Fantasy Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I can't remember the last time I breezed through such a long book in such a short period of time. I began reading The Priory of the Orange Tree while on vacation, lugging it back and forth to the beach every day, and literally raced through the last pages as we sat on the plane, waiting to disembark back home. I didn't want it to end. I wanted more of Sabran, Ead, and Tané. I wanted to dive deeper into those final chapters, to experience what comes next in the same depth as what came before.

Sure, there were some flaws in pacing; the way pivotal characters continued to cross paths as they crossed the world bordered on ridiculous; some of the plot twists felt awkward; and many of the big felt contrived; but, in the end, none of that matter. Samantha Shannon has crafted an epic fantasy that entertained me from beginning to end, with characters I came to know like family. She drew me into the geography and mythology of her world, made me appreciate the 'why' of its cultural conflicts, and fed my imagination with suitably epic moments of awe and wonder.

Even more importantly, this is a female-fronted epic fantasy, one with a slowly developing f/f romance at its heart, that didn't feel at all artificial or forced. There was no sense that Shannon was trying to make a statement on diversity or force a feminist agenda on the reader. It's hard to explain, and probably doesn't make a lot of sense unless you've read it, but it's one of those books where you can appreciate its uniqueness without noticing it on every page. I think what makes it work is the fact that there is nothing special or remarkable about powerful women in this world. They are not rebelling against any preconceived gender notions, and are not fighting any sexist stereotypes. There is an assumption of equality that empowers the reader as much as it does the characters.

The Priory of the Orange Tree has more than enough magic, monsters, and dragons to satisfy any fan of epic fantasy. I may have expected a bit more dragons from the cover blurb, but I have zero arguments with what's on the page, especially the bond between Tané and her dragon - which is complex and balanced. It also has a deep and complex mythology built around those dragons, with an entire culture and faith revealed to have been built upon a lie, that I admired. It's an intimate tale for the most part, with individual conflicts and quests driving much of the narrative, but when it comes time for the dragons to go to war . . . damn, that was suitably epic. I would happily read another novel in this world, or even a side-novella expanding on some of the stories within it.

As I said, it's not a perfect book, but it is a memorable one that thoroughly entertained me. Wholeheartedly recommended.


Hardcover, 848 pages
Published February 26th 2019 by Bloomsbury Publishing

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