‘The Priory of the Orange Tree’ by Samantha Shannon

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Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Adult, Political Fantasy, LGBT, Dragons, Badass Female Protagonist

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Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

  • None yet!

Initial Rating: Highly Recommended.  (How I Rate Books)

Here’s the TL;DR for my review (SPOILERS!):

  • Pros
    • Good-to-Great characters
    • Beautiful-yet-unprepossessing prose
    • Great Setting
    • Fun politics and intrigue
  • Mixed
    • The plot was acceptable, but nothing fancy. In short, there’s an evil dragon who’s about to be released from his 1,000 year imprisonment and it’s up to the heroes to team up and re-imprison him.
      • This plot had the same mouthfeel as Lord of the Rings or the Belgariad or the Wheel of Time.
      • If you’ve not read any of those older books, then chances are you’ll really like this book because this is a tried-and-true plot with a lot of resonance. If you have read those books, you might still enjoy this (like I did), or you might not.
  • Cons
    • The pacing. The first 2/5ths of the story was slow, while the final 1/5th felt rushed.
      • But everything between the slow beginning and the fast end was gloriously good

 

I read this for the r/fantasy May book club. I was planning on reading this anyway, but this was a good excuse to move it up the queue.

This was a good book, and will probably wind up being among the best books I read this year. This is a very traditional High Fantasy about good vs evil, featuring five protagonists against the draconic armies of evil.

In this setting, magic is balanced between fire and water. The Nameless One is the ultimate (and evil) avatar of fire- a massive goliath of a fire-breathing dragon who wants to rain fire down upon the whole world. Opposing him are the Asian-inspired dragons of the sea and their dragon-riders, a Priory of fire-wielding women wizards and a queendom of knights and princesses.

I loved the setting, where the religions of multiple nations clash with one another. None of the human factions like one another, but are forced to come together or face being burned by the Nameless One. In particular I liked Virtuedom, for the author really played up the chivalry-and-valor aspect of knightlyness in every aspect of their society. All the other societies seemed a bit pale in comparison to the style, flavor and virve of Virtuedom.

The author’s prose was good. In the stained-glass/windowpane-glass paradigm of prose (where stained glass=prose being beautiful for the sake of beauty, while windowpane=crystal clear prose which fades into the background), the author’s prose is firmly on the stained glass side. However her prose isn’t even close to being purple, but instead inhabits a happy medium of being beautiful while subtle.

The characters were all good, which was fairly surprising. Usually with a multi-POV Epic Fantasy there is one or two characters who I dislike. Not so here. I liked all five of the point of view characters in this novel. While I think some of them were better than others (Nicklaus and Tane were my favorites), I do think that all of them were well fleshed out characters. I think the book might have been better if the author focused on three or four instead of five, but that’s just me nitpicking.

I liked the politicing. In each sub-culture there were various plots and intrigues by sub-factions vying for power. In Virtuedom, for example, the Queen is facing constant assassination attempts by an unknown factor within her own court. Across the ocean in the kingdom of the water-dragons, the protagonists Tane and Nicklaus are the ones breaking the rules by smuggling people into the kingdom despite laws outlawing it. While I’ll admit that none of the plots were particularly unique, all of them were well-grounded in the peculiarities of the setting and served to flesh out the worldbuilding and served to add depth to the characters.

The plot was a big ‘ehh’ in my opinion. I personally could take it or leave it. It was a classic ‘save the world from the big bad’ trope. The author made the main antagonist more of a force of nature than a villain, which depersonalized the plot and detached me from it. His witch second-in-command was a more interesting villain because we actually got to meet her, but I felt she was prone to blabbering on villainously about her secret plans. The plot got the job done.

Now for me this book’s biggest problem was it’s pacing. I found it boring for it’s first 2/5ths or so. Those first 2/5ths did a good job of setting up the setting and characters, but they were NOT action packed. I got bored. Additionally the final 1/5th or so of the book felt a bit rushed, as all the protagonists converged and started working together. The buildup to the finale felt forced, as if the invisible hand of the author was forcing the protagonists to work together.

Honestly this book would have been well served if it were either shorter, or longer-but-split into two books. The scope of the book vastly increased towards the end to encompass entire kingdoms and empires which were never visited before in the novel. I wish the author either cut those kingdoms and empires out entirely, or (if the book had been split in two) they were visited in greater depth in another book so their inclusion felt more holistic in the climactic battle.

And there you go. I personally felt that the good in ‘The Priory’ dramatically outweighed the bad, and I therefore Highly Recommend it.

 

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