Title: The Priory of the Orange Tree
Author: Samantha Shannon
Publication Date: February 26, 2019
Age Range: Adult
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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.
TW/CW: violence, gore, miscarriage, infertility, animal cruelty, talk of hunting/hunting on-page, incest (reference, not shown on-page)
If you’ve been following my reading journey, you would know that Priory has been haunting my tbr for quite a while. It’s the second-longest book I’ve read to date and one of the books I’ve been the most intimidated to read. Completing this book is one of the biggest accomplishments since starting this blog.
So let’s dive in.
“You have not seen death yet, my lord. You have only seen the mask we put on it.”
Priory is a multi-perspective story with numerous characters, however, we follow five main POVs: Sabrin, Ead, Loth, Tané, and Niclays.
Sabrin – Queen of Inys, heir of the House of Berethnet. Her bloodline has kept the Nameless One at bay. When rumors about wyrms resurfacing begin to spread, Sabrin’s sacred duty of finding a husband and birthing an heir becomes more important than ever.
Ead – Infiltrating the palace undercover, Ead is given the duty to protect Sabrin and aid her in fighting the wyrms, however, she finds herself closer to the court than she originally planned.
Loth – Long-time friend to Sabrin, exiled after rumors of the two having an affair begin to spread through the court.
Niclays – An alchemist that promised he knew the secrets to immortality. When he could not deliver on his promise, he was exiled from the kingdom. Now, with a new path forward, Niclays vows to return home.
Tané – Her entire life, Tané trained to be a dragon rider. But when a mysterious stranger washes onshore, Tané must decide if she’s going to help the stranger, risking everything she’s worked for or if she’s going to allow him to be arrested.
“There’s promise in tales that are yet to be spoken.”
Breaking down an 800+ page book means I’m bound to leave some nuanced thoughts out, but let me get out of the way, this was a solid fantasy story.
The blurb on the front pitches this book to fans of Game of Thrones. As this book heavily features dragons in a pseudo-Medieval world, I was wondering if the comparison was fair. After reading this book, I can say with certainty that this book is definitely one that GoT fans would enjoy, and for far more than just the dragons.
This book weaves in so much lore and myth into this overarching narrative, having the characters being caught up in something that has spanned 1000 years. Throughout the story, we learn about the tale of the Nameless One, a great dragon that brought about the draconic plague, who was vanquished by a mysterious hero.
Each land (and each religion) have their own tale as to who the hero was and how the Nameless One was banished.
The West follows the religion of the Six Virtues and teaches of Saint Galian Berethnet, founder and creator of Sabrin’s bloodline. The faith of the Six Virtues hinges on the belief that as long as the throne is occupied by a queen of Galian’s lineage, the Nameless One will stay asleep.
The South tells another tale, namely that Galian was not the one to defeat the nameless one, rather Cleolind. The mages of the south believe the Orange Tree was founded by Cleolind and believe the magic they get from the tree is to aid them in vanquishing the Nameless One, should he ever rise.
The East, however, believes in the sanctity of their dragons. Unlike the dragons of the West, the dragons of the East are water dragons, born of the stars. Riders of the dragons are also believed to be god-born.
There are also kingdoms that have pledged loyalty to the Nameless One and see him as a god.
One thing I love about the use of myth and religion in this story is that many of the tales, especially those of the West and the South started as the same initial story, however, one deviation is all it took for two separate societies and cultures to form.
“Behind every throne is a masked servant who seeks only to make a puppet of the one who sits on it.”
I was also blown away by how intricate the politics of the court were. We mostly followed the court of the West, but the number of secrets and lies, and conniving, and backstabbing was honestly so much fun to read about. Once there was the inkling of whispers and plotting going on behind the scene, I had so much fun connecting the dots with the characters and trying to figure out the loyalties and motives of the characters.
I also really enjoyed how the character’s plots overlapped and the threads of the story formed. I mention in my reading vlog that I loved watching the dots connect. I remember freaking out when the final set of characters became linked and watching how everything unfolded from there.
Overall the politics and mythology were my favorite part of this book and honestly the thing that kept me reading. I grew so attached to these characters and was surprisingly affected even when smaller side characters found themselves in dangerous situations.
“Some truths are safest buried.”
That being said, with how rich of a story we got, I still felt like one of the perspectives got significantly less time than the others. At first, it wasn’t as noticeable as at first this character really only seemed to connect two dots pretty loosely. However, by the end, it became clear that this character really only gave helpful information to two characters before being cast to the side. Despite having some really interesting chapters and backstory, I felt like this character is one I know the least about and seemed to only appear to move the plot forward.
I also felt like some of the travel in this book moved a bit too quickly. While I don’t want to read about characters traveling through boring terrain for pages on pages, it was a bit jarring to have a character talk of travel in one chapter and be at their destination in the next with little to no trouble. The only time this pattern broke was to get a character to a certain “unplanned” destination or to connect characters together.
This didn’t happen too often, but just enough that by the end I was able to pick up on it.
The Priory of the Orange Tree is a slow-paced, character-driven story that is perfect for fans of the fantasy genre. I think those who are newer to adult high fantasy would probably enjoy this one the most as it’s a fantastic bridge from introductory fantasy to more complex high fantasy.
I also really enjoyed that this was a standalone book. As much as I love long series and grand, epic story, it’s also really nice turning that final page and knowing the story is over. Priory is left a little open-ending, allowing Shannon to revisit this world or these characters in the future, but also satisfying for taking down over 800 pages.
It’s so clear that Shannon had this narrative fully thought out and did a fantastic job weaving all the characters and narratives together, though at times it felt like some perspectives existed solely for the purpose of connecting plot threads together.
If you’re a fantasy lover that is looking for something to curl up with this winter, this is a great choice for you.