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The Priory of the Orange Tree – Review

With 6 sections, 76 chapters, and 804 pages, The Priory of the Orange Tree is quite intimidating to look at. This was an endeavor I didn’t know I was signing up for when I decided to buy the book. A Tiktok recommendation for young adult queer books led me to a Barnes & Noble, where I checked out this 5000 lbs monster and set myself up for a long, long journey. 

Before opening the book, I was expecting a love story between two knights that find themselves longing for each other on the battlefield. My expectation was that the novel was going to be a medieval Call Me By Your Name. I thought the love story was going to be central to the plot. But as I read through the first few chapters my expectations were refuted. 

I wouldn’t label The Priory of the Orange Tree as a queer novel -it’s a fantasy novel first. The author, Samantha Shannon doesn’t waste a word when introducing us to her new world. Shannon’s focus is weaving different perspectives into her story about spirituality, love -oh, and the end of the world. She does this by taking her time to tell the story of her diverse characters. 

The novel takes place in a fictional land where people, dragons, and anything in between struggle to coexist peacefully. The focus is in two main locations -in the west there is the Queendom of Inys, where Queen Sabran Berethnet IX vows to protect the world from the tyrannical dragon called the Nameless One. In the east sits the little island of Seiiki, where a young warrior Tané hopes to be a dragon rider. Both sides want the same thing, but they don’t know it yet. Luckily, there are about 750 more pages for them to figure it out. 

At the end of the first section -which is about 200 pages in, I was frustrated at the road ahead of me. What more could Shannon have to write about? The length seems redundant while you are only a quarter of the way in the book. However, Shannon seeks to intersect these stories correctly -so let’s talk about them. There are four main characters that we focus on, Tané the dragon rider, Ead Duryan a chamberer to Queen Sabran, Niclays Roos the alchemist, and Arteloth Beck the dutiful older brother. 

Tané proves to be a problematic character from the beginning. She breaks a mandated quarantine by Seiiki and exposes civilians to a man infected with the Red Scare, a fiery draconic plague. Tané is a natural warrior and chooses a life alongside the dragons of the water that she has worshipped since she was young. But Tané constantly has to adapt to the outcomes of her choices. She battles her instincts and the laws of Seiiki -then faces the consequences. 

Ead is the chamberer with a secret -not only is she skilled with cleaning linens and braiding hair, but she is also talented with a knife. Ead battles these two sides of herself. The fierce warrior is roped into the politics of Inys and she is forced to abandon her instinct. With the Nameless One on the rise, Ead has to debate how she is going to be swallowed in flames. Will it be while cleaning linens, or while she has her knife to the throat of Inys’ threat.  

Niclays Roos is my favorite of the novel -he is emotional, drunk, smart, morally corrupt, and the comic relief of Shannon’s tale. He is constantly stumbling into situations that begs the question “how the HELL is he gonna get out of this one?” But Roos always does -and for only one reason: Jannart -Roos’ lost love. Despite the rest of our main characters, Niclays is a completely selfish individual and operates on his desire to find solace in the death of his partner. 

Arteloth Beck is the stereotypical hero. His duty is to his family, his kingdom, and making sure that the draconic army is defeated. He is a spiritual man that believes in a godlike figure Inys calls The Saint. Arteloth is stubborn in his beliefs, but as the novel progresses, the perspectives intersect, and he is forced to challenge himself. (See a theme here?)

Our four main characters come from different backgrounds and are forced to acknowledge a world that will challenge them. Some of our characters praise dragons, others want to kill them. They believe different versions of the ancient story that built the world they know now. But they must extinguish their differences in order to face a common goal. In order to unite these characters from across continents, Shannon guides them into uncharted situations. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree takes time, and the best example to explain this is through the reasons I found this book in the first place -the queer relationships. There are two main queer realtionships that are dependent of the plot. 

There is one relationship that is already established -the one between Niclays and Jannart. Niclays tries to find meaning in his lover’s death by uncovering the truth which led to it. He is selfish, focusing his energy on his grief. Niclays seeks to find meaning in life after death. When he does, Niclays continues his journey with pirates, witches, and dragons until he is there fighting alongside the rest of our cast. 

The other queer realtionship in the novel is your typical coming out arc. Without revealing their names -two characters grow to love each other in the most intimate way. Their bond allies different kingdoms together. Their love only amplifies their subjective duties. 

These queer relationships don’t define the characters -it is simply another piece in the arc that brings our cast together. At the end of the novel there is an “Aha!” moment, where everyone is beside one another. These characters were meant to forge the relationships in order to take on the Nameless One. These relationships require genuine connection to seem realistic -that is exactly what Shannon builds in 700 pages: humanity in fantasy. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree is about connecting people with differences -it melds characters with various beliefs, sexualities, and ethnicities that come together to stop the end of the world. Samantha Shannon creates an in-depth world and lengthy character developments in order to support this connection. Despite the intimidation of it’s length, The Priory of the Orange Tree is worth digesting because it’s slow burn warms you until the dragon’s fire is finally extinguished. 

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