In Queen of the Orcs: King's Property
, Dar is a young peasant woman sold to the army by her parents, to serve with the orc regiments as a camp follower.* Orcs serve as foot-soldiers and shock troops, sticking together and shunning contact with humans for the most part, but they will only allow women to cook and serve their food, so there is always a need for new ones.
Dar learns early on of the lot of the woman in an army camp - she best get a man of her own if she doesn't want to be considered fair game by every other man in the place, but she's not inclined to do that. She's pretty smart, and eventually figures out that her best chance lies in sticking close to the orcs, learning their language and culture.
Anyway, this book is a guilty pleasure for me: it deals with culture clash, with learning new languages and cultures, and also with tough, battle-scarred foot soldiers, and has a tough female protagonist who is able to think her way out of bad situations. I say guilty, because it's pretty obvious from the series title that this is going to be a What These
Orcs Need is a
Human. However, I think Howell manages to stay away from the usual nonhumans = PoC parallels because she's more interested in comparing and contrasting gender roles: the humans are patriarchal while the orcs are matriarchal.
The primary problem I have is that the orcs' society is a little too
perfect, and there is not enough real dissent in the orc ranks about her. Howell seems to be trying a bit for a Black Company
vibe and not quite making it, as her orcs aren't bad enough, if that makes sense, and there are whiffs of Speshul Chosen One about Dar.
None of that will stop me buying the sequels the next time I'm at the bookstore, of course, just will keep it from being as good as I want it to be.
* Camp followers include laundresses, cooks, wives, dependents, prostitutes, and everything else that an army needs or wants as it's marching and camping. Which isn't to say that a lot of women might not have turned to a bit of prostitution here and there as the opportunity struck, as women throughout history have done, but camp followers do not necessarily equal prostitutes. (Or even women, for that matter.)