The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange TreeThe Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent fantasy. Set in an intricate quasi-Early Modern world where Eastern and Western cultures exist in what turns out to be an uneasy truce. There is a large cast of characters in many nations that end up having to prepare for the return of the Nameless One (an evil dragon).

There are two basic types of dragons: the fire-breathing wyrms of the West who are considered evil demonic creatures only fit to be killed by chivalrous knights, and the noble water-and-sky-dwelling dragons of the East, who are revered as living gods. This explains part of the spilt between East & West.

The main protagonists are two young women. In the West is Ead, a mage warrior from the Priory of the Orange Tree, a secret order charged with battling wyrms and protecting humankind in the name of the Mother, their founder who once battled the Nameless One. Ead is dispatched to guard Queen Sabran of Virtuedom, descendant of the Mother, who may be the key to stopping the Nameless One’s rise. Only one problem: Magic is not allowed in Virtuedom, so Ead must disguise herself as a handmaiden while ninja-ing around the palace and slaying assassins like a badass.
Meanwhile in the East, Tané has been training all her life to become a dragon rider, but when she finally gets her chance, everything seems to go wrong. She must overcome tragedy and disgrace if she is to save her own reputation, her dragon’s life, and the fate of her entire world, but no pressure.

The book is long, but never felt slow. What I really appreciated was the feminist world-view in which female knights and rulers were no more remarkable than dragons or mages. Gender equality was simply taken for granted. But a book with dragons, pirates and magic all interwoven make me hope Ms. Shannon will revisit this world in future books.

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