The Priory of the Orange Tree
This book has gotten so much hype. It’s being compared to George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, being hailed as the next great fantasy epic, and some reviewers have even ranked it up there with Tolkien.
I was super super psyched to read this, but as with all things that are being hyped up/receiving a ton of popularity, I was a little wary that it wouldn’t live up to expectations.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t.
For me, anyway. Lots of people loved it, and you might too – and I didn’t hate it, or even really dislike it. I just…. didn’t love it.
I appreciate that it’s an epic fantasy that brings LGBTQ to the forefront, and it was actually quite an interesting premise. I enjoyed it, and I didn’t ever feel like I wanted to stop reading it – I was invested, and on more than one occasion I caused severe irritation to my husband because I wanted to get back to our hotel room so I could read, rather than visit yet another ramen restaurant (honestly, not sorry about that. By the end of our trip his insides were probably 80% ramen, and 20% human).
But – it just wasn’t amaaaaazing. I was annoyed by most of the characters, and none of them really showed much growth. Now I get that epic fantasies are usually more about the world building, and the dragons, or the magic, or whatever your particular series is focused on – but I always appreciate good character development in any plot, and there didn’t seem to be much in this book. Yes, there was the progress from antagonism, to respect, to love; yes there were great platonic relationships between the different genders; but the only characters I really felt much of anything about were Tane and Sabran – and I’m hesitant about including the latter in this extremely short list of two.
I almost wish the Asian influences on Tane hadn’t been there, because I wasn’t super impressed by how they were incorporated, there was a little bit of exoticising – although I’m currently reading the second book in the Lady Trent’s Memoirs/Natural History of Dragons series, and that has it heaaaaps worse. It wasn’t disrespectful, or racist, or anything like that, but it just felt a little….. weeby, to me? And I acknowledge that I was reading it at a time when I felt particularly sensitive about appropriation and things like that, and this book doesn’t appropriate – but I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with the whole thing.
Taking that out of the picture though, Tane was the only character who I really felt showed growth from being naive, to learning to look outside herself, experiencing loss, learning to respect others, and so much more. And yet, I felt like I wasn’t given enough. I saw all this growth, which I didn’t see in other characters (cough, Loth, cough) but I saw all the other characters so much more. Again, I acknowledge that I might be seeing this because I’m thinking about it so much in general, not just in the context of my reading of this book, but it felt like the ‘Western’ world and its characters were paraded across the pages for me to ostensibly care about, while Tane just brought her exotic sabre and magic jewels and fancy footwork and awe inspiring dragons to the sword fight at the end.
Thinking back on the book as a whole, I recognize that’s not a fair assessment – we see Tane’s story, and her struggles, just as much as we do Ead’s. But I suppose it’s the fact that Tane never really interacts with the other players (except Roos (Nicolas? What even was his name?)), while Ead is constantly swept up in the politicking, and the prejudices, and the discrimination.
If Tane had faced racial discrimination, would I have felt more kindly toward it all? Probably not. I’d then have an issue with “of course you bring Asians into this to talk about race”.
So really, maybe the issue isn’t with the book, but just with my mindset; maybe I was never going to be satisfied by something that people were telling me I had to love, because it was wonderful. I want to love things because of how I feel about them, not what I’m told to feel about them, and while it’s not the book’s (or the author’s) fault that people are gushing about it, that’s part of what made it less appealing to me.
So overall – good book, would actually recommend it if you’re thinking about picking it up, but I would warn a reader to temper their expectations.