If you haven't heard a thing about Samantha Shannon's new book, The Priory of the Orange Tree, consider me surprised. It's been all the rage on bookish social media for months. With everyone gushing over it, I don't blame you for wondering if it's really worth all the hype. I was lucky enough to receive a copy from Bloomsbury AU, and so, in honour of the release of The Priory of the Orange Tree on the 26th Feb, I have 26 reasons why you should pick it up and dive into this magical world.
I tried to avoid spoilers as best I could, but if you're particularly sensitive to spoiler-y content, proceed with caution.
Let's be honest, that should be reason enough. Fantasy is my favourite genre, hands down, and dragons are one of those very few things that automatically make a fantasy book a thousand times better. The dragons (wyrms, wyverns etc) in The Priory of the Orange Tree are a crucial element of the tale, which makes it all the better. But, if dragons aren't your thing don't go thinking this isn't for you. The Priory of the Orange Tree is remarkable in many more ways than one. However, humour me on the dragon front for just a second longer...
2. The dragons talk
Talking dragons were my childhood dream. Every night before I'd go to bed, my mum would take me to the window that overlooked our back garden and point to the sky, telling me to make a wish on the very first star I saw. I always wished to find a talking dragon in my back garden the next day. It never happened and I was very heartbroken, but now I'm an adult and that heartbreak doesn't sting so hard, I can find my talking dragons in books, specifically, The Priory of the Orange Tree. I am a very happy wyrm-lover, thank you muchly.
3. It's perfect if you're looking to transition from YA to Adult
One of the many common questions bloggers who love fantasy receive is: ‘How do I start reading adult fantasy?’ My reply is always: ‘Try these transitional books *insert list of books here*’ From now on, The Priory of the Orange Tree will be firmly on that list. I don't blame you if you're wondering why. After all, an eight hundred and something page book surely cannot be one of the books I'm recommending to ease into adult fantasy???? But, I am. Trust me on this one - when you get into this world, when you fall in love with these characters, when you get whisked away with the plot (when you meet the talking dragons) eight hundred and forty-eight pages feel like eighty-four, and you’ll be ready to dive head first into some more epic fantasy the moment you're finished.
4. The characters
There are so many characters in this novel. I was trying to explain the plot to a friend the other day without using character's names, so I assigned each of them a letter, and I was convinced I'd run out of letters in the Roman alphabet and have to move onto the Greek. You'll be forgiven for thinking that a plethora of different characters would be confusing, and even leave some to be two-dimensional and flat, but this is Samanta Shannon we're talking about, there isn't a single two-dimensional character in sight. Some of my favourites are the next reasons you should read The Priory of the Orange Tree.
In the very first moments that we're introduced to Ead, we're shown that she is a total badass. Having said that, Ead doesn't let her total badassery (is that even a word?) compromise her ability to feel. All too often we see that characters - especially female - who are talented in combat and are fearlessly brave mustn't be in touch with their emotions, but Ead doesn't follow this trend in the slightest. Though fearsome with a weapon and able to slay wyrms, Ead is fiercely loyal, dedicated, caring, and passionate. Of course, she can definitely be a right frosty-knickers on occasion, but the fact that her personality is multi-faceted, and different situations bring out different aspects of who she is, makes her a very real and well-rounded character, which is an absolute delight to read.
Though being somewhat closed off and distant at times, Sabran possesses an odd mix of being open-hearted and yet, somehow closed-minded. It's an interesting combination, but it is one that makes sense in her situation. Growing up in a very sheltered world closes her mind somewhat, yet her inherent open-hearted nature shines through in many of her actions. This interesting, almost contradictory personality creates a very interesting ruler, and an even more interesting arc. Throughout the story we see Sabran grow a lot more than many characters, and if Sabran's character arc isn't even the slightest bit a commentary on our current political climate, I would be shocked. It was this arc that warmed me to her character so much, and made her one of my favourite characters in the book.
Tané, one of our four narrators, shares many similarities to one of our other narrators, Ead. Both are dedicated, loyal, and badass, though Tané is perhaps a little less cunning than Ead. I particularly enjoyed seeing the similarities between these two characters with the rift between East and Wes. Tané's dedication and perseverance were two of my favourite things about her, and it fitted with her flaw of rash thinking incredibly well. I appreciated the consequences she had to face for her impulsiveness, which brought another level of realism to the story. There's no getting away with anything this story - if you muck up, you will pay for it. It's just like life.
