Warning: Spoilers nigh.

Great gods below, where do I start?

Well, to begin with, I’ve just had major Legend of Korra flashbacks because I am now three-quarters of the way through The Priory of the Orange Tree and I have gone from liking hardly anybody to liking almost everybody. 623 pages of sometimes agonizing build-up have actually paid off, because the book has finally grabbed me. I like how the clash between the religions has been handled. This week’s section was particularly interesting, because it now turns out that neither Virtudom nor the faith of the Mother is completely wrong: rather, they’ve been seeing two different versions of the same story. The faith of the Mother believes that Cleolind Onjenyu sealed the Nameless One herself and established the Priory of the Orange Tree, which is true; Virtudom believes that Cleolind married Galian Berethnet, the Saint, and bore his daughter before dying in childbirth. Galian did marry a woman who called herself Cleolind and did have a daughter with her, but he also threw her into prison upon learning she was in fact the Lady of the Woods, which of course changes everything.

That being said, I haven’t taken complete leave of my senses and I have also gone from hating Niclays a little bit to hating Niclays a lot and I do not understand why he’s being presented as a protagonist. That dude can literally go fuck himself, because nobody else will. I know I said a variant of this last week, but this book is getting one star if Niclays gets shoehorned into a romance with Laya, who deserves so much better than a whiny, washed-up 500-year-old alchemist. I don’t know if Niclays x Laya is going to be a thing, but I do know that Niclays is in for a nasty surprise if he survives long enough to go looking for Truyde because the last I heard her head was on a spike in front of the palace. I feel like I should mourn for her because she was only 17 and she was actually right about the dragons and the comet, but she was also so completely unlikable that I find I have zero fucks to give. (Also, random fun fact: Priory was the second book I read on Wednesday to include the word sidereal, because War of the Worlds used it too.)

Meanwhile, Tané has gotten wind that her dragon is still alive and she also had a jewel inexplicably stitched into her side, which overall is giving the book a very anime-ish vibe because Inu Yasha did the same thing with the Shikon no Tama. I’m not really sure how I feel about that, but in general I don’t tend to be well-disposed towards books that are secretly animes in disguise. Tané has been unbelievably wishy-washy despite her obvious ability to kick ass, so I’m hoping she’ll acquire some spirit in the final quarter of the book. Maybe she can take attitude lessons from Onren and/or Ead, cus she sure could use some. Tané suffers from a curious defect often found in modern female characters: she’s “strong,” but she isn’t anything else. She’s not mischievous. She’s not funny. She’s not brilliant or sweet or angry or hateful or any other adjective you can think of, because she’s a fucking blank. If you asked me to describe her in three words, I would stall out after “Seiikinese” and “strong.” You can see little bits of what might generously be called personality when she interacts with others, but these interactions generally are based on her reactions to whatever she’s being told, and have little to do with her inherent character. The only things I can say with any certainty are that she comes from a small village, she’s worked all her life to become a dragon rider, and she reveres her dragon. I sure as hell hope that’ll be enough to carry her across the sea to rescue said dragon, because her most dominant trait so far has been her fear of getting outed as unworthy. There was also a hot second during which I really worried she was going to become an opium addict, which would’ve been beyond lame, but fortunately that hasn’t happened.

As with the last two updates, I’ve been enjoying the West chapters way more than the East chapters, because the West chapters are run by an ass-kicking woman who actually has personality. Ead remains the only thing that has carried me this far into the book, because she is smart, resourceful, iron-willed, and, above all, hilarious. She has a lot of secrets – who doesn’t? – but, unlike Tané, she doesn’t let herself be consumed by them. She doesn’t let anything stop her, she learns from her mistakes and keeps rolling. She’s great. Here’s Ead refusing to succumb to Man Flu:

She burned to leave the caravan and ride for as long as it took to reach Chassar – but she was not the Melancholy King. Fear would not make her take leave of her senses. She was not proud enough to think she could cross the Burlah alone.

And Ead correcting a misconception:

‘Eadaz, sleep for a little longer.’ He kissed the top of her head. ‘And for now, don’t touch the jewel.’

‘I’m a meddler,’ Ead muttered, ‘not a fool.’

And Ead’s distant ancestor, who knew what was up:

Siyāti uq-Nāra had named the falls the Wail of Galian to mock his cowardice.

And Ead’s friend Aralaq the ichneumon throwing some shade:

‘Be sure to return her to me in one piece, Aralaq.’

