I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon recently, and I am so excited to share my thoughts on this amazing, 5 star, epic fantasy. I promise to do my best to keep this spoiler free, and brief so you can save time to read the book in February!
I read this book during the 25 in Five readathon, where I read for 25+ hours over a 5 day period. Over the course of the readathon, I completed Priory in 3 days. I do read epic fantasy like this fairly often, so I wasn’t too put off by the length of the book, and ultimately I have to say that it is completely warranted. At worst there are a few pages in the final section that are a bit repetitive, but I don’t think I would have noticed if I was not reading at such a rapid pace. The pacing and the plotting demands a book of this length to create one cohesive story. I don’t think it would have been possible to separate it into multiple books, and I am very happy it was presented this way. It’s a wonderful standalone piece.
Let’s talk characters! Over the course of the 800+ pages, you get to know a few characters very well, though there were some I would have liked to spend more time with. Samantha Shannon dug deeply into character motivations in this book. We don’t just have a queen, we have a queen afraid of her court’s expectations, with depression, who is also a brilliant strategist. Not only is Ead a highly skilled wyrm killer, she is also suffering from abandonment issues. The mental and social motivators for characters are always at the forefront, which isn’t something I see enough in my epic fantasy and I loved it. Also, a lot of the characters are LGBTQIA+.
“There is courage, I think, in open-mindedness, and thinking for oneself.”
Of course the other major set of characters everyone wants to know more about are the dragons. There are a lot of dragons, however, you don’t see a whole lot of them. Fear not! I felt I knew all I needed to about their role in the end, and if they had been more present it would have been difficult to maintain a sense of real peril and conflict. Dragons are notoriously over-powered, and I think Priory found a way to solve that problem well. I personally fell in love with a new fantasy creature I had never heard of before, and I’m so excited for more people to meet the Ichneumon!
“The dragons watched her. It was said they could see the deepest secrets of a soul, for human beings were made of water and all water was theirs.”
The plotting and pacing overall were very good, I would give them alone 4 stars. The opening section of the book is so fantastic. Things just keep happening, rapid fire, and you are really pulled into the action. The subsequent sections slow down a bit and you are able to get more comfortable with the characters. I will say that the travel sequences absolutely flew by, and I am usually very bored with traveling. The basis of the story feels very familiar (people with dragon must save the world), and somehow simultaneously unique and new. There are several elements from popular mythology that made surprise appearances and kept me going.
Unsurprisingly, Samantha Shannon doesn’t back down from using this book to take on some pertinent social issues. She deftly villainizes toxic masculinity, normalizes queer relationships, questions organized religion, and encourages globalization. None of this felt forced, or distracting to the story. They were simply issues that also existed in her fantasy world, and I really enjoyed seeing how her characters dealt with them.
I know a lot of this has been quite vague, but I really do think it’s important to approach this with an air of the unknown. I think any epic fantasy reader will find characters to relate to and enjoy within this tome. February needs to hurry up and get here so I can talk to more people about my new favorite characters!
Please note that all quotes are taken from the ARC and are subject to change.