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.
Thank you very much to Bloomsbury Australia for providing an advance copy for an honest review.
I’ve never read a novel by Samantha Shannon before but the second I read the blurb for The Priory of the Orange Tree, I knew it was a book for me. It very quickly became one of my most highly antiquated releases of 2019 — if not the most anticipated book. I have to admit, the size of the book and the high fantasy genre did intimidate me a little, but Shannon’s unique take on dragon lore kept me hooked until the very last page. In fact, I even finished it in four days, it was that amazing.
In Shannon’s magical and enticing world, our four main characters, from the West and the East, follow seperate journeys until the threat of the rise of the Nameless One, a powerful wyrm who is a harbinger of the apocalypse, brings them all together. In this fascinating universe, the world is divided by their opinions on dragons. The West abhors any and all wyrms, fierceness and cruel dragon-type creatures that breathe fire and cause devastation. An entire religion, with a Berethnet Queen of Inys as its figurehead, has come out of the defeat of the Nameless One centuries ago, and it is believed that should the Berethnet line ever die out, the Nameless One will return. The East, however, has their own version of wyrms called dragons, who survive in the sea. People in the East worship these dragons as gods, and an elite force of warriors protect them.
Enter our main characters. In the West, we have Ead, a mage of the Priory of the Orange Tree, who, eight years earlier, was sent to Inys to protect young Queen Sabran Berethnet, due to her tenuous link to the Priory’s founder. And we have Arteloth, also known as Loth, an aristocrat whose relationship with Sabran was in the way of suitors, so he is sent on a suicide mission to the draconic kingdom of Yscalin. In the East, we have Tanè, a young woman from a peasant village who becomes part of the elite warrior force and a rises to the position of dragon rider. And last but not least, we have Niclays, an ageing anatomist and alchemist, who has spent years in exile for offending Queen Sabran.
Already this book may sound like a lot to take in, but there’s no need for concern. Shannon’s prose is breathtaking. It draws you into the world to the point where you feel as though you are right there alongside the characters. The Priory of the Orange Tree has a large cast of characters and a very complex plot, but Shannon’s writing flows so perfectly, its easy to follow along and retain information. I even had a notebook alongside me while reading this book (to jot down character names and how they relate to one another), but I didn’t use it once. What I found most impressive is that there was never a point where I got bored with the novel or wanted to hurry up and get to another character’s POV. My experience with high fantasy is that there’s too many POV characters and sometimes you just don’t care about one or two, and so reading their chapters becomes a chore. That definitely wasn’t the case here: even if one POV chapter ended on a cliffhanger and the next chapter opens with a different character, you’re not yearning to return to the previous character’s storyline.
These wonderful and complex characters are truly at the heart of this novel. Don’t get me wrong, the book’s plot and world-building is simply phenomenal, but both wouldn’t hold your attention unless you loved the characters too — and each main character, as well as the background characters, are simply amazing.
The second Ead killed an assassin on his way to murder Sabran, I knew she would be one of my favourite character. And she was! Ead’s storyline was fascinating to read as it unfurled, as you never quite know what she’s up to. Her background history and role in the novel is extraordinary — there were many moments my jaw dropped from shock as each aspect of her character was revealed. But what I loved most about Ead is her relationship with Sabran.
Not many people are aware, but The Priory of the Orange Tree has an f/f romance and it’s a slow-burn at that. My favourite! Ead and Sabran go from … not quite hating each other, but there is certainly animosity. Sabran, after all, is the queen of a matriarchal society, and so she has always gotten her way. Ead is fiercely independent and chafes at being ordered around, but so very slowly, a friendship is formed between them that turns into a lovely romance. And when I say slow-burn, I mean slow-burn. In fact, it took me until page 400 and something to even realise these two women were falling for one another. But its worth the wait.
Tanè is one of the most honourable characters I’ve ever come across in all of my reading. If I had a Tanè by my side in real life, I’d be set. She’s an incredible character who rises up from a life of hardship to become one of the most revered warriors in the world. I adored her relationship with her dragon, the great Nayimathun — it was a relationship borne of mutual respect and love, where they would each go to the ends of the earth for the other.
I was very surprised that Niclays became such a favourite character of mine. He’s a little bit like an underdog, in a way — you can’t help but cheer for him even when he’s making selfish or bad decisions. His past is heartbreaking, which I think goes a long way to making him so likeable. I was certainly stunned by how much I enjoyed his chapters and how invested I became in his storyline.
Loth! Oh how I love Loth! He is definitely my favourite character of The Priory of the Orange Tree. He’s so loveable and you can’t help but want to protect him. His character undergoes some amazing development too: he starts of the novel a very sheltered and naive man, who doesn’t quite understand the severity of his journey to Yscalin. He ends the novel a wizened and strong hero, although he still retains his sweet disposition (thankfully). I just want good things for him and his sister, Margret, forever.
What can I say about the world-building aside from: it’s stunning! I was just so blown away by the sheer thought and research that has gone into this book. Although there’s an author’s note at the beginning of the novel that explains that the world-building was inspired by many cultures and legends and is not to be considered an accurate representation of any one culture, you can still see where Shannon has taken her inspiration from and simply read in awe over how these legends and myths come together.
I sincerely hope Shannon considers writing a sequel to this novel, or even a novella, because I need more of this beautiful world. While the ending of the book is a closed and firm one, it is also open enough for the potential to return. I’m crossing my fingers!
If you’re looking for a novel about dragons, complex magic, court intrigue, badass female main characters who save the day (and the world), a loving romance, and devoting friendship, then look no further than The Priory of the Orange Tree.