“We may be small, and we may be young, but we will shake the world for our beliefs.”
Samantha Shannon ~ The Priory of the Orange Tree
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 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.
As someone who hasn’t read much fantasy for a fair few years, this was a bold step for me. Although I own the book, I chose to listen to it so that I could multitask. Perhaps this a foolish idea, considering the complexities of many fantasy novels, and I admit that to start with I was a little confused by the story. Once I realised it switched between East and West, it all made a lot more sense and I was swept up in the tales of Inys, the dragons and the rich history of this fictional world.
Samantha Shannon is an excellent writer, with a cavernous imagination. Each character, place and creature is well-defined and it’s clear that if asked, Shannon could tell you a plethora of facts unmentioned in the book, so detailed is her creation. I believe this is known as world-building, and I found the world of Priory to be vivid, colourful and fascinating. The narrator of the audiobook was excellent, capturing the different locations and experiences of all characters really well.
I loved the characters. Each of them was unique and flawed, struggling with their beliefs, determination to survive and fear of breaking the cycle. Sabran was vulnerable and yet poised; she knows her duty, but to fulfil it goes against everything she wants and her love for Inys is conflicted by her love for Ead. Tané is bold, fierce and passionate, yet her love and respect for her dragon shows a softer side.
Yet all of these women are brave. They risk their lives and the wrath of those they protect, to do what they feel is right for the greater good. The mystic Priory that gives the book its name provides another dimension to the story. Ead’s loyalty is tested when she is forced to choose between her sisters and the woman she loves, a love that could threaten an ancient dynasty.
Priory has everything you could want from a book. There is love, lust, betrayal and adventure, as well as dragons, ichneumon (which put me in mind of a smaller version of a Luck Dragon) and more. Every element has just the right amount of detail and although it is a chunky book, I wouldn’t get rid of any of it. Queerness is a strong theme throughout, but it’s subtle and accepted, rather than shouted about and I loved that queer love is just a part of this world.
Despite my initial confusion about the myriad characters, I absolutely adored this audiobook. When it ended, I wanted to pick up the book and read it again, to experience the print version. Just a few weeks later I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of A Day of Fallen Night and was able to immediately return to the magical world that Shannon has created.
The Priory of the Orange Tree is published by Bloomsbury Books.
Other books by Samantha Shannon: A Day of Fallen Night