by Morgan Howell
Review by Harriet Klausner
Del Rey Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345496508
Date: 31 July 2007 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Ever since her mother died, Dar had been a very unhappy young woman living with her physical and sexually abusive father. When he married again neither woman got along with the other. Her father and his new spouse gave Dar to the army when the king created an army with two people "volunteered" from each village. The father admits it was his idea and her father's wife goes along with it, happy to see her step-daughter get out of her life.
She is told she will be a cook in the army but learns she will be a slave as she is branded on the same day she is taken away from her village. When she gets to the gathering place where the army meets she is told she will have to find the orcs. She has heard rumors they are warlike monsters tearing humans apart to eat them. What she finds is a gentle group of fighting beings who battle only because the queen of the orcs ordered them too. The women hate her because she is so resistant to the advances of the soldiers. When one tries to rape her she goes to the orcs to stay with them. The orcs welcome her because she took the time to learn the language and befriends Kovok-mah, a wise being easy to look up to. The king is hoping to conquer the country that King Feishaw rules and he believes he has the manpower and the weapons to do it.
Orcs are in the front lines because they are such superior fighters, one of them can kill many humans but they are under the command of the Queen's Man, a human whose first priority is humans especially his king. As Dar spends more time with the orcs because the women shun her, she learns that these beings are more humane and civilized than humans. They don't even have a word for deceit in their vocabulary.
Forget every thing you ever read about Tolkein's orcs because these beings are nothing like them. They care about their queen, their men at arms and are part of a matriarchal system that worships the mother goddess and all her women. Humans are so alien to them that they don't even try to understand them and though they take Dar under their wing, they don't listen to her visions that spell danger for them. They obey the human who commands them, not because they believe his words or because he's right but because of their loyalty to their queen.
Dar has never had a happy life except with her mother but when she became a part of the king's army, she realized how bad her life could get. Women are fourth class citizens and are required to have sex with soldiers just to get a pair of shoes or a warm cloak. They accept their lot in life and turn against Dar when she goes her own way. She learns a very important lesson that large size doesn't equate to brutality and just because orcs look different doesn't make them monsters.
Much of this book details the Orc culture as seen through Dar's eyes but there are enough battle scenes and a glimpse of human military circa the middle ages to keep the fans of fantasy very satisfied. What Anne McCaffrey and Naomi Novik have done for dragons, Morgan Howell has done for orcs. Readers will eagerly wait for book 2 in this series Clan Daughter so they can find out what becomes of Dar and her orcs. Ms. Howell has written a spellbinding high fantasy novel that is refreshingly original and shows how talented a storyteller she is.