The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon
Publish Date: February 26, 2019
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review. Please note, though, that because I did not finish it before the publishing date, I ended up reading from the finished novel as well. There weren’t extremely large changes between the two as far as I could tell, save for one or two name changes, age differences, and line changes here and there.**
A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction–but assassins are getting closer to her door.
Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.
Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
This book was enthralling. That is honestly the best word I could use to describe it. From the start my attention was captured, and as the world was slowly and steadily built up, my interest intensified at the same pace. Before I had even finished the first section of this monstrosity (it’s a chunky bastard and I love it), I already knew that I was in love and going to be praising this story for quite some time (possibly a thousand years or so.)
What really grabbed me was the world-building. It’s not so often that the build-up of the setting, history, and culture of a made-up world can be the shining star of a novel for me. But for this one it was. There was just so much being brought to life every time I turned the page that I never wanted to not immerse myself in this world Shannon has created. She brings forth everything naturally and succinctly, without any awful info-dumping or poorly adding in some important tidbit somewhere towards the end of the book. No, it all came together seamlessly and fluidly within the plot itself and made this world feel so real I could almost taste the juice of the orange myself.
There are four main characters who narrate the novel. Tané, Ead, Loth, and Niclays. To be honest, I could have cared less for Niclays, because for the most part I hated him as a person. He had depth and there was some change in him as a person over the course of the novel, but for the most part his actions were selfish and repulsive, so he was easily my least favorite of the narrators. Tané was also a little hard to empathize with at first, since for a long time her sole focus was on achieving her own dream, but over the course of the story as she herself grew as a person and stopped looking inwardly, I grew to appreciate her more.
The two characters I enjoyed the most were Loth and Ead. Loth I loved mostly because he is a sweetheart, and the epitome of a “soft boy” as the colloquial is today. He is loyal and caring, a little naïve sometimes, but somehow always looks on the bright side and willing to do whatever he can to help those he loves. I loved his growth as a character as he went from being ignorant of other cultures and religions to slowly beginning to understand that what he was taught might not be all there is. He is steadfast and reliable throughout the whole novel and just one of those characters that you want to hug.
Ead was my favorite narrator, though, because she was the one who understood the big picture the best. While she was forced to live in a place that considered her people to be heretics, she stood strong and held her ground so that she might fulfill her duty of protecting the Queen. She cares deeply for those she loves, but also understands that she cannot put them before the world.
I think of all the characters in the novel, the one I had the most trouble with, aside from Niclays, was Sabran. She just irked me from the start, because she always just seemed so rude and, honestly, a b*tch. And then when she and Ead started talking more and we began to see more of her personality, I just felt like she was whiney too – constantly talking of her own problems and fears, and while I understood that as a queen and supposed protector of the realm she has a lot of pressure on her from her subjects and advisors, I just wished she would stand up for herself once in a while instead of letting everyone else dictate how she rules and what she does with her own body. And I know that she only has so many people she can confide in, but I just wished that she might actually take some interest in Ead once in a while. Their romance, while I saw coming, didn’t feel right to me at first because I just did not care for Sabran when Ead’s feelings were starting to blossom. She just seemed so self-centered that I was not really on board with it. [SPOILER] It wasn’t until after they reunited that she slowly began to grow on me, or at least their romance did. I did enjoy seeing her become more willing to understand other religions and stop listening to the traditions of the past. [END SPOILER]. It took some time, but eventually I grew to appreciate and respect her, but overall she wasn’t my favorite person ever.
Finally, the plot of this book was brilliant and, as I said before, enthralling. From the history entwining with the present, the past reawakening as the second rising of the Nameless One approaches, the many different layers of magic and battle and political intrigue and romance, this book was a masterpiece. Everything flowed together beautifully, pulling together the seams of the world into one giant piece of the work that, while over 800 pages, still didn’t seem like enough at times. Even now there are some unanswered questions, but that’s okay, because “there’s promise in tales that are yet to be spoken.” And while I would love a sequel or another story set within this world, I don’t mind if there never is one, because sometimes the not knowing is the best thing of all. It leaves room for me to imagine it myself.
Absolutely, positively, 5 stars.