The Priory of the Orange Tree
Author: Samantha Shannon
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 secret society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, 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.
Rating: Flawed, compelling characters, Fascinating world, Complex, inter-twined events
The Priory of the Orange Tree is a very large book, with a lot of characters and a number of different settings and inter-twined events and storylines. It wasn’t at all hard for me to get into, but it’s a bit of a challenge to know where to start in a review.
In the western Isle of Inys, among allies who also ascribe to the tenets of Virtudom, the House of Berethnet rules, a house of Queens whose line is said to keep the fire-breathingwyrm, the Nameless One at bay. Each Queen has one child only, always a girl, and when their line, the line of Galian Berethnet, savior of Cleolind, fails, the Nameless One will return to devour the world.
In the East, they worship the immortal dragons of the water as gods, and there is no greater honor than to be a dragonrider, god-chosen, Clan Miduchi. Yet the humans laws often do not reflect their gods’ wisdom.
In the south, in a secluded valley around a magical Orange Tree, live mages, pledged to hunt and slay the wyrms that are the get of the Nameless One. Ead Duryan, whose true name is Eadas du Nala uq-Nara, is one of these, sent by the Priory of the Orange Tree to defend Sabran Berethnet. Sabran’s blood might not be what keeps the Nameless One chained, but it might be, so it is worth it to the Priory to defend her. So in a world where she would be killed twice over if her true nature were discovered, for being a heretic and a sorceress, Ead pretends to be a devout convert to Virtudom, while she seeks to get close to Sabran – for the closer to Sabran she is, the better she can defend her.
Lord Arteloth Beck is a gentle and courageous man, who values friendship very strongly. He is close friends with Ead, and there is no romance between them, but some think they should marry. His closest friend is a man named Kitston with whom he does everything with. He is loyal and brave and compassionate, devoted to his Queen and to virtudom, but his beliefs are due to be shaken, and his courage stretched to the limit. A life that isn’t his dream stands before him, as he is the heir to his family’s estates, and would rather not be.
Sabran the Ninth is lonely, with no desire to marry, yet a great deal of pressure, the pressure of her religion itself, rests upon her to conceive a child. There are very few – perhaps none – with whom she can truly speak and hear openly. She is strong-willed and stubborn, but also naïve, and moody under the pressures that lie on her. She has great faith in her religion, not to be challenged or shaken, and little acceptance or patience for many things. She can be something of a fanatic.
Tané is an orphan. All her life she has dreamed of being a dragonrider, but the night of seclusion before the trials she must pass to be presented to the dragons, she breaks seclusion to see the sea, only to see a man emerge from the waves, smuggled from the west, in violation of the Sea Ban, made to keep the dreadful Red Sickness away from the East. But to preserve her own secret, Tané hides him. But from there things unravel, and Tane is swamped with guilt and regret and fear, even in the midst of her glory as a god-chosen dragonrider. She has one friend, named Susa, and her choice could hurt her, too. But Nayimathun, the dragon who has chosen her, wants to be her friend, not her exalted god.
Niclays Roos lost his lover, Jannart, long ago. Now he searches for the secret of the elixir of immortality, though not to use it for himself. His lost love for Jannart burns. Exiled from Virtudom, he has found himself a life in the little section of the port of Orisima in the east where outsiders are allowed to live. In the west, Jannart’s granddaughter, Truyde, still lives, pursuing strange ideas and theories that are considered heresy in Virtudom, about magic and what might keep the Nameless One bound. When this comes to his attention, he wants to plead with her to stop endangering her life in this way, but feels he owes some loyalty to her and those close to her for Jannart’s sake.
For the Draconic creatures are rising again.
These are just a few of the characters, and a tiny glimpse into who they are.
These are just a few of the people who populate The Priory of the Orange Tree, and it is just a tiny glimpse into who they are. It is hardly the beginning of their journey. This is a book that deals with selfishness and love, forbidden love, romantic love, platonic love. Religious fanaticism, of stories told wrongly and made into lies or incompletely by everyone, the full truth known by none and pieced together only in bits, where some most certainly have more of the truth and less of the lies than others, but no one is wholly right. Political intrigue, people with mixed motivations, people who are sometimes nearly consumed by evil, and people who aren’t perfect, but are really trying, a reflection of the diversity and conflict in individual motivations and various people in reality. The strength of will to embrace the truth, when it finally breaks down the walls of deceit and pig-headed stubborness that’s not yet the right sort of stubbornness, and the challenges that face different people as they find their faith to be a lie – or find truths they didn’t expect. When they find the dragons of the East are nothing like wyrms. Or that their choices have been propelled by a lot of selfishness, and that has brought horrible results, and they resolve to do the best they can to face it and make what amends they can. Loss, friendship, the discovery of love, the corruption of religion, all of these and more.
The Priory of the Orange Tree is not a symbolic or a very deep treatment of any of these, but it has insight and it is an enjoyable, engaging read with a lot of characters that are loveable – or hateable – in different ways. It also has really neat world-building and a magic system that I really enjoyed. Siden or terrene magic comes from the earth and is channeled through the Orange Tree and the mages who eat of it (and the fire-breathing wyrms). Sterren or sidereal magic comes from the stars and the long-haired comet and is the magic of the dragons of the East. And there is a balance between the two. I won’t spoil everything, since the magic and how it works is part of the puzzle of the book and the quest the characters have to solve to defeat the Nameless One, and some people live the discovery of that with the characters, but I thought it was really neat and beautiful.
Of all the characters, I think my favorite is the dragon, Nayimathun. She’s got such courage and wisdom, she’s so gentle and fierce and brave, and I love her relationship with Tané, and what she seems to want it to be, and how she develops it. (By the way, the Eastern dragons are so beautiful.) Here’s a quote that I don’t think spoils anything.
This is when Tané tells Nayimathun about the night on the beach when she hid the man from the West. She believes she might have brought the red sickness into her land, Seiiki.
‘I know I cannot be forgiven, great Nayimathun.’ She kept her gaze on her boots, but her jaw trembled. ‘I will go to the honoured Sea General in the morning. You c-can choose another rider.’
‘No, child of flesh. You are my rider, sworn to me before the sea. And you are right that you cannot be forgiven,’ Nayimathun said, ‘but only because there was no crime.’
Tané stared up at her. ‘But there was a crime.’ Her voice quaked. ‘I broke seclusion. I hid an outsider. I disobeyed the Great Edict.’
‘No.’ A hiss echoed through the cave. ‘West or East, North or South – it makes no difference to the fire. The threat comes from beneath, not from afar.’ The dragon lay flat on the ground so her eyes were as close as possible to Tané. ‘You hid the boy. Spared him the sword.’
‘I did not do it out of kindness,’ Tane said. ‘I did it because –’ Her stomach twisted. ‘Because I wanted my life to run a smooth course. And I thought that he would ruin that.’
‘That disappoints me. That dishonours you. But not beyond forgiveness.’ Nayimathun tilted her head. ‘Tell me, little kin. Why did the Inysh man come to Seiiki?’
I loved every scene with Nayimathun. I loved how she seeks a partnership with Tané, and I loved how she is above the prejudices and fears and constraints of the human society that worships her kind.
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