“Priory of the Orange Tree,” a book worth the cost


Alycia Abordonado

Priory of the Orange Tree

Alycia Abordonado, Staff Writer

For the first time in my life, I may have made a good financial decision. Published in February 2019 in both the US and the UK Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is a fantasy story entwined in the lives of royalty, politics, and dragons. Back in 2020, when I first saw the book the only thing that drew me closer was the giant dragon emblazoned on its cover. But the moment I picked it up off the shelf I beheld what I never thought I’d be able to finish. Priory is massive, with 827 pages of writing I nearly put it back in sheer fear of it. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to finish a book of this scale but here we are.

Shannon writes a story of a world soon-to-be doomed by great forces rising from the unknown, while the 8 ruling kingdoms continue in their ignorance and scorn of one another. The main cast becomes the catalyst of magic and changes in a journey to parley with their enemies. Covering 8 kingdoms and their ruling houses along with the people of those kingdoms, Shannon takes clear inspiration from civilizations and cultures from our world for these kingdoms, while they are not meant to represent those cultures one can infer some of the clothing and building styles that were used as inspiration. The people within these kingdoms and cultures also reflect some of the characteristics of people within our world through religion, traditions, and history-shaping their thoughts and actions. Shannon has created a world where diversity shapes history, a world that mirrors ours in its choices and thoughts.

Shannon’s representation of different groups does not stop there notably, she writes of more than the typical heterosexual couple. Some of her main characters are in homosexual relationships and yet Shannon does not treat these characters as animals in a zoo. The characters within the story also don’t treat them as objects to be gawked at. A true fantasy world, where such relationships are nothing more than just another couple. I was delighted to find that these relationships were represented so graciously, I didn’t find myself cringing at the interactions feeling forced or ridiculous. The writing didn’t sound like emotionless tar, and her characters didn’t act like a screenshot of a Twitter argument. These relationships were presented as normal like the ebbing and flowing of the tides, and while reading I didn’t feel like it was some strange foreign thing but rather something constant and reassuring. 

The story itself -whilst not giving anything away- was truly captivating from start to finish, while the book took me a moment to read, it was worth every second. Shannon writes with eloquence and mastery, each word building the story in a style similar to the classic fantasy tales telling of great escapades and adventures with an unlikely group of heroes. The story winds through various twists and turns taking the reader through the extensive world of dragons and magic both good and bad. Each word left me with a hunger for more, and as I neared the end of the book I was sad to see it go. The addictive nectar of Shannon’s words drew me in and captured me in a way I haven’t experienced from a book in a long while.

I must also praise the compelling characters that have depth, insecurities, and flaws within the book. One can find solace that Shannon has not written yet another story of the perfect solo act who saves the day in the end. The story divides itself into 4 perspectives; Eadaz du Zala uq-Nara, Arteloth Beck, Niclays Roos, and Tane. All four characters are compelling in their own ways, and yet each breaks a mold of their own for their archetypes and characterizations in our media. Shannon has created characters capable of making mistakes, bad decisions, failing, and being selfish or cruel. Something that while disappointing to see a character do within the scope of the story is a breath of fresh air from the classic hero that is always good and pure and saves the day from an overly vilified arch-nemesis. 

Although I cannot recommend this book more to fellow fantasy lovers, I must acknowledge some of the negative reviews it’s gotten. From plain homophobia to people who simply don’t like fantasy, I must wonder why someone would bother reading a book if they knew it was a genre they didn’t like. Many of the negative reviews quote the book’s flowery writing and jarring changes of perspective as the reason for the low standing. Fantasy stories tend to have writing of this sort and it’s not for everyone. I love the style as it reminds me of classic literature and some of my favorite works. Regardless, some really hate it. A story revolving around 4 separate characters in various places across the world is bound to have some jarring shifts between each, there’s no easy way to shift between such widely varying perspectives. Last but not least, this a fantasy book, it’s not meant to center around the romances of its characters, with their relationships being a relative subplot. As mentioned before this book represents homosexuals, and homosexual relationships are presented just as much as heterosexual ones, that shouldn’t be an issue while reading a book not centered around those relationships. Priory is a fantasy story about magic and dragons, sure love has a place anywhere, but it’s not the focus it’s simply icing on the cake, I doubt anyone eats only the icing when the whole cake is available.

All in all, I adore this book. It combines everything I love in books, fantasy, magic, dragons, and immense world-building with the history to go with it. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone who enjoys a good fantasy story that they can lose themselves in for hours.