Book Review: OROPE by Guenevere Lee

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to wait for the next book in a series, and now I find myself awaiting the sequel to this low-fantasy historical novel with more anticipation than I’ve felt in a while! I’m normally a backlist reader; I don’t have the funds or the time usually to preorder books, even though there are many I’m looking forward to (looking at you, WILDER GIRLS…). However, I picked up OROPE in October and now have to sit back and wait for the rest like everybody else.

Trigger warnings for OROPE: violence, racism, human sacrifice, natural disasters.

OROPE is a mix between an alternate-history travelogue and an apocalyptic quest; it’s a little too catastrophic for the first and a little too slow-moving for the second. What it does with its alternate history, however, is fascinating. Guenevere Lee calls it a Bronze Age fantasy, and it’s an apt descriptor – I recognize cultural influences from Egypt, the Cycladic islands, Minoan and Mycenean Greece, and the Mayans. The worldbuilding is phenomenal, mixing enough familiarity with enough strangeness to keep me invested – and when natural disaster strikes, it strikes a world that feels real and reacts like a physical thing.

OROPE suffers a little bit, in contrast, when it comes to its characters. In my first chapter review (here) I immediately got invested in the character of Rashma Hal’Hotem, a Rhagepe Death priestess. By the end of the first chapter, she’s gone from the narrative, and replaced with four other central characters in two and sometimes three separate narrative streams. It’s a lot to balance, and while Kareth, Tersh and Samaki have engaging enough interactions with each other to keep the story moving, the chapters with Sha’di take place a continent away and sometimes feel like distractions from the ‘real’ plot.

It also bothers me, possibly more than it should, how the Petzuhallpa chapters are framed. It’s already a bit strange that Mayan culture from the Americas should show up in a book so strongly based on the Mediterranean; it’s definitely more than a little frustrating how much of the plotline for that culture is based around the “barbaric” act of human sacrifice. Certainly the Mayans practiced human sacrifice, and certainly somebody from the Mediterranean would find this shocking (there are enough stories in the Greek mythological corpus to attest to this) but it still hits a bit strangely.

That said, I’m still hooked. I want to see what the fallout from the end of this book is, and while I’m wary of the Sha’di plotline, I’m endlessly curious to see how it ends up! I predict that this will be the kind of book series that reads best when done all at once; as it is, I’m willing to be patient and enjoy what there is so far.

Orope is available on Amazon here.

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