Title: The Priory of the Orange Tree
Author: Samantha Shannon
Format read: Hardback
Publication Date: 26th February 2019
Page Count: 848 Pages
Star rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is to put it frankly, a masterpiece.
High fantasy/adult fantasy/epic fantasy, whatever you want to call extra long books depicting huge battles, long adventures, many perspectives and imaginary worlds, have never really been my thing. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are probably the only 2 I’ve ever finished and even then I’ve always preferred YA. Why is that? I’ve always wondered, I love magic, I love the idea of epic stories so why can’t I get into these types of books? Well, The Priory of the Orange Tree has answered that question for me. It’s books written by men, for men. Because women can’t write high fantasy right?
I know some might disagree and yes we do see some powerful female characters in some of these books. Game of Thrones after all has Daenerys Targaryen and some might also include Cersei Lannister in there as well. But even still that undercurrent of sex and nakedness and sexual power runs through these ‘strong’ female characters. What Samantha Shannon has done is take the whole genre and turn it on it’s head, creating the first feminist high fantasy novel (at least that I’m aware of) ever.
These women are strong, nobody talks about their ‘beauty’ their ‘large breasts’ or has them flat on their backs for the majority of the book, instead they are fierce, fighters, intelligent, strong, wonderful, wonderful: women.
The story is gripping, told from the perspective of several characters it centres around the the main characters of Ead Duryan an outsider at the court of Queen Sabran the Ninth of House Berethnet which has always been a Queendom. Ead has risen to the position of Lady in Waiting but is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Right under the courts noses, Ead protects Sabran with forbidden magic.
Meanwhile across the sea in the East, Tané has been training all her life to become a dragonrider, it’s her one dream and she isn’t going to let anything spoil it’s even if it means breaking the law.
But it is not just a book of feminism not a role reversal novel with queens and female commoners performing great feats. It is more a novel of equality. Everything as it should be, there are kings too, and princes and princesses. Servants and knights are both male and female. Nobody is given a role which appears to be purely based on their gender. Instead everyone is equal. It is like the view of the world all feminists want to see, no purely male knights or purely female cooks and cleaners. Even ladies in waiting carry daggers to protect their queen. There is no expectation that only a man could fight and protect. It is truly a beautiful world that Samantha Shannon has created.
I loved the characters in this book. Nobody was without flaws but nobody was without redemptive qualities either. There were times when I liked and disliked them all but in the end I came to love each one. I think my favourite of all had to be Ead who always stood up for what was right, regardless of consequence.
The world building was incredible, I loved how a lot of the history was done through storytelling rather than bombarding us with a big information dump. I loved the magic system, the dragons, the different parts of the world and the way they were difference and yet the same. I loved the bad guys and how they played out and there were plenty of moments that shocked me and moments that made me laugh and moments which made me feel an inner glow at the love and friendship within. If I could pinpoint one thing this book brought to the table for me it was the bonds the characters shared, their love, friendship, forgiveness and defence of each other in times of hardship. That is what made this book extra special for me.
I could waffle on for 10 more pages about how much I loved this book but I’ll stop here and say that it’s safe to say I absolutely adored it and would recommend it to everybody!