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Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree

Wow. The reviews on Goodreads for The Priory of the Orange Tree were stellar, and let me tell you they’re true! It is like the feminist version of Game of Thrones, while not half as gory nor as sexual. After a while, I was so disappointed in GoT because it was pages after pages of fights, sex, or food. I get it, real life is like that, but that’s not why I escape to books! Spoilers alert readers!

An Epic Which Breaks Traditions

The Priory of the Orange Tree reminded me why I escape to books when reality gets TOO MUCH. It’s an epic fantasy with a social structure that’s gender-equal. There are as many women rules as men (if not more), and plenty of skilled mages, sorcerers, witches, and straight-up female warriors. By warriors, I mean DRAGON RIDERS. Sounds good so far? It gets better.

“I was only observing how the fiercest of warriors can hide behind such gentle faces.”

Queen Sabran the Ninth is the last of her line, being unable to produce an heir for the queendom of Inys. Not only that, she finds out that the whole religion upon which her heritage was built was a lie. Her ancestor twisted and manipulated facts to benefit himself. No surprise there, this is just Politics 101. But what the author Samantha Shannen does that is SO COOL is she gets Queen Sabran to accept the hard facts and to DENOUNCE her religion. At the very end of the book, after everything is said and done, Queen Sabran will not only abdicate but will also change the whole structure of her queendom’s monarchy and beliefs. She plans to do this in 10 years, after which she will retire to be with her beloved Ead Duryan.

A Better World

Do you know who this reminds me of? This reminds me of George Washington. YEP. The founding father of the United States of America did not run for the presidency a third term. Instead, he purposefully stated that he wished to say goodbye and rest under the shade of his own tree. If more world leaders behaved like this, the world would be a much better place eh?

In addition to all of the groundbreaking and earth-shattering, the characters of The Priory of the Orange Tree are so REALISTIC. From the mage Ead Duryan, the dragon rider Tane, the alchemist Doctor Roos, and of course Queen Sabran herself are so three-dimensional. They all have fears, guilts, ambition, selfishness, strength, love, and solid character growth arcs. They all seem like people you would run across in your daily life, with their concerns and hopes. This makes you sympathize easily with all the different viewpoints, although some of them are in direct contrast from each other.

At the heart of this book is open-mindedness. Thinking with courage, accepting that which is different, and learning to work together despite the frameworks of distrust which has been passed on from generation to generation. It kind of reminds me of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.

Five Stars.

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Book Review: Iron Hearted Violet

15/60 books in my Goodreads challenge! 25% of the way, yay to myself. Kelly Barnhill‘s Iron Hearted Violet is exactly my type of reading: young adult fantasy with a strong female heroine. I lapped it up in a couple of hours. The Who Girl Who Drank the Moon also by this author blew me away, so I decided to try this earlier book. Before proceeding: Spoiler Alerts!!!

It’s interesting that you can really note how an author advances in his / her writing, as the prose in Iron Hearted Violet is not as smooth as The Girl Who Drank The Moon. Some changes happened rather quickly without solid reasoning or explanation, and sometimes characters were introduced and re-introduced (the Captain Marda) without a certain reason as to why the special treatment if they were only minor characters.

A Fantasy to Challenge Beauty Ideals

Princess Violet was born ugly, unlike her beautiful Queen mother. But what she lacked in looks she overflowed in wits, energy, and vitality. The country loved her until an old creature called the Nybbas saw an opportunity to use Violet’s looks against herself and everyone else. The schemes of the Nybbas sowed insecurities inside the Princess, and soon our heroine starts to self-destruct. Something worth mentioning is that in the illustrations, Violet looked just fine-she didn’t look ugly at all.

I liked that the ideal of beauty was challenged, but I did not agree with the choice of the challenge. In Iron Hearted Violet, real princesses had to have long beautiful hair. Of course Violet then asked this from the Nybbas, and later found out how annoying it was to have long beautiful hair. I personally don’t have anything against it. In fact, in some Native American and shamanistic cultures, hair was recognized as part of the person’s very soul and energy. That’s why shamans grow out their hair.

A Plethora of Supporting Creatures

The stable boy Demetrius proves a great supporting character, while the Nybbas is truly a villain. There was no gray in-betweens in Iron Hearted Violet. The antagonist was a dirty lying creature to its core. Any sympathy you show the creature will be used against a you-just look at what happened to the Mad King of the Lowlands. His body basically was eaten from within by golden fire breathing lizards that were armies of the Nybbas.

There is an old wise, fairy/leprechaun lady called Auntie who continuously calls another younger fairy/leprechaun “idiot.” This kind of language doesn’t sit right with me, even if I know the context is love. Maybe the word “silly” will do?

The star of the book was, of course, the dragon. The last dragon left in Violet’s mirrored world was ancient, old, broken, and frankly in a deep depression. Violet manages to befriend the dragon and operate a procedure that returns its youth and power. Together, they defeat the Nybbas.

Having just watched Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, I realized how very different are portrayals of dragons in western fantasy literature in comparison to eastern fantasy literature. This fascinating topic deserves a blog post to itself, but suffice it to say for now that anything with girls, dragons, calm reliable supporters, and magic is a recipe I like.

The execution though could have been more polished. My rating is 3/5.