My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a book with a lot to offer. We have four POV’s from two main characters and two slightly more secondary characters. The narrative swaps between these four in a chronological fashion, as opposed to simultaneous so the book covers a good period of time and develops events and characters over this. Our two key protagonists are Ead and Tané, two women from opposite sides of the known world who each come to discover their importance to the endeavour to save the world from the returning Nameless One: a big, nasty fire-breather dragon (or wyrm as the book prefers) who will destroy humankind just as he attempted to do before, 1000 years ago.
Both face danger, tragedy and huge feats of endurance and strength to reach the end battle; Ead as a member of the eponymous Priory of the Orange Tree and Tané as an Eastern dragonrider. The East reveres dragons – these are water and air dragons, not fiery fiends – as gods and to be a dragonrider is a great honour that requires years of training to compete in a once-every-50-year selection process. These Eastern dragons are graceful and beautiful and able to live in harmony with humans; the Western dragons/wyrms are the fire-breathing kind who seek to dominate the world and they are waking up from their slumbers to heed the coming of The Nameless One.
Without going into the story much more (trying to avoid spoilers) I can only attest that it is well pace, cleverly written and highly engaging. While I found the first few chapters a bit of an ‘info-dump’ and a little difficult to get used to the dialog, after this I was constantly wishing I could stay awake a little longer to squeeze one more chapter in. Shannon does a great job of dripping mystery and questions into the story; as one resolves, another question appears to keep you intrigued.
It is a long book at 804 pages of story and while there are sections/parts that this is divided into, each part could not be separated out to make this into 2 or more books. It all flows together and is well worth the commitment. Commendations to Shannon on creating such a massive tome that doesn’t feel like a chore and keeps the reader interested throughout.
There are a lot of themes that are explored in the course of the story including, love, duty, justice, courage, honour, religion and the overcoming of our differences. The two key Western religions both venerate a female figurehead of one sort or another; and same-sex relationships are not frowned upon in these societies. There is a historical m/m relationship and a present-day f/f one; while both encounter resistance, this is not because the relationships are queer, as we would see it, moreover because they each involve a member of nobility or royalty who is controlled by other forces to conceal their relationship – one of the men is already married and a father, honour-bound to remain so; and one of the women is controlled by external, malicious, forces to the extent she keeps her true self thoroughly hidden.
While there are battles and tragedy, romance and intimacy, there is nothing particularly graphic or gory in this book; if that is any concern to you. What you will find are beautifully written characters and compelling story with mages, witches, queens, emperors, dragons, wyrms and many other magical beasts besides. It is a great read and this edition has magnificent cover art so that The Priory of the Orange Tree will shine on your shelves for years to come.
This was book 57 of 2020.
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