After seeing so many people rave about Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree last year I couldn’t resist picking it up! At first I was a little daunted after seeing the size of the novel but I trusted my friends on Twitter and started reading it.
Queen Sabran the IX is the current head of the House of Berethnet, who have ruled the Queendom of Inys for centuries due to being a direct bloodline of a Saint. Their faith is everything to the people of Inys, something that outside Ead Duryan sees firsthand as an outsider who has made her way to be Sabran’s lady-in-waiting. However, when an ancient enemy is threatening to rise again against the world that banished him which shakes the very foundations of Inys’ beliefs. At the same time, across the sea in Seiiki Tané is doing everything she can to become a dragonrider like she has always wanted, however is it everything she thought it would be with a war on the horizon?
Although this is a beast of a novel, I found myself immediately absorbed in this world and it wasn’t as overwhelming as I was worried it would be. There were four key stories that ran concurrently throughout the novel, each one perfectly paced and thoroughly detailed which brilliantly built up the world around the characters.
With most perspective changing novels, there is usually a character who you’re the most eager to read or you read a little quicker to get to other characters, however I didn’t have that at all with this novel. I loved all of the characters and all of their stories. Shannon does an excellent job in ensuring that all characters have depth and all develop throughout the course of the novel. Queen Sabran and Ead had a fascinating relationship which continually shifted and developed, even until the final pages. I thought they really complemented each other well especially as they have such different beliefs coming from very different places. I did enjoy Ead’s witty remarks too. I have to admit, I adored Arteloth who may have just edged it as my favourite character of the novel, although that did change several times throughout the novel as they’re all so fascinating.
Additionally, it isn’t just the main characters that leaves an impression on you either. Being a huge novel there are, of course, lots of different characters that are introduced. Sometimes I can find this a bit confusing or overwhelming in any novel, let alone one that’s over 800 pages. If this idea also seems daunting for you, let me assure you that this isn’t the case with this novel! Even if each character isn’t in the entirety of the novel, the ones that are introduced are vital to the scenes that they are in and there are even some that are extremely likeable and leave a lasting impression on you too.
By shifting perspective between characters in different areas of the world not only does this do a great job in helping the reader understand the complexities of the conflicts which the characters find themselves in but, it also shows you the relationship of the world regions have (or don’t have as is the case) with each other. Alternating between Tané in Seiiki and Queen Sabran in Inys, clearly illustrated to the reader how a nation can be kept in the dark from the truth, how change on a political scale is often hindered by the idea of ‘this is how we have always ruled’, instead of looking at the bigger picture and considering all the changes that have occurred in this time. Personally, I love reading about the political landscape of fantasy novels. I find that it makes the entire world feel much more real and alive. This is something that Shannon has done a wonderful job with, although I loved all of the characters I could still very happily read more novels set in this world regardless of which characters, or a whole cast of new ones, were the ones taking us through it.
This review is becoming long and rambly because I just loved so many aspects of this book so it’s difficult not to gush about it all! I wasn’t even halfway through the novel when I understood why this novel has all the hype it does. It’s certainly well deserved and I can easily see this becoming a staple of the fantasy genre; a novel that people will be picking up and talking about for years to come. This is my first time reading any of Shannon’s works and I was completely blown away by her writing. I will definitely be reading more in the future and excitedly awaiting new works!