8. Margaret & Loth
The banter between these two siblings and their friends is the kind of content I live for. You'll probably be seeing a trend in the qualities I enjoy in characters by now, but I must gush over the loyalty these two express towards those they love. It's the Gryffindor inside me that automatically roots for a character who is prepared to give all they can for a friend or a loved one, and you can count me a massive fan of both Margaret and Loth.
9. And all the other minor characters
Who am I kidding? Every character in The Priory of the Orange Tree is fantastic. Some characters seem to only have a few scenes - a few pages! - and yet they're some of the most morally grey characters I've ever read. There's not a single pointless character in this book, everyone mentioned has a purpose, and in some way, they're all connected to the plot.
10. The friendships
In my eyes, friendships all too often get overshadowed by romantic relationships in books, which is tragic to me. You can imagine my delight then, when I found that strong friendships in The Priory of the Orange Tree were not simply there in abundance but were also extremely important to the story. In fact, it was the friendships in this story that nearly overshadowed the romance, especially when you consider the number of strong friendships vs the number of romantic relationships. The Priory of the Orange Tree doesn't sugar coat friendships either. It explores the sacrifices you have to make to keep a strong friendship, and it also shows the value of platonic relationships. I'm such a fan.
Though I gushed over the friendships in this book and noted there wasn't an abundance of romance, when the romance is there, guys, the romance is there. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of romance in The Priory of the Orange Tree when I first opened the book, but I found myself hoping two particular characters would get together from the get-go. There was a brief spanner in the works at some point, when I thought my ship was sinking miserably and I had read the situation all wrong, but slowly, ever so slowly, as I eagerly turned pages to bury myself in the middle of this gigantic tome, all my wishes came true. My ship well and truly sailed.
I've heard The Priory of the Orange Tree called something along the lines of 'The feminist reimagining of fantasy,' which is true, better yet, it's the intersectional feminist reimagining of fantasy, because there was representation abounds in The Priory of the Orange Tree. As I'm not a member of many of the minorities represented in The Priory of the Orange Tree I'll keep my comments to a minimum on this front, but I will say, it was a refreshing and joyful experience to read a book as diverse as this, and to me, it's exactly the way that books should be.
13. It's one of the most re-readable books I've ever read
Again, I am more than aware that this book is 848 pages, and rereading it is quite a large task, but it’s sitting on my bookshelf right now calling ‘read me, read me, read me’ and there’s so much more I want to know. I’ll bet you I’ll notice so much more about the plot, the history, the magic, the characters and the world when I reread it, and I’ll bet you again that every time I reread it after that I’ll continue to find things I didn’t notice the first time.
14. The magic
I can’t say too much about this, because I don’t want to spoil my 26threason, but I will say that most of all, I appreciated the limitations in the magic system. It wasn’t like anything that I’d come across before. Also it concerns oranges, and I love oranges, but I would love these oranges even more.
15. The writing
Samantha Shannon is a good writer. It's as simple as that. If you've read The Bone Season series, you'll be able to jump into The Priory of the Orange Tree and plough through it easily, though, if The Priory of the Orange Tree is your first foray into Shannon's work, it may take a short while to grow adjusted to the writing style. There's something about the style, though not particularly flowery or overly descriptive, which is very rich. At times, it can be slow going, packed full of worldbuilding and history, but once you grow accustomed to the style, reading Shannon's books is such a... cosy experience? I really don't know how to express it. A few years back, I listened to the audiobook of The Bone Season, the narrator had a very soft Irish accent and a quiet, calming voice, perhaps because of that, I read all of Shannon's books in the same manner. To me, reading The Priory of the Orange Tree and The Bone Season series is like being buried in a thousand fluffy blankets, sipping hot chocolate by the window while it's snowing like mad outside.
16. The pacing
For an 800-page book, I was very surprised with the ease that I sped through this. I read most of it in one day, having read the very beginning the day before and the very end the day after. So, don’t let the size fool you, there’s always something going on to keep you turning the pages. The novel has four main narrators, which I’m not always a fan of, but it works really well in The Priory of the Orange Tree. The change in narrators really helps the pacing and keeps the book easy to read.
17. The religion
Religion is an important aspect in this book – I wasn’t expecting this. One of my favourite things about the use of religion was how it was so deeply entwined with many of the character’s development. This is another thing I don't want to go too much into without spoiling things, but I enjoyed how a variety of religions were shown in the book, and at not once was I made to feel like I should side with any single religion (even though I know they were ficitional, I didn't feel like anything was being forced upon me).
