I cannot resist a lovely floral design. My dream as a child was to own a Laura Ashley dress. As an adult, I content myself with Cath Kidston. The Tea Dragon Society, magnificently written and illustrated by Katie O'Neill is the book form of my obsession. And, while O'Neill hits a fantasy homerun with the creation of charming but needy and difficult little dragons that sprout tea leaves from their heads (leaves that, when brewed, allow the drinker to share the memories of their keepers through the drinking of this tea) the true marvel and gift of The Tea Dragon Society is the diversity of her characters and the effortlessness with which they inhabit her story. There are characters of color, differently abled and queer who, as John Martin says in his review for the Observer, "with less capable writers these would just seem like identity boxes being ticked off, but O'Neill introduces these elements into the plot with ease. It doesn't feel like she's trying to out-woke anybody."
Main character Greta is in training to be a blacksmith, like her mother. Greta has horns while her mother has horns and a tail and her father neither. When Greta rescues a small dragon on her way to the market, she learns that she has found a Tea Dragon belonging to the owner of a tea shop just outside of town. When Greta returns the dragon, Jasmine, to her owner, a Sylke named Hesekiel and his partner, Erik, she finds new friends and a welcoming new community.
Greta also meets the shy and quiet Minette and her Tea Dragon, Chamomile. Tormented by her gift of sight and training to become a prophetess, Minette's overly full mind erased every memory she had as a means of protection. Now she lives quietly and cautiously. Tea Dragons, who are delicate and mistrustful of strangers and have a tendency to bite, can live for a thousand years and raising them, a lifelong commitment, takes a great deal of time and practice. Hesekiel and Erik were once part of a society, although the members became unable to care for their Tea Dragons or passed away. With the arrival of Minette and Greta, who inherits a Tea Dragon named Ginseng in the epilogue, they decide to revive the Tea Dragon Society, which hopefully means more books from O'Neill about these marvelous, magical creatures.
While The Tea Dragon Society feels like it starts quickly and is over too soon, O'Neill does include several pages of back matter in the form of extracts from the Tea Dragon Handbook that are rich with detail and, of course, marvelously floral illustrations. I especially adore the four encyclopedic pages detailing the different kinds of Tea Dragons and their attributes.
Katie O'Neill is also the author of the graphic novel Princess Princess Ever After.