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REVIEW: ‘The Priory of the Orange Tree’ by Samantha Shannon is a beautifully inclusive and rich fantasy

Samantha Shannon intricately weaves story upon story in this epic fantasy of dragons, queendoms, and pirates.
 

As a lover of Samantha Shannon’s work, I couldn’t wait to pick up The Priory of the Orange Tree. It’s a huge tome, but the story is definitely worth the muscle strain.

The blurb:

A world divided.

A queendom without and heir.

An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must coneive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction — but assassins are creeping 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 to be a dragonrider since she was a child, 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.

One thing to note: Priory is not a YA novel. However, I couldn’t resist reviewing it because it is so good. I have reviewed Shannon’s other series, ‘The Bone Season’ on Bookstacked before, and so I needed to shout about her standalone novel too.

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The Priory of the Orange Tree is told from multiple perspectives, spanning the world Shannon has created. Each is entirely unique, and the voices follow suit. I loved that I didn’t need the helpful chapter headings to know which character was speaking.

Our storytellers are Tané, Niclays, Loth, and Ead. Their lives differ wildly, meaning you get a rounded look at the whole world of Priory. It was even more exciting, as a reader, to watch how mysteries unfolded — to realise (and be frustrated) that each character knew something that would help another on the other side of the Abyss.

I found this book to be incredibly inclusive. It’s f/f for a start, with all kinds of relationships being part of the normal order of the world. A particularly important thing for myself was the huge amount of women! They were knights, pirates, queens, villains, heroes, as well as wives, friends, enemies, and everything in between. And not one eyelid was bat at the roles they filled. It was delicious and so vitally, unknowingly needed.

The magic and world is incredibly complex. It shows just how much work has gone into the writing of Priory. Samantha Shannon has looked at worldwide mythologies and incorporated them into her epic fantasy. It took me a while to grasp some concepts, but this is hardly surprising with a novel this huge. I already can’t wait to read it again!

Dragons and wyrms are a massive part of this tale (in case you couldn’t guess by the cover). The Eastern dragons and Western wyrms are almost like two sides of a coin — but not quite. Shannon explores a world divided by their attitudes to these beasts: where one half despises all dragon-like beings, and the other differentiates between the revered dragons and villainous wyrms. In doing this, she also demonstrates the coming together of different beliefs, some of which reminded me of what might happen if the religions of today found their common ground.

Overall, The Priory of the Orange Tree is an incredible, epic tale. Its world is beautifully rounded — seriously, Shannon has thought of everything. The characters are unique and fiery and wholesome and powerhouses all at once. Its history and magic is enchanting. You will not want for anything in this book.

5
Deserving of the highest praise
Plot
Characters
Writing
Theme/Message

This book is simply incredible. I could talk for days about the beauty of it: about character developments, detailed descriptions, world-specific language and lineages and everything in this novel. But then my review would be hundreds of thousands of words long.

I loved every aspect, and I urge every single one of you to pick this up.

As a reminder, this is not a YA novel. There is some language and some scenes that are not be suitable for younger readers.