This book has much to commend. I struggled with deciding how to rate it. Should I rate it on all the really, really good things about it? Or all the annoying things that just kept bothering me here and there and building into an itch that I couldn't quite scratch? In the end, it was a an enjoyable read. But the things that bothered me were like burrs on my jeans that just stuck there and wouldn't come off.
The story is set in a massive, complex, varied world. I absolutely adored the worldbuilding, adored the multiple POV's from each section of the world with multiracial characters each with a different backstory, motivations, and characteristics. I mean, COME ON. Swimming dragons with riders who view them as gods? Fire-breathing dragons? A fruit-bearing tree with magical powers? Yes, please.
The magic system had elements that were enjoyable, and elements that felt a bit contrived. The orange tree was indeed fascinating, and the Red Damsels and Priory captivating and interesting. However, siden and sterren? It felt too much like Wheel of Time, having two balancing magical forces that even sounded like Jordan's world. I wish the author had made some different choices when it came to this, and made the Priory more of the focus.
The characters were incredibly interesting at times and incredibly annoying at others. First, I liked the idea of different types of rulers. From a Queendom to an Empire, this story didn't slant too heavily in favor of male or female domination. I've read far too many fantasy stories that are male dominated, or vice versa, and this one struck a really good balance. Sabran especially was very different than most rulers. She was strong when needed, vulnerable in a way that was endearing, and yet flawed. Niclays was my favorite character, though. I might be a bit biased since he was in the medical field (don't stone me). But his character arc, to me, was the most believable. His love for Jannart, his loyalty to Truyde, his friendship with Lula (I think that's her name) made him relate-able, along with his flaws. He often was a coward, yet when it mattered, he did the right thing.
So, some of the things that bothered me.
Tane. I had high hopes: she's a dragonrider, yet her selfishness really turned me off. Her obsession with her dragon was strange, and she didn't seem to care much about other people. Since she was a main character, I feel like there should have been more things endearing about her than just her general badassery (is that a word? Well, I'm making it one).
The length. I enjoy a good, long read as much as anyone, but this story really dragged in some places. I found myself skipping several scenes that didn't do much to the story except add to character development (maybe. I'm not even convinced on that point). I feel like it could have been 1/4th smaller, at least.
Talking animals. The dragons really were the thrust of the story, so adding other animals seemed a but overdone and convenient, too. Just when a character needed it, in came an animal to take them great distances just in time, or to rescue them, or to bring an important message. It detracted from the characters problem-solving and made some things just too easy for them.
Lastly: The Nameless One. I really liked the idea of this beast who poses such a huge risk. But in the end, I just wasn't too concerned about it. All the tension builds and builds, yet it was the sorceress who creeped me out more than the main "bad guy".
All that to say, I really did enjoy this read. The author has created a really compelling world with varied cultures, religions, and political systems. This is definitely where she shined the most.