A Ranty Review: Queen of the Orcs

I read Queen of the Orcs: King’s Property by Morgan Howell on my Kindle because it looked promising.  It starts off well, but ultimately fails.

Dar is half kidnapped, half sold by her parents into the king’s army, where she is branded and enslaved.  Most frighteningly, she is required to serve food to the orcs, the shock troops of the army.  The orcs’ reputation for brutality terrifies Dar, but ultimately she discovers that the orcs have more to them than she thought.

The book starts off well.  It moves quickly.  Dar is a likeable, well-drawn character, initially.  The prose is clear, in a “bread and butter” style.  (If you want poetic metaphors, look elsewhere.)  Quite readable.  But early on, the themes start smashing you over the head, and they ain’t fun.

Theme 1: Every human male is a rapist, a murderer, or a molester who lives to humiliate or otherwise degrade women.  Seriously.  All of them.  Raping and humiliating Dar is the antagonist’s primary goal.  When the possibility of gang raping Dar comes up, every man (every man) in the camp shows up, hoping for a piece.  Dar’s father molested her.  The king and his generals amuse themselves by pelting the serving women with banquet scraps and then forcing them to eat off the ground.  Dar’s supposed romantic interest comes from a culture that (he claims) treats women well, but he never defends her–or any other women–publicly.  Neither does any other man, for that matter.  I found this particularly difficult to believe.  Not one male says, “Hey! I have two daughters back home just her age. It’s not right for you to treat young girls like that.”  Actually, it’s not just unbelievable, it’s insulting to men.

Theme 2: All women are victims.  Every single woman in the book is victimized by the men.  They are raped, treated as prostitutes (trading sexual favors for extra food and better clothes), beaten, even flogged, and executed.  And they’re all terrible bitches to each other and to Dar.  Only one woman actually treats Dar nicely.  And the plot of the whole book revolves around Dar scheming to avoid being raped by the antagonist, which really wears thin after a while.  You see, Dar is always trying to avoid something rather than trying to do something, which makes for annoying reading.

Theme 3: The noble savage.  I thought this idea had died out in the 40s at the latest.  Clearly not.  The orcs fulfill this idea.  They are all, to a man (orc) noble, intelligent, thoughtful, philosophical, clean (unlike the humans, they bathe regularly), and orderly.  They have a well-developed spirituality (the humans seem to have none).  They don’t understand the concept of lying.  But since they are also brutal, efficient killers and are not human, all humans look down on them.  Except Dar, of course.  She hates men (well, look at her choices) and ends up forsaking her own kind to join the “aliens.”  C.J. Cherryh explored this idea in her fiction a couple decades years ago, and while this doesn’t mean Morgan Howell can’t do it, it does invite comparison, and Howell fails here for the simple reason that his characters are more two-dimensional.

Theme 4: The world is unrelentingly brutal and everyone who is nice eventually dies.  And it gets really, really tiring to read about.

There are enormous holes in the world building as well.  The army that Morgan is with never once drills.  No one seems to care for weapons and armor–or even carry them.  When they stop to make camp, the soldiers lounge around doing nothing while the enslaved women do all the work.  This flies in the face of all military history.  Every commander knows that a major problem is keeping soldiers busy between battles–idle hands make trouble–and one way to keep them occupied is camp work.  Not in this army, apparently.  The women even put up the soldiers’ tents for them!  I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it.

Also, the orcs have been serving under human command because the humans once conquered the orcs, and the orcish queen made this concession.  I can buy that idea, except that there’s no way this undisciplined army could possibly have conquered the orcs portrayed in this book.  The orcs drill and move as a precisely oiled machine, but the humans–who never practice fighting–managed to defeat them in battle?  I couldn’t buy it.

There’s more, but you get the idea.  The writing itself is competent, but this book would probably have made more sense 25 years ago, when “feminist fiction” meant “man-hating.”

Grade: D+.

–Steven Harper Piziks


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A Ranty Review: Queen of the Orcs — 6 Comments

  1. 25 years ago, when “feminist fiction” meant “man-hating.”

    That’s about the only thing I disagree with in your article. Twenty-five years ago, I was reading CJ Cherryh’s Chanur series.

    I haven’t read the book, and I shan’t – life’s too short. None of those women, I guess, try to run away, or train in secret and slash out. And the orcs – the conquered watching a decadent army – probably don’t think about mutiny. If the Orcish troups are embedded everywhere, and the camps are not defended, then all it will need is a concerned campaign, and the Orcs are free!

    If the main antagonist needs to plot to rape a single slave girl, he’s seriously lacking ambition and ability. Neither the plot nor the protag’s fear are enough to carry a book.

  2. The author’s bio says he was in the military for five years.

    This is a male author writing under an androgynous pseudonym and feeling “flattered” that editors and agents think he’s female. And he’s writing rape fantasies. Those aren’t retro-feminist, those are retro-rape-porn with a guilt chaser. I wonder if he’s a fan of John Norman?

  3. I wonder which branch of the service he was in, and what rank? Every officer knows the importance of keeping the troops trained and busy. (My Army daughter is vastly admired for this skill.)

  4. This is written by a MAN? O-kay. Yes, like Judith Tarr, I’m wondering if he’s trying to overly compensate for his guilty John Norman reading.

    However, this brings up a point I was only thinking about yesterday, while reading a review of the movie “New Moon”, based on the Twilight books. In books that clearly show the dis-powering of women, are we looking at blips or trends? I wish for anomalous blips but fear — from the cinema takings of the Twilight films alone — that we’re experiencing a trend. Will the future brand us as the “New Dark Ages”? It’s something I’m mulling over at the moment. Thanks for the review though, Steven. Succinct and informative. Apologies for the tangent! 🙂

  5. Yeah, the author is a man. I hated the rape theme not only because it relentlessly set up the women as victims, but it also made every single male character a victimizer. The only redeeming male characters in the book are non-human. If you read Howell’s book, you come away thinking every single man lives to denigrate the women around him. It’s dreadful and insulting to both genders.

  6. Thanks for reading, so I don’t have to. I downloaded the novel when it was free on Suvudu, but this way I don’t have to waste my precious reading time.