Fire ascends from the earth, light descends from the sky
Too much of one doth inflame the other,
and in this is the extinction of the universe.
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.
I received a proof copy of The Priory of the Orange Tree from Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review.
First off, I just want to thanks Bloomsbury once again for sending me a proof of this mind-blowing book. I didn’t expect it at all so I was so excited to receive an email saying I was getting sent a copy, and even more excited when the huge parcel arrived at my door! Also, just a note that this review will contain very minor spoilers – nothing huge or plot ruining, but just please be aware that they are there but I’ve kept them so small that you probably won’t even notice them!
The Priory of the Orange Tree is high fantasy as you’ve never seen it before. Yes, we have the court intrigue, the fantastic, in depth world building, the multiple POV’s that we see in so many of the great high fantasy novels… however, after finishing Priory and thinking just how to review this book that’s already become so special to me, I sat and realised – how many high fantasies have I actually read where the heroes are heroines; where the actions of the female characters are their own, and not dictated by men or at least a domino effect from something a male character has said or done? The world of Priory is a world ruled by women; from Sabran in Inys, to the women across the continents orchestrating their own fates, to the historical Queens of legend. We have four POV characters – Ead Duryan, a Southerner serving in the Inysh court, secretly a bodyguard for the Queen; Tané, an aspiring dragon rider in the East; Loth, a close friend of Queen Sabran and Ead; and Niclays, a scholar who has been banished to the East. Sabran is also a prominent character; she’s the current Queen of Inys – a land only ruled by Queens and in need of an heir to protect them from the Nameless One (the dragon which plagued them a thousand years ago). I have to say, as I do with most multiple POV fantasies, my favourite kept changing, but I did love Ead, Tané, Loth (and Sabran) very much – they all managed to be such relatable characters with such human issues, despite their main issues mostly being related to dragons or the Draconic Plague.
One thing that I’ve not been able to talk about much (with the aim of avoiding spoilers before the book’s released) is the main relationship in Priory. Romance doesn’t necessarily take a central role in this book, however, there is a f/f relationship between two important characters, and it’s so beautifully built up to and executed perfectly. I absolutely loved these two and I can’t wait for more people to fall in love with them, too!
One huge aspect of the world building in Priory is the magic system. It’s incredibly unique, manages to work so well with the plot and the rest of the world, and all in all I loved it and have definitely never read anything else similar to it. Also linked to this is the dragons – the dragons of Priory aren’t your standard fire breathing hoarders. In fact, there’s two types which link in to the magic system. The dragons of the East are viewed as gods and have riders, who train for years for the privilege (Tané among them). They are portrayed as being more water based and serpentine. The Nameless One and the other Great Westerns are the bad guys of the story, and are more of your typical hard-scaled, fire breathing dragons. The whole world has a duality to it, and any delicate change to this can tip the careful balance that has been established between East and West.
I’ve been following Samantha on Twitter for a long time and so followed her process whilst she wrote Priory. She often posts about the research she put into this book, and it really does show. The East has visible Japanese roots, where the West, its politics and foundations are very much inspired by the story of George and the dragon, but with a lot of twists and more modern takes. Without giving too much away, I absolutely loved how the traditional fairytale background was not only taken and twisted on its head, but it was almost portrayed in a way of a typically western, privileged belief being upturned. To me, it felt like a breath of fresh air to have the way of things so obviously disrupted, and so cleverly written that it applied to real life as well as to the plot of the book.
Those starred reviews claiming that The Priory of the Orange Tree will shoot Samantha Shannon up with the likes of world renowned fantasy authors? They’re so right. Priory is definitely not a book you want to be missing out on.
lots of love,