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Monday, November 23, 2009

Queen of the Orcs: King's Property by Morgan Howell

I recently read Queen of the Orcs: King's Property, the first book in a trilogy, by Morgan Howell. (Howell is a pseudonym.) Here's the Amazon page on the book.

Orc is a term used most prominently by J.R.R. Tolkien. As the Wikipedia article on the term indicates, the word pre-dates Tolkien.

There are significant differences between Tolkien's orcs and those of Howell. Tolkien's orcs seem to have been about human size, or smaller. Tolkien didn't have any female orc characters. Tolkien's orcs were treacherous, devious, and seemingly given over entirely to evil. Howell's orcs seem to be somewhat larger than humans. Although there are no female orc characters in this book of the trilogy, the orcs hold their females in great reverence, and live in a matriarchal society. The orcs in this book are all serving as soldiers for a human king, under what they think are orders from their queen. They serve in an army that includes both human and orc units. As to devious character traits, the orcs are honorable to a fault, and, if fighting by themselves against humans, can often be beaten, even if they seem to have a superior force, because they are not only honorable, but cannot imagine dishonorable behavior well enough to imagine possible treacherous, or even deceptive, behavior by humans.

The protagonist of the book is Dar, a human woman, probably in her twenties, whose father and stepmother give her to the king's army. Like the other women accompanying the army, she serves as a slave -- she is branded as the property of the king. She works as a cook and scullery maid. Most of the book is told from her perspective.

One of the duties of the women is to serve meals to the orcs. The orcs have a strong religious, or cultural, belief that all good things, including food, come from a Mother, and accept food only from a human woman, there being no orc women in the army. Dar is sent to serve them, because she is a newcomer. However, she gradually learns to respect the orcs, learn some of their language, and, most important, eventually convinces a special orc friend that she, as a female, should be taken seriously, even listened to.

Another thing that the women do is serve some of the soldiers sexually. Dar never does this, but a couple of the officers lust after her, and, when she refuses to cooperate, plan vengeance. Since orcs are protecting her, the vengeance involves letting the orcs be destroyed by an enemy army. The book closes with Dar escaping from the battle, and the army, as leader to five orc soldiers, including her special friend, Kovak-mah.

There are some religious aspects to the book. Both the orcs, and the humans, have pagan religious beliefs. There is magic, or the supernatural, in at least two ways. Dar discovers that she sometimes sees visions, which turn out to come true. The king has a sorcerer, who goes into a trance, using blood from a newly sacrificed human boy each time he enters one, and, upon coming out of the trance, has learned something about the future.

Tolkien was accused of writing his famous Lord of the Rings trilogy to flesh out his made-up languages, and there may have been some truth in the accusation. Howell hasn't gone nearly as far, but there is, at least, an appendix of about a dozen pages, giving some vocabulary and grammar from the orc's language.

There are certainly some bad guys in the book, but Dar, and Kovak-mah, are honorable, and try to help others unselfishly. Dar is a strong character, hard-working, with high ideals, and a good mind, in spite of the handicap of her background as a peasant woman rejected by her own family. I expect to read the other two books in this trilogy.

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