‘I am no stupid bird,’ Aralaq said. ‘Ichneumons do not lead little sisters into danger.’

I had to google ichneumon because after 480 pages I still had no idea what the fuck they were and I was for some reason picturing them as long-tailed talking polar bears but they are in fact giant talking mongooses…….? Which actually does make more sense with them not liking wyrms and all, but I feel like a clearer description wouldn’t have gone amiss. Now I’m going to have to go back and find the chapter where Loth first meets Aralaq. (Also there’s a species of wasp named ichneumon and I am so grateful for Google autocomplete because I don’t want to see pictures of that.)

Mysterious ichneumons aside, I am finally fully onboard with Ead x Sabran. It’s been a long, hard road, but I’ve rescinded my disapproval because Sabran is growing up tremendously; because she and Ead speak to each other openly and honestly, not even barring affectionate name-calling; and because, most importantly, Ead can now give Sabran advice that would’ve lighted her pyre if she’d offered it earlier in the book.

‘I showed you as much of myself as I could,’ Ead told her. ‘Any more would have seen me executed.’

‘Do you think me a tyrant?’

‘I think you a self-righteous fool whose head is harder than a rock. And I would not change you for the world.’

This is what I want to see in a romance: I want to see the participants being seen and loved for who they are. I loved this scene:

‘Have you no care for your own life?’ Sabran said hotly. Ead stopped. ‘I spent weeks believing you dead when you left Ascalon. Now you want to go across the sea without protection, without armour, to a place where you could face death or imprisonment.’

‘I already did that, Sabran. The day I came to Inys.’ Ead gave her a weary smile. ‘If I survived once, I can again.’

Sabran stood with her eyes shut, hands white-knuckled on the mantel.

‘I know you must go,’ she said. ‘To ask you to stay would be like trying to cage the wind.’

And, of course, I can’t omit their touching reunion:

‘Ead.’ Fingers came to her face. Ead pressed the icy hand to her cheek. ‘No. You are another dream. You come here to torment me.’ Sabran turned away. ‘Leave me in peace.’

Ead stared at her. Then she laughed for the first time in weeks, a laugh that stemmed from deep in her belly.

‘Damn you, intransigent fool.’ She almost choked on her laughter. ‘I have crossed the South and the West to get back to you, Sabran Berethnet, and you reward me thus?’

YOU TELL HER EAD 🤣❤️ I do think Sabran came around a liiiiiiittle too easily on a couple of issues, but she has been under effective house arrest for a while and has seen the lengths to which some of her people would go to dethrone her, all of which has doubtless given her a good solid dose of perspective, so I can let that slide. I didn’t really love Ead charging to the rescue because I had really hoped Sabran was going to take charge of her terrible situation and learn to stand on her own without her favorite crutches, but if this ends up with Ead and Sabran sharing power I won’t be mad. Despite Priory‘s many flaws, I have to admit that I’m satisfied overall with the feminist aspects of the story. I love that the male characters all keep to the sidelines; everything they do is in support of the women. I looooooooved this exchange:

‘People will see that you are not with child.’ Loth hesitated. ‘Will you tell them you are barren?’

Sabran dropped her gaze to her belly.

‘Barren.’ A thin smile. ‘We must think of a different word for it, I think. That one makes me sound like a field stripped of its crop. A waste with nothing left to give.’

She was right. It was a cruel way to describe a person.

‘Forgive me,’ he murmured.

I love that Sabran – with Ead’s help, not with a man’s – is starting to fight her way out of the lies of the House of Berethnet. I love that she’s beginning to reclaim her agency. Everything she’s done as queen has been centered around this notion that she has to get married and she has to bear a daughter to replace her, but, now that she can no longer conceive and Igrain Crest is gone, I want to believe that there’s nothing that can prevent her from rewriting the rules. There was some mention of a past queen who ceded the throne to her daughter in order to live peacefully with her female lover. I want that for Ead and Sabran, only I want them to rule together instead of running away to the Milk Lagoon. Sabran has been shaped so much by Crest, but she’s starting to come into her own and I am fucking here for it. Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that she can’t let herself be pressured into marrying the Lacustrine Emperor. (I think the Lacustrines are supposed to be Chinese? All the signs are pointing that way.) She has stated very clearly that she wants to lead Inys without a husband in tow. I hope she gets to do that.

