Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

‘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.’

One of my favourite things about The Priory of the Orange tree were the elements of different mythologies that are woven through the book. Truth be told, there are a great number of things that I loved about the novel, but the unravelling of the past that has become myth and legend – and the different interpretation of said myth and legend, according to different peoples and beliefs – was my favourite thing to read about and I was thrilled to see that so much of the story hinged on a past that has become legend and must be seen through to ultimately aid those who believe in it. Some of the scenes I most enjoyed involved key characters questioning what they had been raised to believe in and what it meant not only for their position, but for their understanding of themselves and the lives of their people.

Of the characters in the story, I found Sabran and Ead to be the most engaging, with Sabran possibly being the one I became the most attached to. It is perhaps Sabran who goes on one of the most complex journeys, her position one that is tied into the religion at the heart of her nation, everything from her blood to her faith to her role in society in question over the course of the novel, all while she struggles with what is expected of her. The idea of what is all too often considered women’s ‘role’ in society is excellently examined over the course of The Priory of the Orange Tree, including the language that is used to label women who don’t ‘conform’ to society’s general perceptions and expectations. Sabran does her best to be and do what her queendom needs of her, even when it is clear that what they want from her is not what she wishes, and the contrast of who she is in public and who she is behind closed doors – as the reader gradually gets to know her better – is another of the things I loved most about the book.

Not only does The Priory of the Orange Tree have copious amounts of mythology, but it also includes dragons! The differing perceptions of dragons and the roles they play in the lands of the East and West are another of the novel’s strengths, those among the antagonists of the West (and the whole world) being delightfully evil and fully steeped in the magic of the story. The descriptions of the dragons of the East and West make them vivid creatures and characters and at no point minor players in the story, those that threaten Sabran’s queendom painted so strikingly that there is no doubting the damage and harm that they stand to unleash across the world.

Another of the brilliant things about the novel is its portrayal of a wide range of inclusive relationships, one of those at the heart of the story being between two women. I’m so pleased to see relationships of all kinds being portrayed more and more both in fantasy and YA books in ways that put love and affection before anything else and don’t linger too long on how the relationship will be perceived by others in the world in which the story is set. While we unfortunately don’t live in a society that is as accepting as it should be, to have more focus in literature on the relationships themselves and not a world apt to judge presents some hope for a future in which ours is the same.

The Priory of The Orange Tree is out in late February from Bloomsbury! With its amazing world-building, diverse range of characters and relationships, and vivid, engaging prose, it’s a fantastic read and one that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

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