The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (a favourite author of mine), was one of my most anticipated reads of 2019. It contains all my favourite things after all:
1) Lots and lots of pages…!
*My arms are so much stronger after reading this, no lie.*
3) Complex female character narrators (yay!) with the bonus of an f/f romance *fist pump for diversity!*
I counted down the months, weeks then days until I finally got my hands on this 830 paged beauty, and when its gorgeous cover was in my hands, I disappeared from the internet and dived in!
So, did it live up to my expectations? Eh, I’ll be honest with you – it didn’t. Read on to find out why!
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.
Priory has a lot of different point of view characters, each with their own missions that eventually bind together with one aim.
In the West, we have Ead, a mage in training and a member of the Priory who is on a secret mission to protect Queen Sabran from attempts on her life, despite believing that everything that she stands for is a lie. There’s Loth, Queen Sabran’s best friend who is sent away for political reasons on a diplomatic suicide mission, but ends up learning a lot more than he bargained for about the history of dragons and the myths surrounding them.
Then in the East, we have Tane, a dragon rider in training as she learns about flying techniques and her mysterious past, and finally Niclays, an alchemist and alcoholic still struggling with the loss of his partner while pondering the secret to immortality.
As Wyverns rise and all signs point to the most dangerous dragon in history ‘The Nameless One’ returning, the characters get sucked into an ageless battle and a race against time to defeat the fire-breather before he takes over the world.
The worldbuilding in Priory is really quite fascinating!
The main crux is Eastern versus Western politics and religion, which has developed differently due to views on dragons. While the West believe all dragons are evil because they’ve only had experience with the volcanic and destructive Wyverns, the East believe that their dragons are the equivalent of Gods and that being picked to become a dragon rider is the highest honour. On the religion front, this world is built around the history of Galian Berethnet who banished the worst dragon known in history, ‘The Nameless One’ and rescued the Princess Cleoilind. The West believes in this story, and also that Queen Sabran is the direct descendant and that as long as her line continues, they will be safe from the Dragon’s return. The East, however, have a very different version of the tale in which Cleoilind kicks some serious ass (you go, girl)!
I loved that Samantha Shannon did so much research on dragon myth and mythology for her novel.
She decided on quite a traditional route (but also put her own spin on things), having Western dragons linked with fire and destruction, while Eastern dragons have an affinity with water. Western dragons also have wings, while Eastern dragons gain their flying power from a jewel on the brow of their head, which I thought was really cool! What did disappoint me slightly though, is while there was a lot of interesting talk about dragons, they didn’t seem to actually get much active page time? All the action scenes with them seemed to be over very quickly, and they also didn’t have particularly distinct personalities.*
*Picture me having a 4yr old tantrum and scowling like a trooper at the lack of dragon war scenes.
Shannon’s descriptive writing is always sublime.
I could close my eyes, pick a random page and guarantee that whatever my hand landed on would be a sentence of liquid gold. Shannon not only has a way with words but a love of words too, and it pours out of her.
With Priory, however, I did think that the balance was slightly off. It felt like there was a lot of passive description and not enough action. It was almost like Shannon got so into her zone that she lost me along the way. A lot of the names, histories and cultures almost ended up feeling more self-indulgent than actually adding to the richness of the world for me. I also felt very emotionally removed from the story because of the passive tone.
The pacing of this novel was…not great.
I wouldn’t say that I felt bored at any points, however, I did keep regularly thinking ‘this needs to move on a bit’. I think it’s really important with long books (and I do read a lot of them!) to have lots of mini crescendo throughout that then slowly build to an intense finale. With Priory, everything felt very much on one level, and even though there were a lot of twists and turns, it took so long to get to them that I felt a little deflated! In addition, the final fight seemed to be over in a blink**, despite so much of the novel building towards it. The plans also went far too smoothly for my liking, and a lot of points felt convenient!
** Picture me double scowling at the lack of dragon badassery war scenes.
The characters in Priory were a bit of a mixed bag for me, although yay for them being diverse!
I absolutely loved Ead who is a helper in the royal household (but also a secret mage). She’s an outsider having come from the East, and others regularly look down on her, but damn, if she doesn’t hold herself with dignity. She’s also stuck in a very awkward moral conundrum because she’s been tasked with protecting a queen that believes in everything she’s fighting against.***
***Also, I’m not gunna lie guys, I feel like Ead held this whole fantasy crew together, without her, they would have been colliding into each other and roasting marshmallows in the fire of the Nameless One sobbing at their fate.
Queen Sabran was also a wonderfully complex character, her entire purpose is to keep the kingdom safe and to do that she needs to marry and give birth to a daughter, but she’s never wanted to marry and is absolutely terrified of childbirth. Sabran is a pretty stuck up and privileged character to begin with, however, through a tentative friendship with Ead (who tells her the truth rather than what she wants to hear) Sabran slowly opens up, and you see the humour and vulnerability underneath.
