Book Review: THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE by Samantha Shannon

Rating: 5/5 stars

 

This book is still on my mind weeks and weeks after finishing it. And after the Game of Thrones finale left me with a hole in my heart (and left a lot to be desired), I couldn’t help but think of all the areas that PRIORY succeeded where Game of Thrones… well, didn’t. Naturally, I had to compile my ramblings into a review.

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PRIORY gives us four vastly different POVs: Ead, a secret agent of the mysterious Priory of the Orange Tree sent overseas to protect Queen Sabran; Tané, a dutiful dragonrider in training who makes a mistake that could jeopardise her future; Loth, an honorable lord exiled on a suicide mission; and Niclays, an elderly alchemist haunted by his past. Their stories are masterfully woven together, intertwined but each one deeply personal and full of growth. But by far, my favourite character had to be Sabran the Ninth, Queen of Inys. Sabran is a remarkable character study, and honestly, I preferred the fact that she wasn’t given a POV just so the reader could explore her many layers along with Ead. So many of the issues she faced are underrepresented not just in fantasy, but fiction as a whole, and Shannon dealt with them in a careful and thoughtful manner.

Which sort of leads into my next point: as a female fantasy reader, this book felt so refreshing to me. I don’t know if it’s because much of adult fantasy is written by men (or because adult fantasy by women is constantly mislabelled as young adult), but the experiences faced by the women of PRIORY felt like a truthful representation. The female characters felt like real women—queer women, women of colour, strong and capable and diverse women—and it never hindered them. This book is full of complex female characters who are given the opportunities to ride dragons and fulfil quests and save the world just like any male hero, without compromising their femininity or womanhood or labelling them as “not like other girls”.

Also, we need to talk about the dragons. The worldbuilding as a whole was stunning, in-depth and detailed without becoming too confusing, but the dragons. These aren’t your typical big, bad fire-breathers—not all of them, anyway. Rather, Shannon illustrates a diverse variety of draconic species each different from the last, some reminiscent of the medieval dragon guarding a tower, some inspired by Chinese mythology. If anybody ever tells you dragons are cliché or cringe-worthy, show them this book.

I could ramble on about this book all day, but it’s so hard to capture the experience I had of reading it for the first time. Have you read PRIORY? What were your thoughts? As always, let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

-AWM

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