cover image The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Samantha Shannon. Bloomsbury, $32 (896p) ISBN 978-1-63557-029-8

Shannon (The Bone Season) satisfyingly fills this massive standalone epic fantasy with court intrigue, travel through dangerous lands, fantastical religions, blood, love, and rhetoric. Ead, undercover as a lady-in-waiting in a court analogous to that of Elizabethan England, must protect the queen from lurking assassins; the queen, Sabran IX, theoretically belongs to a magical bloodline whose existence binds the huge and abominable dragon, the Nameless One, at the bottom of the ocean. Half a world away, young Tané, the rider and companion of a more benevolent sort of dragon, breaks her country’s strict ban on allowing seafarers through its borders. This sets in motion a chain of events that reveals that Sabran’s ancestry may not be the true source of the Nameless One’s bindings, and that tests all three women profoundly in their attempts to keep humankind safe from the beast. Unfortunately, so much time and effort are expended on setting up the world and the principal conflicts that the denouement gets rather short shrift. The difference in tempo is very noticeable and hampers (although it does not destroy) the emotional effectiveness of an otherwise well-planned and well-executed ending. Nonetheless, this is a very capable epic fantasy. (Feb.)