rey is publishing all three books within months of each other. Thankfully, the first book, King's Property actually seems worthy of most of this praise. While it's not the greatest fantasy book I've ever read, and it definitely has a few problems, this book sows the seeds for what feels like it's going to be a pretty good series.

King's Property starts off right away, with a young woman named Dar being conscripted by a soldier (with the apparent willing cooperation of her family) to join an army unit consisting of the dregs of the human soldier base and a group of Orcs. Life is harsh on the road with these types of men, and Dar has to do her utmost to avoid being raped, abused, and otherwise tortured by the men. The Orcs are terrifying, as they have the reputation of being extremely violent and unintelligent, willing to snap a person's neck for any reason whatsoever. However, in serving the Orcs, she slowly learns about their society and comes under the protection of Kovok-mah, an Orc with who is starting to question his people's willingness to fight with the humans. As Dar learns more, faces treachery from both her own people and the Orcs, and befriends another young woman slave, she slowly realizes that there may be only one way out of her predicament. And that's only if she can convince the Orcs to accept her.

The main strength of King's Property is Howell's creation of Orc society. He doesn't completely turn the tables on the popular image of Orcs (mostly gained through The Lord of the Rings, but also most other fantasy books including them). He keeps their reputation for savagery, but also gives them distinct social customs, a belief system that thankfully benefits Dar, and even a somewhat detailed language (with a glossary in the back of the book). I found it fascinating, with details such as the fact that they cannot lie, and thus don't even understand the concept, or that the only reason the army units even conscript women is because the Orcs refuse to be served by men. They feel that the gift of food is from the Mother, and that human women are the closest thing to the Mother that they're going to get. Obviously, Orcish women would probably be more appropriate for this, but we don't see any Orcish women in the book and perhaps the human king won't allow them to come along. Either that, or the Orcs don't want their women going off to war. Perhaps it will be explained later.

Howell's prose isn't quite as polished as I'd like, and thus the beginning of the book isn't quite as enjoyable as when he starts really getting involved in the Orcs' society. My interest level didn't really take off until Dar had interacted with the Orcs for a little while, as I found neither Dar nor the other human characters that interesting. Dar comes into her own later in the book, however, and her exploration of Orcish culture is the highlight of the book. Every event in the book, at least once Dar joins the army unit, seems intended to emphasize some aspect of the culture or the differences between humans and Orcs. For example, when one of the human commanders neglects to specify which villagers should be killed (he just says something like "Kill them," supposedly just meaning the people resisting), the Orcs wipe them all out. Evidently, Orcs are quite literal.

Unfortunately, other than Kovok-mah and Dar (at least once she begins learning about the culture), none of the other characters are really that interesting. One of the King's Guards takes an interest in Dar when they meet, and becomes determined to win her heart, rather than just take her to bed. Hopefully he'll come into his own in the next book because I found him fairly bland and the accent Howell uses for him very forced. None of the other characters are that well-rounded either, with the villains especially being one-dimensional. There are some hints of things to come when the King and his court wizard show up, but even the wizard is stereotypically dark and the scum that forms Dar's unit are rather cardboard-like.

One other aspect of the series that I hope Howell fleshes out is the world-building. The map at the beginning of the book is very simple, with two realms separated by a large river and a couple of cities dotted here and there. We get a little bit of history, but not much, and Dar's paramour mentions coming from the Southlands, but other than some bits of description which he tells Dar, we don't find out much about it. The promising thing is that the map supposedly just details Dar's journey in this book, which means Howell may expand it in subsequent books. Thus, this is a qualified criticism, depending on how the rest of the series turns out. As King's Property goes, though, the world-building seems rather sparse and I didn't really feel like I was part of a functioning society.

Thus, King's Property is a promising beginning, and it's good enough to make me look forward to the next two books. I want to find out more about the Orcs, but unfortunately I don't care much about the humans. Hopefully that will change in the future. Morgan Howell definitely shows talent, and while this isn't the strongest first book I've ever seen, it will be interesting to see his career develop.
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