Published by Bloomsbury Australia on February 26, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
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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.
At over 800 pages, The Priory of the Orange Tree is quite an undertaking – both as a reader, and as a writer. But as a female focused epic fantasy with dragon mythology and a rich world inspired by our own, how could you not be curious? I recently wrote a post about why I was excited to read the book, and after picking it up, I return to talk about what I actually did love about the book. Thankfully, there were a lot of things that I absolutely loved, including:
1. A rich world comprising of four nations
One of my favourite parts of fantasy books is the world-building, and the more detailed it is, the better. Priory takes the time to build up a rich world built up of four corners – the Western monarchy with a revered Queen, the Eastern nation who worships dragons, the mysterious Southern Empire of the twelve lakes and the Northern Draconic Kingdom.
With a comprehensive timeline built around a terrifying red dragon called The Nameless One, each empire split off into its own with very little agreement or trust between them. I loved hearing about the diverging beliefs around Princess Cleolind and Saint Galian Berethnet who defeated the dragon and how each nation rose up based on their own beliefs.
2. Feminist epic fantasy
The best thing about Priory is that it celebrates feminism in different forms – and not just the typical strong badass female warrior type that you tend to see. From child birth, to female empowerment, sisterhood and friendship, sibling love and appreciation – it focuses on females supporting each other, no matter how different they are. Instead of just something to be conceded in male-lead fantasy novels, these females are bold, powerful and engaging and it’s definitely refreshing and empowering to see in a genre that so often subjects females to sexism and violence.
3. Deep, fascinating character perspectives
While there are many, many characters in the Priory (which are outlined in the glossary), the four leading storytellers each have a fascinating tale to tell:
- Ead, a handmaiden to Queen Sabran, who is also an undercover operative from the Priory
- Tané, an orphaned daughter who trains to become a dragonrider
- Niclays, an anatomist and alkemist who has been exiled
- Loth, best friend to Queen Sabran who has been sent away to avoid interfering with her marriage prospects.
Through Ead, we learn about the revered Queen Sabran IX, who needs to marry and create a heir to the throne of Virtudom. With the weight of legends upon her shoulders, we learn about the woman behind the title and the mask she has to wear as a royal. Through Tane, we learn about the Eastern values of raising dragons and their conflict with the West who abhor dragons. Then there’s Niclays, who is exiled to the East and we learn about his historical affair with a Duke. I also loved Loth’s journey, and how he explores the country of Yscalin and their alliance with the Draconic realm.
4. Diverse, East meets West world
I’m always confused by epic fantasy stories that mainly feature white protagonists (how can you have a world with different weather and terrain that doesn’t feature diverse cultures and religions?), but The Priory of the Orange Tree definitely delivered with a rich world that is as diverse as our own. The Eastern territory of Seiiki is definitely Asian-inspired, that we pick up through their language, culture, beliefs and appearances.
The Western world also comprised of people from different colours and it was illustrated through their monarchy and the prim, proper nature of Virtudom. I loved how there were many different people of colour and backgrounds in this world and the author doesn’t resort to stereotypes to lay out her rich, colourful world.
5. Leading same-sex relationships
There are two leading same sex relationships in the novel which are beautifully written in, which made me root for both of these relationships (the taboo between their standing aside). Like the rest of the novel, you can’t help but root for their romances and my heart ached for them.
The Priory of the Orange Tree upholds current values through a diverse, female-lead epic high fantasy that is not only richly developed, but one that is completely fascinating in its own right. It’s completely refreshing and a definite must read novel for readers of the genre. I absolutely loved every minute of it.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a review copy!
The Priory of the Orange Tree is available at Australian bookstores for RRP$32.99 and from The Book Depository.