Samantha Shannon was so frustrated with an ancient religious tale that she wrote an 850-page fierce, feminist, high fantasy epic with intense worldbuilding and captivating characters to refute it. We can only hope to achieve this level of salty perfection someday!
The Priory of the Orange Tree takes place in a mythical world torn apart. East and West have long considered themselves enemies. The East worships the world’s few remaining dragons and certain citizens form a special bond with them to help protect society. The West, fueled by a religion known as Virtudom, thinks these peaceful dragons and the same as the creatures that once nearly destroyed humankind, the wyrms, and believes the strength of their royal house protects them from evil creatures. But as their ancient enemy begins to reawaken, the horrors these nations encounter and their fight to survive will throw everything they’ve ever known into question.
The story is told from four perspectives: Ead Duryan, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Sabran of Inys “gifted” to the queen under false pretenses many years ago, secretly protecting the queen with forbidden magic while simultaneously harboring secrets that could destroy Virtudom forever. Tané, an Eastern dragonrider in training desperately trying to stop her life’s work from unraveling due to one poor choice. Doctor Niclays Roos, a Western doctor banished to the East for failing to achieve his biggest goal. Lord Arteloth Beck, a member of the Inysh court sent on an international mission that may as well be a death sentence, all because he’s “too close” to his best friend, the queen. All of the narrators have their own definitive voice and while I liked being in some heads better than others, — My favorite, Ead, was fiery and proactive while my least favorite, Niclays, was self-serving and pitiful– they all served a purpose in the story.
Readers also get a cast of secondary characters that will grab their attention, like the ever-dutiful Queen Sabran the Ninth, Loth’s daring sister and Ead’s good friend Margret, and Loth’s galavanting best friend Kit, to name a few. There are also scholars, witches, pirates, and freaking DRAGONS! Each character has their own personality and gives to the story rather than simply existing within it, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Priory is an adult fantasy and a big one at that, but don’t let the size of the book scare you. Shannon fills the pages up with a rich story that makes each page count. I don’t want to give too much away, but I do love how these individual stories culminated into a much bigger picture with action, heroics, and sweeping romance. There’s some history involved, but it’s dispersed in small doses and plays a meaningful role. You won’t be trudging through mountains of pointless filler. If you usually lean toward YA fiction like me, I don’t think this book will be too mature for you. There are some sexual situations and some gore, but none of it is particularly gratuitous. With the exception of Niclays, the narrators are all in their twenties, as are many of the secondary characters, so it still captures young people, just not teenagers.
This is not the book to experiment with if you’re not sure about fantasy. It is very firmly a high fantasy with lots of moving parts. But if you know that genre is something you enjoy, you need to experience Samantha Shannon’s masterful writing for yourself!
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS
A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.
Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.
Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.