There are no words that can do justice to Samantha Shannon’s epic fantasy, The Priory of the Orange Tree. Dragons, princesses, magic, epic journeys, assassins, power struggles, religion, and legacies are just the highlights of the story within its brilliant cover. It is everything you could ever want in a fantasy with the added bonus of diverse relationships that you never knew you needed.
As befits such a story, Ms. Shannon takes her time developing her characters and establishing her worlds but does so without huge swaths of exposition. Instead, she lets the characters teach the readers in a way that is so natural that you only realize how much you learned about the setting upon reflection. At the same time, we learn so much more about the characters themselves, their passions, and their pasts. Doubly effective, it means Ms. Shannon can spend that much more time building her massive story.
Massive it is. The Priory of the Orange Tree covers a relatively short period of time, but geographically it covers the entire world with a huge cast of characters as diverse as one would expect with such a large geographic region in scope. She carefully creates complete societies for all her characters, including economics, religion, government, food, weather, and traditions. These details enhance the story as the characters no longer become just names on a page but rather fully-fleshed people with a real history that serves to up the ante when the danger presents itself.
I don’t want to say more about the perfection that is The Priory of the Orange Tree because it is a novel best read cold. Before going into it, all I knew was that there were dragons and that people loved it. I am so glad is all I knew because it allowed me to start the novel with no assumptions or expectations. In turn, this allowed me to sink into the novel and lose myself in her vibrant world. I don’t normally read slowly in order to savor a story, but I savored every moment of The Priory of the Orange Tree. Epic in scope, flawless in execution, The Priory of the Orange Tree is a must-read fantasy novel and Ms. Shannon is a must-read author.