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The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon | Book Review |

I had been very intrigued by the gorgeous cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree and when Rachna gifted it to me for Christmas; I was overjoyed. This one is a big heavy book at 848 pages and is really heavy to prop up and read.

Title: The Priory of the Orange Tree

Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Publication: Bloomsbury Circus

Author: Samantha Shanon

Based out of London, Samantha Shanon is best known for her Bone Season series which comprises of seven books; of which she is currently working on the fourth one.

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Synopsis:

From the womb of fire that burns under the world, a beast of unspeakable magnitude was born a thousand years ago.THe broke out of the peak, now called Dreadmount and spewed out molten fire, red lightning and a pernicious smoke which killed everyone in the city of Gulthaga, Mentendon. This hideous creature flew South to Lasia and settled in Yikala, lusting after the sweet human flesh there. It carried within him a terrible plague which made the blood of the afflicted burn, driving them mad.

To appease the beast, Lasia sent forth human sacrifice from among them daily by casting lots. One day the Princess Cleolind, daughter of King Selinu of House Onjenyu is chosen as the sacrifice. On that day a Knight from the Inysh isles came riding by to help aid the region in their fight against the Nameless One. This was Sir Galian Berethnet who carried an extraordinary sword called the Ascalon. He battled the creature and drove it back into its Womb of Fire, where it remains to this day.

“That is the problem with stories, child. The truth in them cannot be weighed.”― Samantha Shannon, The Priory of the Orange Tree

Galian returned to Insyca with Cleolind as his bride, gathering a holy retinue of knights along the way. As king of Inys, he made the Virtue of Knighthood it’s one true and sole religion.

Five hundred years later, the break in Dreadmount opened again to release more horrific creatures. The largest were the Five Westerns, led by Fyredel. Next came their servants, the wyverns, each lit with the fire from one of the five westerns. They mated wih fowl to create the cockatrice , with serpent to birth the Basilik and Amphiptere, with ox to birth the Ophitaur, and with wolf to birth the Jaculus– thus the fearsome Draconic army was born.

Under their terror, the Grief of Ages began leading to the ruins of a great many realms. A passing of a comet over the world, somehow led to the fall of the wyrms into a deep slumber, where they remain to this day.

“You have ambition, Tané. Never apologise for that.”― Samantha Shannon, The Priory of the Orange Tree

East: In Seiiki, young Tane’ was a training apprentice in one of the four Houses of Learning since she was three years old. No one knew who her parents were or what her clan was. The Seiikinese revered the dragons which found their strength from the sea and could fly despite having no wings. The Miduchi clan was the dynasty of dragon riders and it was to join this clan, that Tane’ trained hard everyday.

The dragons are said to be born of starlight through the passing of the comet which also lends them their full strength. As it passes, the dragons lay eggs which hatch and their strength is restored to full.

On Choosing day, along with apprentices from the other Houses of Learning, she participates in various skill and strength challenges. She is chosen by one of the Lacustrine dragons called Nayimathun as her rider. But Tane’ breaks one of the strictest rule on the island when she shelters a fugitive and is sentenced to spend her time on Feather island in research work with the scholars. Her dragon is stolen by the Fleet of the Tiger Eye, a notorious pirate brigand who trade in dragon parts. It’s assumed that Nayimathun is now a lost cause and Tane’ becomes a shadow of her former self in grief.

“Her feelings had come like a flower on a tree. A bud, gently forming – and just like that, an undying blossom.”― Samantha Shannon, The Priory of the Orange Tree

South: Princess Cleolind had set up a Priory of the Orange Tree in Lasia where the fruit of the tree gave strength and magic (siden) to the mages. Eadaz du Zala uq -Nara is a sister of the Priory, sent to the Western Inys court to protect Queen Sabran. She is one of the most gifted mages and serves as the perfect protector to the queen. The Priory don’t follow the faith of Six Virtues and revere their own Mother who is selected from amongst them. The Priory is a house of sisters blessed with the sacred flame and their purpose is to stay wyrms and protect the South from the draconic power.

West: Queen Sabran the ninth is under pressure from her Virtue Council to wed and produce a daughter heir who would ensure continuity of the line of the House of Brethnet. It’s said that the Nameless One is kept at bay by the blood lines of this house. But Sabran is terrified of childbirth and has been delaying her nuptials since long.

The draconian beasts are stirring everywhere, assassination attempts are being made on Sabran’s life and there seems to be a major plot unfolding in the heart of Inys court. What will Queen Sabran do to save her people?

“When history fails to shed light on the truth, myth creates its own.”― Samantha Shannon, The Priory of the Orange Tree

Yscalin: Carscaro is the capital of the Draconic Kingdom of Yscalin, ruled by King Sigoso of the House Vetalda. This province has denounced the Six Virtues to declare allegiance to the Nameless One. His feared lieutenant Fryedel is often sighted flying over the capital, along with a few more of the Draconic beasts. When Lord Arteloth Beck is exiled under a diplomatic excuse to Yscalin, he exposes a dreadful plot and flees to warn Sabran. But he is afflicted with the red plague and is in a race against time to get help.