18. The world
There are very few books I've read with a world like that of The Priory of the Orange Tree. Like The Lord of the Rings, this world was inspired by history. I'm not a history fanatic - I only really know the history of the country I was born in, and considering it was only colonised about a hundred and fifty or so years ago, there's not a great deal of recorded history to know about. Because of this, I can definitely say I did not appreciate the historical influences. To be quite honest, if the book didn't begin with an author's note saying 'The fictional lands of The Priory of the Orange Tree are inspired by events and legends from various parts of the world. None is intended as a faithful representation of any one country or culture at any point in history' I probably wouldn't have noticed. My history knowledge (or lack thereof) aside, the world in The Priory of the Orange Tree is nothing short of remarkable. I've read one too many fantasy books where the world is a non-entity and the characters are more like actors living on a movie set (you know, like the Sims 4 world, instead of the Sims 3), but the world is important in The Priory of the Orange Tree. Perhaps because the story takes place in many different locations, or maybe it's simply Shannon's apparent love for world building, whatever it may be, The Priory of the Orange Tree features a world that’s worth raving about.
19. The history
The history of the world is deeply intertwined with the plot of the story, which was very interesting. I enjoyed learning about the history and also the mystery that surrounded it. I rarely find myself thrown for a loop, in fact, I recall the last time this happened, I was eight years old and I read Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Speckled Band for the very first time. The Priory of the Orange Tree definitely had me there for a second. There was one occasion that I did not see a plot twist coming. When it happened, I sat there stunned, just gaping at the book wondering how I hadn’t predicted it, and also just being mildly mind boggled by it. Maybe I’m saying you should read this book just for the tiny plot twist somewhere in the middle that managed to get an audible, “Wait, what?” from me.
20. The sheer scale of it all
It’s called an epic fantasy for a reason. Inside that book, there is a world than spans multiple counties, wild oceans, it’s filled dragons and magical oranges and badass people who don’t let the world’s expectations stop them from going after what is right, what they want, and what they love. If you’ve never read an epic fantasy before, pick up The Priory of the Orange Tree, but be warned, it might ruin every epic fantasy that you try to read afterwards.
21. The politics
I’m not the world biggest fan of politics, in fact I generally like to stick my head into the sand when politics are involved (don’t hate me, I’d vote if I could, but I’m ineligible). My relationship with fictional politics, however, is somewhat different. Though I can be bored and apathetic about it if I’m not invested in the story, I found myself so intrigued by The Priory of the Orange Tree that the politics of the world was one of my favourite aspects of the book.
22. It just screams 'well researched'
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a history buff but there’s something about this book that made me feel like Shannon really knew what she was talking about. I think that a world such as this - one inspired by history - wouldn’t be quite so rich or full had it not been so well-researched. Everything about the book moved like a well-oiled machine, and it seemed obvious to me that Shannon knows a lot about the various cultures, their histories and their beliefs, and that knowledge helped her create a world that respectfully used them as inspiration. I think it hit all of the right marks.
Guys. There are talking dragons. There are just so many beautiful complexities
It’s a long book. It’s an epic fantasy. It wouldn’t have been able to be what it is if it wasn’t filled with a complex story that ever changing, thickening and deepening. I found no sagging middle syndrome, no boring plotlines, no part of the world of the world I wasn’t eager to explore. It was beautiful. It was complex. It was everything I wanted.
24. It's just... epic
25. How can a book be nearly 900 pages and I still feel like I need more?
This is a standalone, but if it somehow got turned into a ridiculously long series that didn’t finish until I was 87 years old with glasses as thick the book itself, I wouldn’t be mad. It was so immersive that I didn’t want it to end, I might have been happier with 9000 pages. There you go! That can be my one critique – it wasn’t long enough, I needed more. Low-key convinced that Samantha Shannon is a sorceress and we should worship her? We should plant her a freakin' magical orange tree. Speaking of...
26. There is an actual Priory of the Orange Tree in this book.
I don't know why, but I was under the misguided impression that the title of the book was simply one of those slightly obscure but very interesting titles, but no. There is an actual, proper Priory of the Orange Tree. I'll forgive you if you have no idea what a Priory is, but maybe that can be our bonus 27th reason why you should read this book - to find exactly what a Priory is (granted, you could Google it, but that's not even a fraction of the fun).
The Priory of the Orange Tree is everything that fantasy should be. I gave The Priory of the Orange Tree 5 out of 5 stars.
So, how well did I do at convincing you to pick up a copy?
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.
Published February 26th 2019 by Bloomsbury Circus