Synopsis: The Berethnet line of Queens has supposedly kept the Nameless One at bay for a thousand years. But the Queen has yet to produce an heir and assassins keep appearing, threatening the Queen and her Queendom. Ead, a mysterious outsider has been secretly protecting Queen Sabran, though her Queendom makes a mockery of Ead’s own beliefs. Tane, across the sea, is hoping to be God-Chosen and is training to be a rider of the Dragons of the sea. But the dark Wyrms born of fire are rising, is Queen Sabran’s rein holding them at bay, or is there more to the story?
CW/TW *may contain spoilers*: death/disfigurement/gore/miscarriage/infertility/grief/alcoholism
Shannon really puts you through the wringer with this book! My experience was basically ‘oh this is a sweet character!’ ..oh.. *squints* ‘he is a sweet character too’ ..oh no.. *squints harder*’you… are not sweet I refuse to like you… why are you the sweetest’…screech…
“No woman should be made to fear that she was not enough.”
The Priory Of The Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon is an epic standalone with a rich world, great characters and brilliantly strong women paving the way.
Priory is a big book, with 848 pages of descriptive writing. Shannon’s prose is beautiful in this book, she weaves long and gorgeous metaphors that capture the beauty of the world, the magic and the sea dragons, as well as equally powerful metaphors and descriptions that show the opposite – the horror, monstrosity and fear of the fire-breathing Wyverns (wyrms and dragons). Despite the length, the beauty of the writing is captivating and serves to bring the settings alive, pulling them off the page and giving them life. Similarly, the writing breathes life into the characters, each of which have strong and distinct voices that make them stand out and manifest into something real and believable. The pacing starts out slow, introducing us to the world and building up its history and legends. But the pace quickly picks up and maintains a decent speed throughout the rest of the book, occasionally increasing with the epic action packed or tense scenes.
The multiple POV narrative structure works perfectly to compliment the prose and the story. We get insight into the Queendom through the Queen and Ead’s perspective, through the sea Dragon loving country through Tane, as well as chapters from Loth and Roos which serve to break up the religious and political strifes with action, exiles and piracy. Each perspective gives us a new and fresh angle into the story fleshing out the conflicts and characters as well as the world and its history. They each preserve a distinct voice and help to balance the story’s pacing.
The plot is epic, complex and thrilling. The story is a elegant mix of action, religion, magic, politics and war – with the power of women woven throughout. Shannon buils a careful and complex web of myths, legends, deceit and power that combine to create a phenomenal tale. The plot has multiple elements to it, each from a different perspective, with a significant amount of the story focused around Queen Sabran and Ead. Ead has been sent by the Priory to protect Sabran, to act as a Lady while taking down the assassins that threaten her, but it is harder than it appears as Sabran and her Queendom’s faith makes a mockery of what Ead and the Priory know and follow. The closer Ead gets to Sabran, the more tension that flares. But Ead is loyal and protects Sabran well and as they grow closer Ead comes to see the Queen in a new light. The Queendom ad Proiry storyline was incredibly interesting and I loved the dynamic between the two characters, as well as watching them work through their conflicting faiths. A lot of the political plans come from this perspective, and watching the shifting alliances of the court made for excellent reading.
Moreover, the Priory element of the story from their purpose to their history was fascinating, and this itself held its own mysteries. I loved the idea of the priory and all of the myths surrounding it.
Tane’s element of the story focuses around Dragons, those with an affinity for water rather than fire. Her goal is to become a Dragon rider, God chosen. Her kingdom sees Dragons as Gods and Tane’s relationship with her Dragon was brilliant. Her element of the story is more personal, a journey of determination. But it also has its own fair amount of deceit going on from harbouring criminals to blackmail to a wider magical mystery that draws her story to Ead and Sabran’s. I adored Tane’s part of the story, her character’s growth, her friction with Roos and her headstrong personality.
Other than the betrayals of the court and deadly political games, a physical and destructive threat also exists, The Nameless One. The fire breathing dragons/wyverns/wyrms are rising, and they foretell the awakening of The Nameless One, the dragon that will cause chaos and disruption, who will take over the Kingdoms and Queendoms for himself. I loved this aspect of the story as well.
All of these storylines go back to the incredibly rich history of myth, legends and religion that Shannon has created. Sabran’s bloodline is suppose to be what prevents The Nameless One from rising, her ancestor a brave warrior who fought and defeated him before, and his wife who helped build the Queendom that now lives on. Sabran’s bloodline is precious, each Queen birthing a daughter, one heir, all who look alike. But this is only the surface of the incredible lore that exists within this novel. We have conflicting beliefs, different forms of magic, an old and deadly witch and the dragons history all wrapped together into a large but realistic story, perfectly representing how stories can follow different branches over time causing conflict among the different believers. Unraveling the truth behind all of the lore was fascinating.
Honestly there is so much to say about the world, the story, the mythology, just all of it but I don’t think I can do it justice. There are so many threads that slowly come together that makes this book one you have to experience for yourself.
The characters are, as I have said, all brilliant. Shannon creates complex, multi-dimensional characters that are unique and distinct and powerful in their own ways. There is LGBTQ+ rep with both main and side characters which is incorporated nicely into the world . I loved Tane and Ead, grew to love Sabran, Roos will cause you to feel a rollercoaster of emotions, and Loth is just too sweet. The cast of characters is immense, but they are all memorable and have fantastic relationships with each other that keep you engaged. The characters come across incredibly well because they all are realistic, they have flaws their own beliefs and goals and each have their own purpose making them easy to connect with.
Overall, The Priory Of The Orange Tree is an epic standalone that is captivating and mesmerising. It weaves a brilliant, complex story full of action, politics and magic that will keep you on your toes and a number of shocking twists and turns that will keep you gripped.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves deep and rich fantasy with dynamic characters, strong women and twist plots. Perfect for fantasy lovers who want to dive into a strong and rich world.