The only saving grace for the world now seems to unite in this terror against the Draconic Army and slay the Nameless One before everything is rendered asunder. But will the West and the East see past their religious differences to join forces? What about the Priory of the Orange tree? Where does its allegiance lie?

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Lasting Impression on me:

Fantasy is beautifully imagined and woven in with perfect blend of folklore and legends in this onerous tome of a book. The characters are female oriented and one reviewer has rightly called the book, ” feminist successor of LOTR”. Two opposing forms of the dragon dueling it out with a two fold system of magic, combines fantasy and folklore very imaginatively.
I give full marks to the women in this book who are strong – both in body and mind; yet they are also shouldering the mistakes of their ancestors and trying to change the world for the better. The princess in this Medieval – Victorian setup is not a hapless damsel. Equal opportunities for both sexes; be it as a ruler, a saint, warrior, pirate or as a servant.

The New York Times bestselling “epic feminist fantasy perfect for fans of Game of Thrones” (Bustle).

Tradition and beliefs are questioned and reaffirmed or discarded to embrace new; something very heartening to read about in a book such as this. Characters achieve personal growth and form new alliances as a result of the change.
The writing is a delight and the plot unfolds with great intrigue, keeping one turning the page one after the other. But the story telling is pretty complex and has one layer too many. This would have gone much faster if I hadn’t tired out so much with all the details. I needed to stop in between to absorb all that I was reading – something that doesn’t happen too often.

A fascinating epic fantasy set in a rich, well-developed world. Shannon has created fertile narrative ground.” – New York Journal of Books

The switching of narration between the two realms is tiresome and challenges the readers attention span to the limit. On top of that, the cast of characters is huge. Its quite a task to keep track of who belongs to which kingdom and is related to whom. Not to mention the tongue twister like names of each character Sabran the ninth or doesn’t help that they have a mouthful of a title, then a long winding name and then an insignia worn on their lapels.
Then there are past events which though are well blended in the plot line, they are one too many to maintain one’s reading speed. Each character has a back plot or history linked to an event or character and one ends up with about four POV of narration.

“Shannon satisfyingly fills this massive standalone epic fantasy with court intrigue, travel through dangerous lands, fantastical religions, blood, love, and rhetoric.” – Publishers Weekly

My rating:

I have read many a huge tomes but this one takes the cake when is comes to keeping my reading patience in check. I have to hand it to the author for crafting such a vivid world with so much layering; it would not have been an easy task. I am rating it at a 4 out of 5 stars and suggest it to the hardiest of Tolkien and GOT fans only.

If only the author had simplified the names, characters and events into a more distilled thought process and not made reading cumbersome with the overload of details in naming of characters, places and events, this would have been a great read.

I take an issue with authors using expletives like “fuck” and such others in these story lines. This is a fantasy fiction and not a modern day tale. Somehow this kind of language in a fantasy fiction book is out of place and distracts me a whole lot from liking the plot. It’s jarring and doesn’t ring true of the age that’s being depicted in the story.

If there will be a sequel, I would be definitely buying it – yes I did like the book, despite the low rating I have given it. And yes there is huge praise for this book from reviewers, authors and book clubs, etc.

“This magnificent epic of queens, dragonriders, and badass secret wyrm-slaying priestesses is a tour de force, and my new absolute favorite epic fantasy.” – Laini Taylor, NYT bestselling author of the Strange the Dreamer and Daughter of Smoke and Bone series

Truly this book will give game of thrones a run for its money. If it’s ever made into  a series, I would be the first in cheering for it. But unlike GOT, the cast keeps getting bigger. no one is dying and it’s a pain to keep track of all plot lines at the same time. You have been warned!!!! 


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You can check out my review of the Fantasy Fiction “The Children of Blood & Bone”, if you are a fan of this genre.

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6 thoughts on “The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon | Book Review |

  1. Hey four out of five isn’t a low rating at all. The issues you mentioned with the book were the same ones I had with Game of Thrones. I gave up after the third book and settled for watching the series. Those long unfamiliar names and the back stories can get ever so confusing. That said, this one does sound like a fantastic book. Someone should go ahead and film it. That would make my life simple.

    1. Low as in this one I really loved but it fell shy of 5/5 because of the reasons mentioned. I am hoping its made into a film too, then all of us could enjoy it. Fingers crossed for that now 🙂

  2. Growing number of characters and no one dying too? It must be really hard to keep up. I would love to watch this as a series or movie. Thanks for such a detailed review.

    1. I concur with that sentiment Dashy – I am a die heard fan of such books and this one is thankfully written very well and so I could read it with a lot of interest. A movie on this will be just amazing and fingers crossed that it happens soon enough.

  3. Maybe once I get past LOTR I’ll give this a try. Until then, it remains in my TBR.

    Loved the detailed and honest review, Shalz.

    1. Thanks Soumya – yeah this one is quite huge; I have managed to read 2 books this month but both were such monsters that I feel like I read 4 books 😉

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