“The Priory of the Orange Tree” book review


Yness Martinez

The Priory of the Orange Tree written by Samantha Shannon

Yness Martinez, Staff Reporter

Tolkien, Faulkner, Moby Dick. You can hear the collective groans from the masses at the mere mention of such difficult literary works. Though their size is daunting, they have something special that not all books can claim – bragging rights.

This summer I took it upon myself to attempt to tackle my TBR [to be read], with some success. I decided that this summer I would finally crack the spine of Priory of the Orange Tree by Samanth Shannon. I went into this very confident; completely unaware of the journey I was about to embark on. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree is a high fantasy stand-alone by Oxford graduate, Samantha Shannon. Ancient beasts are once again stirring in the Abyss, and Ead Duryan is sent to protect the long-standing House of Berethnet’s Sabran the Ninth. She rules the western kingdom of Inys from the walls of her palace, but is not protected from those who plot on the inside. Across the Abyss, Tané trains for her dream of being a dragon rider, but outside forces may fate otherwise. While tensions between the East and West remain strained, the threat of The Nameless One approaches their doors. 

This was enough to remember that I took notes. The Priory of the Orange Tree is compounded with two maps, a glossary, a timeline, and stands at a shocking 848 pages. In order to enjoy this book, it’s important to remember the names and places. Luckily, the author mercifully included the location at the beginning of each chapter; East and West. Out of the almost 850 pages, the first 200 are the most difficult to keep track of because of characters, titles, political situations, and backstories. But bear with it, there’s more to the story than just complexity.

This book reminds me of a child who was allowed to make up their own dream world, but instead we let a quick witted, liberal Oxford graduate make her own fantasy tale, which all contributed to the following main themes. 

First up: medieval feminism. Though of course there was the occasional semblance of patriarchy, the decision to have a matriarchy for the House of Berethnet was the best decision Shannon made. Not only are the majority of the protagonists women, they are incredibly complex characters. Each is complete with their own set of physical and moral challenges that make this an emotionally fulfilling read. There’s a generous share of LGBTQ representation, and Shannon draws on racial themes that are applicable to real life. Even our male protagonists are minorities, making the plot inclusive for all groups. 

Now, the writing style could be considered advanced for sure, but it shouldn’t be out of reach for most readers. If anything, it really broadened my vocabulary to include more academically challenging words. For the easily intimidated, keeping a dictionary nearby could be helpful. 

To be fair, this book is a commitment, but not one to be afraid of. If I could wrap this book up in one sentence, it would be: it’s not about the end result, it’s about the journey. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree really made me appreciate the way authors can use their ingenuity to make their own perfect world, even if that world is almost 900 pages. Shannon promised a high, Tolkien-level fantasy, and she more than delivered.