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The Priory of the Orange Tree: THE NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER Hardcover – 26 Feb 2019
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A tour de force, and my new absolute favourite epic fantasy (Laini Taylor, author of Strange the Dreamer)
I have been waiting my whole life for this fantasy. It's the kind of book you never want to end. Utterly unique, wild, and rich. Sheer perfection (Lisa Lueddecke, author of A Storm of Ice and Stars)
The new Game of Thrones. Escapism at its finest - Shannon, we salute you (Stylist.co.uk)
Allow me to introduce your newest fantasy obsession . Remarkably fresh and frankly fearless . Works so well as an intricately realised and feminist fantasy that one might even be tempted to dub Samantha Shannon 'The female George R.R. Martin' . As with the best of fantasy, The Priory of the Orange Tree feels less like a book than it does an experience, a true sojourn into a rich and terrible new world (Hypable)
The Priory of the Orange Tree is a brilliant, daring, and devastating jewel. Samantha Shannon has crafted an incredible world full of depth and danger, with characters I would follow to the ends of the earth. It was a privilege to read, and I'm in awe of her talent. I can't wait for the rest of the world to experience this book (Victoria Aveyard, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Red Queen series)
An entirely fresh and addicting tale . A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
A masterpiece of intricate world-building with the depth, complexity, heart and soul of a timelessly relevant classic. Brilliant, diverse, feminist, subversive, thought-provoking and masterfully told, The Priory of the Orange Tree is epic fantasy at its finest. The scope of the book is staggering, as is Shannon's deft command of language ... An absolute must-read (Karen Marie Moning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Highlander and Fever series)
Nothing short of extraordinary. An audacious, ambitious, sprawling epic, set across a world like no other, The Priory of the Orange Tree takes everything you think you know about high fantasy, rips it apart and remakes it ... Nothing short of game-changing ... An absolute masterclass in story telling, from one of the most exciting and innovative fantasy writers alive today. With it, Samantha Shannon has set the bar stratospherically high. This is the book of 2019 (Melinda Salisbury, author of The Sin-Eater’s Daughter)
The Priory of the Orange Tree feels like a feminist successor to The Lord of the Rings - something I don't say lightly. Epic and awe-inspiring in its scope, its rich, diverse world captivated me. I loved each complex narrator, all wonderfully human heroes and anti-heroes, and adored sinking into the world Samantha Shannon has created with such heart and beauty. This deserves to be as big as Game of Thrones ... An expertly woven saga that feels very relevant for the contemporary world we live in (Laure Eve, author of The Graces)
An epic fantasy destined to be a classic. A world crafted with such intricacy and detail, I had to remind myself it was not a real place. The Priory of the Orange Tree is one of those rare novels that captures your imagination so completely you will read it over and over, until the cover cracks and the spine breaks (Kami Garcia, #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of Beautiful Creatures and author of Unbreakable)
THE SUNDAY TIMES AND NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
'The new Game of Thrones' Stylist
'Puts Samantha Shannon in the same league as Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin. Shannon is a master of dragons' Starburst
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Brilliant. Fabulous. All immersive. Devastating. Amazing
Everything I hoped and thought it would be and so much more.
Was what I said when I read this back in November 2018 and I stand by those comments. Since The Priory of the Orange Tree comes out next month, I think I'm now allowed to give a full review. So here goes.
Priory is not a perfect book but it was absolutely the perfect book for me. If that sounds contradictory bear in mind that from an objective point of view, I could see minor flaws. The wrap up is very sudden for instance. The pacing is a little off in places. Some threads could have done with longer conclusions - it's an 800+ page book and I would have happily read even more so just how much of a flaw these things are is up for question. This is not one of those huge books that is mostly filler. This is a tome that deserves to be a huge book because every bit of that plot was needed (and I still wish it was longer!).
The book opens on Tane, who yearns to be a dragon rider, making a fatal error the night before her dragon rider trials. Her actions set off a chain of events that send subtle ripples across the world. In the East, dragons are beautiful, wise, graceful and serpentine - creatures of air, water and intellect. Far from the Eastern reaches of the world, there are other kinds of dragons on the move - creatures of fire and greed and violence. A great evil is stirring in its sleep, ready to wake once more.
In the West, the queens of Inys have ruled for a thousand years. The current ruler is Sabran the ninth, a young woman who is reluctant to wed and bear the heir the kingdom is waiting for. Each queen of Inys bears only a single child, a daughter to rule after her. And then there's Ead, a foreigner who has climbed the ranks to become first a lady in waiting, then a lady of the royal bedchamber and trusted confidant. But Ead's loyalty is long since given to an ancient and mystical order, and her defence of the queen is secret, employing the use of forbidden powers. The young queen must face off against the fire breathing monsters her forebears defended the realm against before her, as well as the lesser draconic creatures - wyverns, cockatrices etc.
And under the surface calm, political turmoil and intrigue foment. Some believe that the great evil can only be defeated with draconic intervention from the East. Some believe the young queen who will not provide an heir should no longer rule. And the prejudice between East and West over their beliefs surrounding dragons makes any attempt at an alliance both unlikely and deadly.
