The Priory of the Orange Tree
I’m aliiiiiiiive! Friends, I’m back from my weeks of reading The Priory of the Orange Tree. This book was an undertaking, and I do not say that lightly. Big books are the best, and normally I love to brag as much as any bookworm about how quickly I can make it through large books like this… but this one took some time. I feel like so much happened within the pages of this story that I cannot even begin to describe all of the events that took place. Perhaps it could have been split into multiple stories, which could have made the plot progress quicker? I wouldn’t say the pacing was rough, but there were times when I raced through the pages and times when it took quite a bit to stay focused.
The Priory follows four main storytellers: Ead, Tane, Loth, and Niclays. Ead is a handmaiden of the Priory of the Orange Tree, and she has been acting as a spy for the past eight years at the Inysh court. Originally sent to the Queendom of Inys by the Prioress, Ead’s only mission in Inys is to keep the Queen, Sabran Berethnet, alive… which is quite difficult, since she is the target of several assassination attempts. Tane is in the East, training to become a dragon rider and following the dream she has had ever since she was a child. Though she passes her trials and becomes a rider, her world turns upside down when she discovers an Inysh man on the coast of Seiiki. To preserve her fragile future as a rider, she tries to hide the man but she can’t outrun this mistake. Loth is Sabran’s best friend since childhood, yet he is mysteriously sent away after his close friendship with the Queen poses a threat to Sabran’s marriage prospects. Loth finds himself the newly appointed ambassador to the Draconic country of Yscalin… a region sworn to Sabran’s archenemy, the Nameless One (a big, scary dragon dude). Loth must fight to stay alive and make his way back to his homeland and best friend. Niclays is in exile on the coastal island of Orisima, part of Seiiki in the East. Sabran banished him after he failed his promised task to create an elixir of life, and he finds his fate wrapped tightly with Tane’s when the man she found is dumped at his doorstep. As the Nameless One rises from the Abyss, the four storytellers must work together to banish him once and for all before he reigns terror on the world.
If that felt like a lot, it’s because it was. It took me a whole week to make it through the first hundred pages… so much was name dropped without any pretense, and I was constantly flipping back and forth to the maps to keep the characters straight in my head. I even wrote everyone down in the beginning since I was having such a hard time keeping up with this story. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy… but it can be a chore to submerse yourself in a world as deep as this one. I feel like the story would have been better served if it possessed a LOTR-esque introduction to the history in the beginning, like how Galadriel narrated the story of the Ring right at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring. Once I wrote everything down and got through those first chapters, things started making more sense and it was easier to continue reading.
Dragons… really, that cover had me drooling. I loved how Samantha Shannon incorporated both Eastern and Western dragon lore, and I honestly wish the dragons played even more of a front and center role in this tale. They would have created more action in the story, and I think this would have helped keep the book interesting (personally). I love the tale of Saint George and the dragon, and I could see how Shannon pulled inspiration from it to frame how feared and hated western dragons were. Seriously, dragon lore is some of my favorite fantasy stuff… I even had a Dragonology book when I was younger that I would read every night and write down sentences in runes (in case I ever came across a dragon, of course). Also, I truly thought that if I held my bar of soap in the shower just so and sang the song from Dragontales, I would find myself surrounded by dragons. Tell me you’re cool, without telling me you’re cool. Dragons may or may not play a huge role in a book I may or may not be writing… you heard it here first, besties. I don’t think I said dragons enough, so here’s one more: dragons.
Honestly, I loved each of the main storytellers, Loth, Tane, Ead, and Niclays. They all were such good characters, and it was a real pleasure to watch their stories interweave with each other from across the world, similar to GOT. Tane and Niclays had to be my favorites… their chapters really held my attention and had me wanting their next chapters. I didn’t care for Sabran’s character, but I loved how Ead brought the good out in her. Their relationship was so strong and passionate, and they were perfect for each other. There was fantastic female representation in every corner of this book, without it being so obvious… and I loved that. I feel as if this made the characters that much more real, and it made this novel a true feminist story. I also loved the interesting takes on organized religion; Shannon showed how a lot of it is just word of mouth, passed on through generations without any solid proof or backing.
Overall, I’d say this was a good story… personally, it fell somewhat flat and it wasn’t quite what I expected, but there were times in which I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t my favorite… it was just a solid story. Standalones do be like that, though. I think if it was more of a series, not just a standalone, with more action amongst the characters and the dragons… it would have really been an epic read. I finished it… wanting more? More relationships, more conflict… more. The ending was a touch anticlimactic, and it had me thinking “oh really? This is it?”. Shannon has mentioned that she would love to further explore this world, and I can see how she can easily do that… Here’s to hoping she will! I’ve heard good things about her other series, The Bone Season, which is currently sitting on my never-ending TBR list. For now, I’ll be starting The Crown of Gilded Bones (ok, but whhhhhyy all the long titles though) by Jennifer L. Armentrout… and I CANNOT WAIT. Stay tuned for that review, because something tells me I’ll get through that book much quicker!