In comparison, I didn’t take to Tane the dragon rider at all and found her very bland (how that is possible when she rides a dragon I DON’T EVEN KNOW), and while Niclays was also a complex and dislikable character, his chapters always felt slow.
I also have to give a shoutout to two side characters that were actually my favourite – jolly, happy easygoing Kit, and steadfast loyal Margaret, who were always in the background, supporting from a distance! I also wish I could have spent more page time with the lovely cinnamon roll that is Loth!
Overall, Priory was a real mix for me.
The worldbuilding was clever and I loved how the interpretation of myth and legend played such a big part in the story. On the other hand, the story felt quite passive with little action, the pacing was problematic, and I had mixed thoughts on the characters. Also, THE LACK OF KICKASS DRAGON SCENES, SERIOUSLY, WHERE WERE THEY?!?!****
****Literally toppling over with the weight of my scowl into a fiery pit now. K, bye.
Ultimately, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with Priory because I just expected so much more??? Also, I think the fact that this was Shannon’s first high fantasy debut did show because it was rough around the edges.
I wouldn’t let my thoughts put you off though because this book is getting SO MUCH LOVE!!! Here are some more positive raving reviews you can check out!
The Book Thieves | BooksNest | Imi Reviews Books
Overall Impression: 3.5/5
Writing Style 3/5
Character Development 4/5
Would I recommend this book? I would recommend other fantasy books first!
Have you read or are you planning to read Priory of the Orange Tree? Do you enjoy loooong books? Have you been slightly let down by a highly anticipated read in 2019?
Let me know in the comments!
25 thoughts on “Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon”
This is a lovely review, Becky! I have to admit, this book… terrifies me haha, because it’s SO big and, when you have so many pages, you have to be entertained at all times. I’m sorry that the pacing felt a little off, this is so annoying the world-building sounds so interesting though. I hope you’ll love your next read better! 🙂
Thank you, Marie, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. 🙂 I wanted to get the balance right between the really interesting aspects but also why I felt kinda ‘meh’ about it, which was surprisingly difficult (and probably why this ended up being SO long – like the book lol)!
It is a huge commitment for sure! I will say I didn’t ever consider giving up on it though, I was always interested enough to keep reading, if that helps!
Thank you so much 💕 I actually just finished The Binding yesterday which turned out to be my first 5-star read of the year, yay! 😁
Thanks so much for reading!
Oh yay for a five stars read! I can’t wait for you to talk more about this new favorite of yours 🙂
Thank you, they’ll definitely be a review! 😀
This is a very giant book and I can definitely see why it made your arms stronger 😂
It definitely sounds a very interesting book with the plot but it a shame you didn’t get the action scenes you wanted and for such a giant book it would have been nicer if you enjoyed the pacing!! I think mini crescendo are good in books and help the pacing!! And it can be annoying when thinks go too smoothly– your like “wait I expected more”!!
Some of the characters sounds great and I heard Loth was a cinnamon roll and I LOVED that because cinnamon roll characters are amazing!! 😂
I hope you find a book that fills your kick-ass dragon fighting desires soon!!
Lovely review!! 😊 I do enjoy long books but I think that do have to have good plot and characters to keep you interested in everything!! That have to be justifiably long if you know what I mean. I might check this book out one day!! 😊
It certainly did! At one point my arms got so numb from a long stint of reading it that when I stopped and stood up the book dropped out of my hands and landed on my foot which really hurt!!! It’s definitely heavy. 😁
It was an interesting book, but like you say, it just needed a bit more forward momentum with the pacing and also a few more snappy action scenes and it could have been AMAZING. Although, lots of other people don’t seem to have had the same issues as I have so I wouldn’t let that put you off because I may just be the odd one out!
The ending definitely did go smoothly and tied up a bit too neatly for me – I really wanted to go into it more in the review but it would have led to spoilers!
I’m glad to hear that you’re a fan of long books too. 😁 They can be intimidating sometimes but in the end, they can also often be the most rewarding!
Thank you so much for reading and wishing me kickass dragons for the future! 😁
A book to the foot is not fun….!
I found that out very quickly!!! 🤣 I’m normally so careful with my precious books too!
Oh no… poor foot!!
Yes that’s true– what makes you enjoy a book can be quite a personal thing!! 😊
Yes avoiding spoilers in a review can be hard– like no I have so much to talk about!! 😂
Yes they can be rewarding indeed!!
Haha you’re welcome 😊
Yes, it can be very difficult! For instance, a book I read recently is all about the mystery factor and not knowing what’s going on with the characters, so trying to write a review for that one should be interesting!
