Review and Art by: Alice J., Grade 11
Samantha Shannon is the author of the whopping 800+ page fantasy, The Priory of the Orange Tree. What do those hundreds of pages contain, you may ask? Well, there are dragons and knights and queens and mages—which might seem like the recipe for a swashbuckling epic fantasy, but in my opinion Priory falls quite a ways short of works like The Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire.
We as the reader follow the perspectives of a diverse cast of characters scattered across Shannon’s fictional world. Tané lives in the East, in an island country that worships powerful sea dragons as gods, and hopes to become one of the revered few dragon riders. A short distance away is Niclays Roos, an old and world-weary alchemist waiting out his exile and wallowing in bitterness. Across the ocean, Ead Duryan serves Queen Sabran of Inys but harbors a secret, one involving a society of dragon-slayers and a magical orange tree. The people of Inys live in fear of the fire breathing dragons that destroy their villages, in contrast with the worshipful people of the East. What both fear above all, however, is the return of “the Nameless One”, a maleficent and ancient dragon who was put to sleep a thousand years ago. As Ead climbs the ranks in Inysh court, she uncovers the truth behind the country’s deep rooted religion. She and others must unite East and West, delve into a history of magic, and maneuver around Inysh politics to put an end to the Nameless One’s terror.
Shannon should get credit for her intricate world building; by the end of the story, the political and cultural nuances between countries were quite interesting and detailed. The beginning of the story was also engaging, where Ead at the palace worked towards gaining Sabran’s trust and dealt with lords and ladies. Beyond that, though, the plot was not great. The storyline grows complex in a way that is more chaotic than deep or satisfying, as you have to keep track of multiple completely separate viewpoints and end up quickly losing track of who is where and what they’ve discovered. The quickly expanding plot in the beginning also poses a problem for the rest of the story, as the later parts aren’t long or well developed enough; some character will end up going from A to B by via magic animal that conveniently appeared at the right moment, or they’ll receive a bombshell of info that shakes their foundation and then go on acting normally the next day. Lots of parts are missing a more emotional weight that can only happen through a reader’s long term investment in characters.
If Shannon slowed down and focused properly on fleshing out important moments instead of trying to get through plot event after plot event, I’m sure Priory would leave more readers with an emotional impact. I’m also sure it would turn into a multi volume series, which would honestly befit the story much more than a single fat book to drag through. I believe Priory has the potential to be epic like other older works, because it certainly does come with cool ideas and an immersive world (bonus points for a cool cover), but the execution was off. Combining this with the sheer number of pages, there was not enough satisfaction in finishing the story to make reading this book worth it for me. A long book comes with certain expectations of quality given the time a reader puts in, so I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend The Priory of the Orange Tree to many.
Review and Graphics by Alice J., Grade 11