I love the cover of this novel. It’s stunning, reflects something that actually happens in the book, and genuinely drew me in before I knew what the book was about. Whoever made this deserves a raise, this is amazing
A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.
Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.
Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
It’s hard to know where to start with this book, because it does so many things outstandingly well. The setting begins as a somewhat standard vaguely-European fantasy world, but quickly expands to create a broad, nuanced world. I loved the little touches of food, wildlife or culture that helped to bring the various regions in the book to life.
I also enjoyed the way women and sexual minorities were an accepted part of this world. It was refreshing to have women and gay, bisexual and lesbian characters not be treated as less-than, even in a pseudo-medieval setting. The characters in this book are diverse and well-written, with clear motivations for everything they do. Sabran and Niclays’s growth was done very well, and Ead and Tane’s journey was satisfying to read. I’d love to see a continuation of the stories of all of the characters within this book, and there are clear threads left dangling should this book become the first in a series.
Side characters within this book also cannot be ignored, the Eternal Emperor and the Imperial dragon were only introduced towards the end of the book, but they were immediately fascinating, and I’d love to see a novel set in this world, with a heavier focus on the East. I’d also love to learn more of Metendon, Kalyba, Inys, Gean Harlowe, Tane’s family, dragons in general, and the shard of sterren.
The only (minor) complaint I have about this book, is that it is a little hard to follow at times because of the grand scale of the story. Fans of high fantasy will be used to this, but it is a little hard to remember all of the characters and kingdoms at first. There are also several points where characters quite conveniently travel a great distance in a short amount of time, for narrative convenience, but I can overlook that, because I find unnecessarily extended travel scenes veeery boring (I did not enjoy The Hobbit for this reason).
All in all, The Priory of the Orange Tree is a fantastic book, with a great premise, and I hope to see the world and characters explored more in future books. I’d recommend this book to fans of traditional high fantasy, in the vein of Raymond E Feist’s Midkemia Cycle or Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. For more recent releases, there were some similarities (though with far less violence) to RF Kuang’s The Poppy War, and the scope and political intrigue is on-par with Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire, though of course The Priory of the Orange Tree is not science fiction. Fans of Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra would also greatly enjoy this book.