This book has so much going for it, I almost don't know where to start. The world building was fantastic. Fully realised with multiple cultures, religious beliefs and practices unique to various countries, diverse characters - and dragons. The dragons cannot be forgotten because they are fully realised characters in their own right. When they actually do speak, they are dragons not just humans in dragon masks and it's perfect. The characterisation is strong full stop. This is a huge cast of female characters in starring roles with good male supporting cast. It never feels forced or like it's making any other statement than 'these are the best characters for telling this story.' While we're on the subject of characterisation, there are plenty of LGBTQAIP+ characters. The two main romantic sub plots are LGBT, with a third minor romantic sub plot being non-LGBT but mostly happening off page and reduced to longing looks and presumed touches etc. A complete reversal on the normal order of LGBT versus non-LGBT relationships in fantasy and fiction, and beautifully done.
Sabran, the young queen, is not always likeable but she's always engaging. It would be hard not to relate and sympathise with her situation. While she has flashes of temper and arrogance, it's easy to see they're rooted in self doubt and a privileged upbringing that at the same time divided her from close friendships which might have taught her better. Her manifestations of depression and anxiety are very real and poignant when they occur, and realistically frustrating for the reader.
Ead is a brilliant character. Her greatest qualities are her competence, intelligence and compassion, which is leavened by a spark of true ruthlessness and a single-minded desire to do what she believes to be right. She makes mistakes but not out of stupidity or over confidence - they're the sort of wrong calls anyone might make. Best of all, she has her own prejudices but logic and honestly force her to confront them again and again in order for her to complete her mission.
Tane is a harder character to get to know and her screw ups are harder to forgive or understand, at least until you really see things from her viewpoint with all the cultural conditioning she has be subject to. There's at least one truly awful moment when I wanted to flinch away from the page because of her facing the consequences of what she did. However, she is also honourable, courageous and steadfast. Her relationship with her dragon is lovely - a representation of love that goes beyond friendship and the physical.
All in all it's a huge story with lots of action, twists, political intrigue and character development. So much happens that I got to the end feeling I'd read an entire series, rather than one book. It does work as a standalone but I would happily read a sequel. I might have mentioned that I want more once or twice somewhere in this review?
The Priory of the Orange Tree is my most anticipated book of 2019. The fact that I mainlined it in three days in Nov 2018 has not changed that fact. I can't wait for my shiny new hardback version because it was one of those books where I could have turned the final page and then just gone straight back to the beginning and started the book again. Some books fully immerse you in a world. Some books give you no choice, you're just dragged in. And some books, like Priory, leave you homesick for the world they whisked you away to when you finally return to reality. This might well be my book of the year. Highly recommend.
The world was completely fleshed out, breath taking and unique. Instead of taking the same generic medieval tropes to make each of the kingdoms vague imitations of England and Scandinavia, it's clear that Shannon researched world history and used it as an inspiration point to spring an epic fantasy universe that felt familiar yet new, and completely authentic. Her style of writing is beautiful and descriptive and for the first time in years it made reading a book over 800 pages a joy instead of a struggle.
There is a huge epic cast of different and unique characters. At first this is intimidating, and it takes quite a while to get all the names straight in your head, but once you do it's well worth it. Priory is a book you have to dedicate yourself to; if you want an easy, light read then you shouldn't be looking towards a piece of writing as complicated as this one is. If you take the time and the attention to understand the world and everything going on in it however, it will be one of the best bookish decisions you can make.
I do have quite a few issues with Priory which do hurt my admiration of it. I really feel like this book should have been around 600 pages. For pretty much half of the book, Ead sat around playing handmaiden to Sabran. Despite the fact that I adore her character just as much as the others, we sacrificed a lot of page time to her doing nothing, while the exciting and different side storylines were given short and fleeting chapters. Either some of this waiting around should have been cut out, or the other characters should have been given some more time. The biggest example I feel makes this obvious is Tané. Her being a dragon rider is surely one of the most exciting and interesting parts of the book, yet she gets next to no page time and even less time spent actually being with with her dragon. On that note, for a story about dragons, it feels like there's barely any interaction with them for most of the book. I really wish we'd have gotten more of an understanding of their society and how Eastern dragons view Western dragons.
The entire thing however, so so magical and dear to me that I could let big things like this slide. I love Priory with all of my heart and I hope Shannon releases more books in this universe!
What really sets this book apart is the diversity and queer representation, which is written into the story so seamlessly that you start to question why so many other authors seem to struggle with it in the fantasy genre. It was such a breath of fresh air. You cannot underestimate the simple joy a reader can feel by seeing themselves represented in the characters they love. And I did love these characters. The East and West split was a good device and I enjoyed getting to know all the POV characters and the people around them.
If I had any criticism, I perhaps thought the story almost wrapped up too neatly. Without going into spoiler territory, I think I was expecting a bit more conflict from the different parties. Nevertheless, the ending felt very satisfying, and worthy of the build up.
I would encourage anyone to read this book. I think it is going to make waves.