Genre: Fantasy Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 5/5 stars Series: Standalone
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.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE is probably the biggest fantasy book (both literally and figuratively) to be published this year. The hype around it is unreal, as are the muscles you need to hold it for any extended length of time. Promised as a ‘feminist re-telling of St George and the Dragon’, the expectations for this book are pretty high.
PRIORY lives up to it the hype in every way. It is a gripping read from start to finish that will leave you turning pages long after the lights should be out. The world is so lush, the writing lyrical and the politics is brilliant.
There are so many myths woven into this book it would be impossible to spot them all. St George and the Dragon is obvious, and I loved how the myth was deconstructed gradually. Hints are teased out about the ‘true’ version of the myth of St Galian, his magic sword and the Princess. Even after Loth is given the truth, there are still holes that are gradually filled, woven into the other tales.
There’s less magic then you might think, but this stops it becoming boring or overused-so-why-can’t-they-just-save-the-world. For a rather vague magic system, with no apparent limits, this works really well to stop it being a deus-ex-machina.
The two types of dragons – fire and water – feel very different, moulded by the perspectives of the characters they’re introduced through. I liked how the same creature could be treated so differently (and the politics that throws up!).
It starts of slower, building the world and immersed in the politics (yes!) of the Innysh court, before the pace steadily rises to the finale. The initially slow pace allowed Shannon to weave the rich world around the narrative and reader, introducing many key elements of the plot.
With four POV characters (Ead, Loth, Tané and Nicalys), of course one is always going to be the favourite. Mine was Ead (closely followed by Loth). All four, plus the many side characters (seriously, there’s two dozen pages of cast), are so complex and human. They have their own fears and desires, flaws and strengths, with Sabran the stand out secondary character.
Ead is essentially the main character, so we follow her around a little more – and there was more politics in their part of the story. I loved her courage and conviction, not to mention the strength of her friendships.
Loth is pushed most outside his comfort zone, but stays true to himself throughout. I particularly loved watching him work through discovering the religion he cleaves is a lie – it was expertly handled and hinted at what the world would have to go to.
For maybe 75% of the book, Tané and Nicalys feel like a very separate story, lightly woven to each other by a few threads of fate and to the other half of the story by the world. As the pace begins to pick up, they’re drawn into others’ story. Tané was probably my least favourite part of the story, mainly there for the jewels. The way she got it felt a little contrived, but at 848 pages, something quick was needed. Nicalys occasionally showed a biting, self-deprecating wit (showcased best by his remark on his part in the finale).
If you’re wondering about picking up this book, don’t be daunted by the size – it’s a brilliant tale that you’ll want to revisit again and again.
Read my reviews of other books by Samantha Shannon
The Bone Season: