The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon, was a 2019 release that I missed when it came out in February. I ended up picking it up solely because of an off-hand tweet of Shannon’s that I saw that said something to the effect of ‘I love dragons so much I wrote an 848 page book about them.’ I love dragons a lot too, and long books, so I picked it up on the spot, and damn was it worth it. I ended up reading it all in one sitting. It’s that good.
I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, here.
Read me for the…
- Epic high fantasy
- Feminist retelling of Saint George and the Dragon
- Strong female characters
- Varied narrators
- f/f badasses in love
I know most of these are about the women, but honestly, the characters in this book are SO GOOD and reminded me how much I am so gay 🥰
Sabran IV is the Queen of Inys, the ruling family for the last thousand years. She’s unwed, still, and her court are growing anxious as they wait for her to conceive a daughter to protect her Queendom from certain doom. It is her bloodline that keep her realm safe – while the Berethnet house sit on the throne of Inys, the Nameless One cannot rise again.
Ead Duryan is a lady-in-waiting in Inys’ court, but she’s much more than she seems. A mage from a secretive society that draw magic from a powerful orange grove blessed by an ancient ancestor, she is hidden in the court that would kill her as a heretic to protect Sabran from assassins that are intent on ending the Berethnet line once and for all.
Across the Abyss, Tané has been training to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but a moment of kindness towards an outsider risks ruining the future she’s always wanted.
The Nameless One is rising, and his wyrms along with him, and if the East and West can’t learn to make peace, then chaos will certainly rule.
What did I love?
- Just about everything?
I’ve been gushing a lot about this book, but honestly it was a really powerful read. As a whole piece, this novel is beautifully crafted, and despite being 848 pages, it doesn’t drag at any point. I was gripped from the first word to the last, and I actually sulked when I hit the end and ran out of book. Not because the ending wasn’t just as good as the rest of the book but because I just wanted… more.
- The characters:
There are four narrating characters throughout the novel: Ead, Tané, Loth and Niclays. I’ll put my hands up and admit I found Loth to be boring, and Niclays to be irritating, but the information learned in their chapters was interesting enough that I forgave them those minor sins. Ead, Tané and Sabran on the other hand, I adored.
Ead Duryan, or rather Eadaz du Zāla uq-Nāra, is torn between the country of her home and the country she’s been living in for eight years. She is Sabran’s lady-in-waiting, and then a lady of the bedchamber, and then, impossibly, they fall in love. Ead was so fleshed out that she felt real. I spent most of the book feeling like Ead was sat beside me telling me her story and her struggles, and more than anything else I loved her unrelenting decision to do Right and not easy. She was constantly torn between two opposing worlds, and lying to everyone she knows. It could cost her everything, but she isn’t nearly as selfish as I would have been.
I expected to dislike Sabran from the start of this novel, but much like Ead I found myself suddenly and confusingly in love with her. She’s doing her best in a terrible situation with pressure that I can’t even imagine, and despite the way she’s been raised she proves herself willing to learn and be flexible. She’s also my absolute bicon for the just passed Bi Visibility Day.
Tané I can’t say much about, because big ol’ plot spoilers, but let’s be real. Who needs to know anything more than brave and heroic dragonrider???
- The varied and gorgeous cultures:
A thousand years ago Galian Berethnet valiantly saved Princess Cleolind, the Damsel, and defeated the Nameless one. As long as the royal Berethnet line survives, born from Galian and Cleolind, the world is safe from the Nameless One’s rage. Or so the north claim. But some in the south believe that Cleolind was the one to vanquish the Nameless One, and that she never left with Galian. They call her the Mother. Not the Mother of the Berethnets, but the Mother of the Priory, sworn to slay any wyrms that rise. The east don’t believe either story. They believe that the Nameless One was slain by their water dragons, revered as gods for their powers and their protection. It created a rift between the East and Virtudom, the north, that seems impossible to heal, and the East closed itself away to protect itself from the draconic plague that is becoming more and more common as the wyrms start to rise.
The world that Shannon created is rich and detailed, and creates beautiful conflicting regions with an interesting and realistic depiction of religious conflict. I particularly liked that there was evidence to support all of the legends, and it took a long time of weighing up the stories to decide what to believe in before evidence to disprove some of the legends started to appear. Every character had motivations that were fleshed out and influenced by the culture in which they were raised, giving a huge depth to the world and the people living in it. It felt like I’d known about this world for years, as intimately as I know my own.
What did I not love?
My only criticism of this 848 page epic is that occasionally the names and timelines were a little confusing, mostly because there were a lot of characters with different names in different cultures and conflicting mythology. There was a timeline at the end of the book that was super-helpful, but I was scared it would have spoilers so I didn’t consult it until I’d finished the book. It’s not really spoiler-y, so I was over-cautious but I can’t be sorry because this book was so perfect that I would have been devastated if I’d had it spoiled. There is also a character guide at the back, non-spoiler-y, which is very helpful.
I can’t hold this against the book too much though, because I read all of this in one sitting and on a slower re-read I’m sure I would be able to keep track a little more easily. By the time I’d hit the thick of the plot, I was able to follow the characters and historical information confidently.
Where can I buy?
If you can, please support your local independent booksellers!