The Priory of the Orange Tree (4*)

Book: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

In darkness, we are naked. Our truest selves. Night is when fear comes to us at its fullest, when we have no way to fight it,” Ead continued. “It will do everything it can to seep inside you. Sometimes it may succeed – but never think that you are the night.

PrioryI have had this one on pre-order for the paperback as soon as I heard about it. The premise that was given to me when listening to Samantha talk about her book at an event was that it was a feminist, queer retelling of George and the Dragon and that utterly sold me on wanting to read it. (Also look at that cover, it is absolutely gorgeous).

The book follows multiple perspectives, the two main ones being Ead Duryan, a foreigner who is part of the Queen of Inysh’s court and secretly protects the Queen from those who would seek to harm her.

The other main character is Tané lives far across the sea and is training to be a dragonrider, though her own life is about to run into difficulties due to a chance meeting with a stranger to her shores.

Both they and their world face a great danger that is awakening and the world itself is quite divided on views and unless they can find a way to overcome that divide it could cost them everything.

This is a story that sucks you into quite strongly from the start, she packs a lot into this book and whilst it may be over 800 pages the pace doesn’t let up much from start to finish, making it quite the page turner so it turns out to be a much quicker read than you might assume from the size of it.

She does a fantastic job of creating a world you can lose yourself in, populated by a diverse cast of memorable characters who are a good mix of people you can root for and more complicated people you end up with complex feelings about. There’s one particular character who goes through quite a journey through the book, despite mostly being a secondary character (though still a viewpoint one) and my views of them changed a great deal over the arc (I won’t say who as I don’t want to accidentally spoiler anything).

I really liked that the cultures felt quite real and very different from each other, they are clearly heavily influenced by real world cultures, but there is enough difference to make them their own thing. She clearly seems to have put a lot of thought into them and they came across to me as being more nuanced than a lot of Fantasy authors doing fictional versions of real cultures tend to manage (obviously this has the caveat of these are not based on my culture and as such I am not the best judge of this).

Honestly my biggest complaint, and the reason it got 4 stars and not 5, was in my opinion this would have worked better as a trilogy rather than one very large book. The reason for this is that some story beats got resolved quite quickly in some ways, which meant that the book didn’t quite have the emotional depth I wanted from it (only slightly, it is still excellent and the love story is particularly good). I mean I enjoyed it so much I pretty much wanted more of it, so I like to think that’s a pretty ringing endorsement.