I’m really torn about whether to read this now or not. The amount of hype is making me nervous that it’s never going to be what I want it to be and reading your review is reinforcing that (c’mon, we need our dragon fights!) I think it will be one I’ll get around to, but I might leave it for a bit, let the hype die down and wait until I feel ready for it rather than feeling like I should read it right now. This is a great review!
I’m so sorry I haven’t made your decision any easier for you, Lindsey! It can definitely get off-putting when a book gets SO much hype because a) how could it possibly live up to it and b) you can get a bit tired of hearing about it! I definitely wouldn’t want to put you off reading Priory because so many people have absolutely loved it, and I feel a little like the awkward kid in the corner with my views! 🤣 However, I do think waiting for the hype to die down might be a good solution!
YAY for being in the dragons fights club!
Thanks so much for reading. 😁
Ah no not at all – it was refreshing reading a review of someone not completely blown away by it as t makes me feel I’m not being paranoid not trusting the hype 😂 I know what you mean – I often find myself having the opposite view to everyone else. Heck yes – can’t have them just lurking in the background!
Oh thank you, I’m so glad it was helpful and refreshing. 🙂
Hahaa, yes, there’s definitely been a few big releases over the years that I didn’t get on with despite the massive internet love!
I’ve got A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan and Talon by Julie Kagwa on my shelf, so hopefully those kick more butt! I’ve also heard that Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is excellent as well. 🙂
Ok, you’ve convinced me to try this book. I’ll add it to my TBR.
I love a fantasy story with such deep worldbuilding. The religions fascinate me as well as the different views on dragons. I’m intrigued.
I’m glad the review piqued your interest, Zezee, and I hope if you decide to pick it up you enjoy it! 🙂
In some ways, amazing worldbuilding can actually make up for more bland characters for me!
Thank you for reading!
This is also one of my most anticipated releases of this year, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. I’m definitely a little scared because of the size of the book and since you’re saying it’s not very fast paced, I’m a little worried. I’m also not really expecting to love it as much as The Bone Season anyway, which I guess is why I haven’t picked it up yet.
I hope you enjoy it when you finally pick it up, Karin! I did find it to be slow paces but I also know that a lot of other reads found that the pages whizzed by, so I hope you will fall into the latter camp!
I love The Bone Season too so I completely agree with you there. You just can’t compete with Warden and Paige. 😀 Bring on book 4!
Thank you so much for reading!
I think you hit the nail on the head when you said there weren’t enough dragon scenes for you. I know how much you love dragons, so I think you had it built up in your head to be ALL about dragons. I get that, and I must say I thought there would be more focus on dragons too. However, I absolutely loved this book and devoured it in no time. I honestly think I would love anything that Samantha writes LOL. Oh well, you can’t love them all right?
You’re spot on, Cindy! I think that was also a lot to do with the way the book was marketed and hyped as well. There was SO much discussion about the dragons as opposed to the other aspects of the story. I think the cover (while ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS) also suggests more of an action-filled story? I have been pondering whether I read it again a year down the line (this time with the right expectations) whether I would enjoy it more. Perhaps a reread for the future. 🙂
I’m so happy that you enjoyed it so much though, Cindy!
Now we can now excitedly anticipate TBS4, woohoooo! 😀
I love the little asterisks-aside you put in this post. They were fun!
Maps! I love a book with maps in it. Gives you a sense of the fictional world, and I love flicking back to the front to see where the characters are now while I’m reading it.
I’m still working out what you look like with a fiery double frown so heavy you topple over…and as ever, your pictures are great!
Thanks, Tony, I’m glad you liked them! What I look like with a fiery double frown…. well, I think I look fiencesome, but anyone looking would probably laugh and give me an endearing pat on the head because in reality, I’d probably look pretty laughable. 😀
I love a book with a good map too! I spend ages looking at them before reading the first chapter. 🙂
It’s so strange that a book with dragons on the cover and inside pages doesn’t really feature the dragons in its story. I’ll definitely try it out at some point, because the worldbuilding does sound really interesting, but I think I’ll tackle some of the other fantasy on my TBR first. Awesome, awesome review, Becky! And I ADORE the dragon figurine in the pic. 😀
Priory does definitely feature dragons at points, just not nearly as much as I was expecting considering all of the above you’ve just mentioned! I’m so glad you’re still interested in giving it a go, I’d say waiting for the hype to die down is definitely a good call. 🙂
Awh, thank you SO much for your kind words, I really appreciate it! 😁💕
I got the dragon when I was in Wales, you can put an incense cone underneath and smoke comes out of its nose, it’s definitely one of the best objects I own!! 😁 They’ve got a shop called Smoking Dragons online and there’s lots of different coloured ones! 🐉
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