Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon



A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.



This is one of those books that I can appreciate a lot even if my enjoyment didn’t quite match the appreciation level, so this has been a difficult review for me to write. How do you talk about a book that felt very average, even while you know that it’s doing some very clever things and can appreciate all that went into the writing of it? I’m making this book sound bad, but that’s not the case at all! I very much think that my issue with this book is very much a ‘me’ thing and what I enjoy versus what I think a lot of other fantasy fans will like. So, just keep in mind as you read on that I’m going to sound rather contradictory at times because, well, I’m odd.

This book is extremely long–but length isn’t always a negative factor for me. However, with all of those words there can also be pacing issues due to the different story elements and the way they’re put together. This book has a ton of world-building! Personally, while I can appreciate vast world-building on an intellectual level, reading histories of made up worlds is not something I enjoy very much. I’m sorry book–it’s not you, it’s me! One thing I did appreciate about this world-building, is that we get to see the history not just from one culture but from several. We get to see how nations and cultures use history and sometimes alter it to support a narrative for their own purposes. Propaganda is alive and well, unfortunately. And it runs so deep here, tied up in the religion and politics, things that folks are taught not to question, it’s insidious.

So, back to the pacing. There is some action throughout, here and there, but for the most part the pacing gradually builds up over time until the climax of the novel. There are some twists and turns, sudden plot surprises that I didn’t see coming and threw me for a loop–those were fun! But, again, with a few exceptions it’s a steady climb to the end. I don’t want to blame this on the length, but I think in a shorter novel the pacing wouldn’t have gotten to me so much. In between any action there is a lot of the history of the world, characters searching for answers, and the building of relationships between various characters.

Normally I would have been all in with the relationships–characters are always my connection to a book. However, I didn’t feel connected to most of the characters right up until the end, which is a shame because, on paper, the main characters are all pretty awesome. The characters are fully fleshed out, each has their own motivations and desires which sometimes come into conflict with one another with devastating results. I did also appreciate the diversity of the characters and showing all the different cultures we got to explore. I loved that the main character (if there is one in a mulit-pov epic fantasy such as this) Ead is in a role that is both mage and warrior–a lady-in-waiting can have so much depth in this world! I also enjoyed watching the relationship between her and Sabran develop over the course of the novel, even if I didn’t much care for Sabran. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s a bad ass! But, something about her just rubbed me the wrong way and I don’t know what it is. Sigh.

Overall, I wish I had enjoyed this one more. I’m sort of disappointed with myself, honestly. (It’s Lord of the Rings all over again!) Still, I’m rating this based on the things I appreciated about it and not necessarily how it made me feel because, at the end of the day, I do think it’s a great book and worthy of the praise it’s received. It’s a great epic fantasy with fantastic world-building featuring a diverse set of characters and it has some great themes circling around religion and politics and the intersection of those things. 4/5 stars.


23 thoughts on “Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

  1. meltingpages says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t love this more! I ended up loving it, and I think Ead was my favorite! Sabran rubbed me the wrong way a bit too, I think it was the way she thought and acted that bothered me about her!

    • waytoofantasy says:

      I wish I had loved it too. I think if I had connected with the characters a little earlier on nbn it would have been better, the switching around of POVs so much early on made it hard to bond at first, if that makes sense. Still, I really did appreciate what this book was doing, so there’s that at least!

      • meltingpages says:

        It makes sense! I love books that switch POVs a lot so it didn’t really affect me in that way, but it was a bit hard to really get a sense of the characters at first, however I think that may have been intentional?

      • waytoofantasy says:

        Yeah, it really was tough to get a hold on them at first, it took me forever. It could be that it was intentional, it does make sense in the larger context of the story.

  2. Mischenko says:

    You know, I’ve seen a few other similar thoughts on the book and because of that, and the length, I shied away. I’m glad there were some things you liked, but to me connecting to characters is so important. Excellent and honest review!

  3. Tammy says:

    Most reviews I’ve seen for this book are very similar to yours, so I don’t think you’re in the minority. Kudos for reading such a long book, though. I was intimidated the minute I saw the page count😁

  4. cjcasey says:

    I’ve read a few books like that, especially in the literary fiction world. You can tell the author is invested in the subject and really loves the details, the conflict, and the storytelling method, but the story itself, the ‘what happens next,’ is lacking. Sometimes the characters will keep me reading, or send me to a sequel. Sometimes, I decide to move on.

  5. hobbleit says:

    I DNF’d it. None of the characters clicked with me and I was 52% of the way through and barely anything had happened. I completely lost the desire and will to continue.

  6. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum says:

    I know exactly what you mean. There were slow parts, there were great parts, and I can’t say I loved this one or enjoyed every single moment the whole way thorugh, but in the end I can appreciate it for what it is!

  7. Realms of My Mind says:

    I get where your coming from! I read an excerpt of the book (which I had been prepared to love) and just didn’t find myself engaged with the writing. Given your reaction and others, probably one I’ve safely removed from my TBR.

  8. @lynnsbooks says:

    Mmm, I’m torn about this one – I actually think I’d probably like it but the simple size of it is off putting – and I never used to feel like that, huge ass tomes never seemed a problem. I think it boils down to blogging really, big books = more time spent reading and less to blog about which means if they’re not bloody brilliant I tend to discount them straight off the bat. But then sometimes you read a huge book and it doesn’t feel like a lot of pages – that’s a real winner and what I’m always on the lookout for.
    Lynn 😀

    • waytoofantasy says:

      Yeah I know exactly what you mean. There are definitely choices I’ve made in regards to passing on certain books or picking them up due to length and time constraints. I think this one has a lot going for it that is positive but I didn’t connect as much as I would have liked, simple as that. If I had, it probably would have flown by despite the length, just like you said.

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