You know that feeling when you read such a good book that the world just seems to be two steps behind as your mind zips ahead to contemplate all the choices you've made to reach this moment in time wherein you've finished this book and you're gaping like a dead fish trying to wrest the meaning of your life without the sequel into existence?
That feeling is too tragic to be encompassed by the word agony but let's leave it at that, shall we?
First of all, I'd like the public to note the amount of effort it took to restrain myself from clicking a picture of this book in a pile of oranges. Noted? Are you sure? Thank you very much.
Now, onto my review of The Priory of the Orange Tree.
The Priory of the Orange Tree.
The Priory of the Orange Tree.
Right now, my brain is rolling around in agony trying to put this jumbled mess of feelings into words. TPOTOT is humongous. Not just in size, though it does rival a few of my textbooks, but in sheer vision. This book has been touted as a feminist Game of Thrones but if I were to be honest, that remark feels redundant. The Priory of the Orange Tree is a breed of its own, blending myths from numerous cultures and subverting tropes with style. In a way, Samantha Shannon’s latest feels like an amalgamation of everything that has worked in fantasy so far. Has that been detrimental to how much I enjoyed it? Not in the least.
Let me put it like this. It has dragons. It has queens. It has assassins. It has magic and betrayal and plot twists galore. It's a glorious epic that takes it time to unfurl so that when it finally does whisper its secrets you're blinded by the sheer light of revelation.
Maybe I’m being a touch dramatic, but yes, it’s pretty awesome.
The plot is intricate and finely weaved. Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect? When a butterfly beats its wings in China it whips up a storm in America. After I finished the book, I took some time to ruminate over the choices and actions of several of the characters and it nearly blew my mind when I realized that everything was connected. Each choice had its own consequences and caused ripples in the universe. Like Newton’s Third Law, in which every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Samantha Shannon juggles overarching plotlines and multiple narratives with grace and I am in awe.
When a book gets me to talk a science, you know it's good.
TPOTOT follows a number of characters, most noteworthy being a dragon rider, a queen, a mage, an alchemist. All the POVs had their own distinct voices and each character shaped and grew into its own. I loved the growth of several characters through the book and at the end some of them even broke my heart. My favourites in particular were Sabran’s, Ead’s, Tané's, and Niclay’s.
The fact that I just named most of the main characters should not be a surprise.
And the romance! Romance wasn’t the focus of this book, but the little that was was beautifully written and natural. It was diverse and did very little to distract from the plot, something Shannon has all my love for.
If I had to mention the one thing that stood out to me the most though, I would say the political intrigue and religious conflict. The world has three religions and each has their own recording of the same central event which are of course, completely contradictory to each other. This stirs drama and tension and also keeps the readers guessing throughout; what really happened a hundred years ago ? Whose version is the truth? and will all these people ever get over their goddamn differences and work together?!?!
As you start reading, the first 100 pages are meant to be taken slow. You’re dropped into the world with no explanation. I would suggest sticky tabs or a notebook to stay on track as Shannon doesn't info-dump; she expects you to pick it up as you go along and possibly a personal preference? I like that. After the first section the book picks up, and the only advice I’d give you is to enjoy it while it lasts. Also protip: there is a glossary in the back which is very helpful if you ever get confused!
To summarize, the world building is skillful, there's a cadre of strong female characters with agency, and a gorgeous queer romance that feels so naturally done. If I had to name a con I’d say that the final battle wasn't as climatic as I expected it to be, but that is such a minor detail I’m just going to ignore it.
In fact, forget I even said that.
The Priory of the Orange Tree is hands down one of the best books I've read this year and is a must read for any fan of the fantasy genre.