Samantha Shannon has taken time out from her prospective seven volume Bone Season series to release a giant, stand alone fantasy epic. The Priory of the Orange Tree has all the hallmarks of classic epic fantasy – a rising implacable evil, royal houses, main characters who are the subject of prophecy or descendants of heroes and so are allowed to disregard authority, dragons (good and bad), magic, pirates, powerful macguffins, ancient riddles and plenty of quests.
While there are a number of point of view characters, the main tale revolves around Tané, in the East and Ead in the West. Tané comes from poor beginnings but has raised herself up to train as a dragonrider. An act of mercy the night before she is confirmed to join the elite dragon riding class hangs over her and eventually leads to her disgrace. Ead meanwhile is actually an agent from the secretive magic users from the Priory of the Orange Tree, sent to watch over and protect queen Sabran. Sabran is the latest in a line of queens whose continued existence is said to prevent the rising of the Nameless One, a powerful dark dragon who seeks to destroy humanity. Ead protects Sabran from threats from both within and outside her court. But the prophecy is not all it seems and nothing the pair do is able to prevent evil draconic forces gathering and the Nameless One’s return. But destiny, their bloodlines and various magical items are on their side.
The rest is a series of quests and adventures as the pair seek out the jewels and sword that were used to vanquish the evil dragon a thousand years before and the then rally humanity to join the fight. There are no surprises here as the plot proceeds along very familiar epic fantasy lines. Ancient riddles are solved when needed, long term enmities are put aside quickly when necessary, as are challenges to ancient religious orthodoxy, and acts of betrayal are forgiven when they are proved to be in service of a higher cause.
For fans of this type of standard epic fantasy Shannon has crafted a fun and engaging standalone adventure tale even within its predictable plot beats.