On the subject of women with agency, Meg has been the biggest surprise because, although she’s not really a main character and is just now starting to do stuff, she probably has the most agency out of all of them, aside from Ead, Truyde, and Igrain. She’s not haunted by ghosts or bullied by her advisors. She says what she thinks and does what she wants. She befriends Ead, who is treated as an outsider by most of the court. She (lovingly) bullies Loth, who is her older brother. She does what people tell her not to do, and she does it with an attitude. She provides exactly what Ead needs to avoid arrest and lies about her role in the escape, and consequently is never caught or punished. She is the only person in the entire Inysh court to ask Ead if she prefers to be addressed by her real name, Eadaz. She agrees to a betrothal without her parents’ consent omg that is so not done in this period of English history. She doesn’t even lose her head when Ead blows magefire over both her and the Lady of the Woods. Here’s a few of my favorite Meg moments:

Meg Thinking for Herself

Ead met her gaze in the glass. ‘Meg, what has Loth told you about me?’

‘Everything.’ Meg grasped her by the shoulders. ‘You know I take the Knight of Courage as my patron. There is courage, I think, in open-mindedness, and thinking for oneself. If you are a witch, then perhaps witches are not so wicked after all.’

Meg Being Meddlesome

‘It is nothing you want to meddle in, Meg.’

‘I wasn’t meddling. Well, perhaps,’ Margret admitted. ‘One must be a trifle meddlesome at court, or one has nothing to talk about.’

Meg Supporting Gay Rights

‘Your dance with Sab last night set tongues wagging.’ Margret glanced at her. ‘Rumour is that the two of you are lovers.’

‘What would you say if that were true?’

‘I would say you and she can do as you please.’

Meg Being a Daddy’s Girl

‘Yes, Papa, I’m here. I’m sorry to have left you for so long.’ She kissed his hand. ‘Forgive me.’

He lifted her chin with one finger.

‘Margret,’ he said, ‘you are my child. I forgave you all your sins on the first day of your life.’

Meg Taking Charge

‘Another wretched riddle.’ Perhaps it was the strain of the last few weeks, but Ead felt so threadbare with frustration that the thought pinched at the fraying edge of her sanity. ‘Mother curse these ancients and their riddles. We have no time to –’

‘I know exactly what it means.’ Margret was already stuffing the parchment into her bodice. ‘And I know where Ascalon is. Follow me.’

Meg Telling Loth About Himself

‘We are not supposed to question, Meg. Faith is an act of trust in the Saint.’

‘And are you not questioning yours at all?’

‘Of course I am.’ He rubbed his brow with one hand. ‘And every day I fear I will be damned for it. That I will have no place in Halgalant.’

‘Loth, you know how I love you, but the sense in your head could fit in a thimble.’

Meg Being Absolutely Fucking Ruthless

‘Don’t think these things. You are not cursed, Sab,’ [Meg] said gently, but firmly. ‘Ead is not dead, and we will not mourn her. We will fight for her, and for everything she believes in.’ She looked at Ead. ‘But I tell you this – I will not marry Tharian until she wakes. If she thinks this foolishness will get her out of giving me away, she is sorely mistaken.’

I love Meg and Loth and I sincerely hope they both have very happy endings.

A Quick Disclaimer

I may have come around on Ead x Sabran, but none of it will mean a damn thing if Ead dies. I don’t think she will. I think she’s going to pull through. All the same, I’ve added Ead’s death to the list of one-star dealbreakers I’ve been compiling since the second quarter of the book. They may have magically morphed into a sweet couple, but if Ead turns out to be a disposable plot device to Teach the White Woman an Unforgettable Life-Changing Lesson I’m going to be SO. FUCKING. PISSED.

For the record, here’s the complete list of Things That Will Cause Me to Give the Book One Star, in no particular order:

  1. Niclays lives.
  2. Niclays finds a working longevity potion.
  3. Niclays gets romantically entangled with Laya (or anyone else).
  4. Niclays brings Jannart back from the dead.
  5. Niclays is in any way happy.
  6. Tané does nothing.
  7. Tané ends up with Turosa.
  8. Turosa gets a happy ending.
  9. Nayimathun dies.
  10. Ead dies.
  11. Meg dies.
  12. Loth dies.
  13. Sabran fails to become an independent monarch.

Ending this week’s update with this quote, because it’s just funny:

Conversation turned to the impending nuptials, and Lady Annes soon began to counsel her daughter about her wedding night (‘You must expect to be disappointed, darling, for the act often falls woefully short of the promise’).

Only 208 pages till the end. Wish me luck!