The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is how you do a standalone fantasy novel! Well, I may have just spoiled this review. It’s going to be a good one to say the least. This was just a beautiful story all around. If you want a fantasy novel to break from trilogies (or longer) than I highly recommend this book. Let’s get into why though.
It’s hard to put into words how Samantha Shannon snuck up on me in this story. In the beginning, I would say the first 10 chapters, I was kind of curious as to why people love this book. We are thrown into an interesting world and unknown characters. I was like yah okay Dragons are cool there’s west and east of the world who have the same enemy, but different beliefs on the wider world in some kind of cold war. Reel me in Shannon what ya go….oh…oh that is what you got…oh yah….that’s the spot….so what happened you ask?
I got to know the characters more. I got to learn more about the lore of this world’s beliefs. That’s right, give me fascinating characters and lore! Oh, wait did I mention we have representation here? Like people are bi-sexual, gay, lesbian, and we have us straights here though let’s be honest, we are a bit more boring at times. Did I also mention there’s this weird thing that skin color can vary because of that big star in the sky? It’s crazy how humans can be different, but come together for a compelling story, right?
Though what drives humans apart in this world are beliefs of 1000 years ago around Dragons, a Knight or Liar, and a Mother or Damsel depending on who you ask. You have the West Ruled by Virtuedom believer in a Knight who became their Saint and his Queen the Damsel. They despise all dragonkind. Ever since then they have been a Queendom and every Queen only has daughters, yes ONLY GIRLS ALLOWED. As long as the bloodline continues, they believe the Nameless One will stay locked away.
Then you have the East. Who worship water dragons They ride them into battle & consult with them on politics. They despise only fire dragons and the nameless one. They do fear the west as the home of the ilk of fire dragons that can pass on a plague to humans. They have a strict code around dragons and are at war with pirates who like to kill and harvest dragon parts.
Think that was all? No then you have the Mages of the Priory of the Orange Tree in the South. They believe the Saint of Virtuedom is a liar and fake. His Damsel he claims married him actually spurned him. Instead, she became the Mother of the Priory after she sealed the Nameless one away. The Saint claims he defeated the Nameless one. The Priory teaches he actually ran from the Nameless One and the Mother picked up his magical sword to defeat him instead. So then who did he marry to have a child with? Who is Sabran’s female ancestor? Where is this magical sword? What really happened 1000 years ago?
The mystery of why all these beliefs differ especially in the West and South is one of the main draws of this book. It gives a great look into how history, religion, and beliefs can be altered by lies of the powerful and stories handed down. There is manipulation, shame, ego, etc. Is the truth worth destroying stability? People will believe what gives them hope and purpose. The belief is not the only part, but how it is used. Onto characters!
First up is my favorite PoV Ead Duryan as her public name, but Eadaz uq-Nāra is her real name. She is a mage from the Priory of the Orange Tree sent to Virtuedom in order to join the court of its current ruler Queen Sabran IX. Eadaz mission is to protect her juuust in case her line really does keep the Nameless one at bay. Eadaz may be a mage, but these mages are also extremely skilled warriors and dragon slayers. Eadaz is quite an amazing figure throughout this story. She goes through a wild transformation and discovery about who she is and what she wants. Oh yah mages are feared in Virtuedom too, I’m sure this will not be an issue.
Next we have Tané who is training in the east to hopefully be a Dragon Rider or if deemed unfit for that role will become a Scholar. Early on she breaks the rules and it causes a huge domino effect not just in her life, but another interesting PoV Niclays Roos who was banished from the west and in a controlled settlement in the east. These two interact with a character I found super annoying in the beginning chapters. I was so grateful he was not a PoV character. I think he was one of the reasons the book started slow. Luckily, he wasn’t as dominating a figure as I thought he’d be. Tané is a skilled warrior. No, I mean do not mess with her at all, you will die. The sad part though is she is way too hard on herself. My heart aches for her at times because I believe she is doing her best and when things go wrong, she deeply feels she deserves it. Her arc is tough to go through, but pays off.
Niclays Roos I feel pity for at times and other times he angers me. This makes him a great character. His motives always make sense and can go from aggravating to interesting. I’m never 100% sure on what his decisions will be. Then our last main PoV we have Arteloth ‘Loth’ Beck. Now this man that gets around to different parts of the world. While he comes from Virtuedom and is Queen Sabran’s best friend, the man gives us some fascinating adventures and constantly has to deal with his beliefs and assumptions being shattered.
The relationships and character dynamics in this story are so well done. They flow so realistically. I believe it can all happen this way in real life and is not just written that way because the story needs it. Then we have the magic system, which is so unique, at least to me. I don’t want to give much away because if I say too much then you wont get to explore it and interpret it yourself. It is simplistic, but not at the same time. There so much we learn about its place in this world as the story unfolds.
This is of course a standalone novel so there will be jumps in time a bit. It leaves some imagination to fill in how things transpired as they go. It’s not a huge time jump, but you will not be with them traveling long from point A to B. There will be moments between characters that keep moving along off page, but it’s all set up to make each time make sense.It is not complicated at all to follow.
I think the weakest part of this is not getting a feel for the size of the world. The land masses or overall scenery. This is a book I wish I had a map on hand to figure out exactly how everything looked and where places are. It’s not a big thing. You know the important places for lore and story sake. I just always like a bit more of an idea of what the landmasses and kingdoms look like on a grander scale.
Overall I love this story and I hope Samantha Shannon writes more stories in this world at a future time. The ending is pretty final, but I’m sure an intelligent author can have more going on in this world. I mean humans and dragons still exist so it’s not like there will not be conflict in the future. I know many people have this on their list. Well get to it already! It has dragons, magic, romance, fight scenes, warriors, intrigue, mystery, and Lore. This story has heart. What are you waiting for Slackers!