I had heard people describe this as a feminist, gay Lord of the Rings – I had no idea how right they were.
The Priory of the Orange Tree is a fantasy of epic proportions, with a world that feels just as real as ours. Divided by fate and prejudices, we are introduced to the queendom of Inys and its ancient history, the Seiki and their companion dragons, Yscalin, and the army of the Nameless One. And though there are quite a few male characters in The Priory, the story is definitely led by strong, female characters. And it was about time a book like this existed.
Samantha Shannon has succeeded in weaving a tale that, though using well-known fantasy settings and elements, feels entirely new and exciting. In a world of old, men and women hold equal power. Draconic creatures come in different levels of awful and fire-breathing. And in a battle of good versus evil, black versus white, the grey moments add a surprising perspective. And because of that, this book is not just a hit for feminist readers, or readers of the LGBTQ+ community. It is a story for LotR lovers, GoT fans, and all readers willing to immerse themselves into a story of war, love, hope and sacrifice.
The characters of The Priory are incredibly well-rounded, and I found myself loving the way their tales intertwined to create a fantastic final showdown between good and evil. Especially Ead captured my heart right from the start, and being able to dive deeper into the intricacies of her personal history was a treat. Though Loth and Tané are close seconds, and Sabran grew on me quickly. Something I feel like I need to mention here as well, is my absolute love for the Saints of Virtudom, which added an entirely new layer to the characters in my eyes. Reminiscent of core values introduced in other books, such as the courageous Gryffindors or Queen Lucy the Valiant (of Narnia), the taking of a patron Saint allowed us to get to know characters through their own eyes. It showed us what they most valued, what they strived to achieve. And quite frankly, it made me wonder who I would have taken as Saint. But more generally, it made the characters feel real.
The story of the Priory of the Orange Tree focuses on a threat, a promise if you may, that the Nameless One will return one day to destroy the world as our characters know it. And though this might seem like a very pressing threat, which it is, Shannon still takes her time to set up the story properly. Because of that, the Priory definitely feels like a train gaining speed and momentum. Once all the pieces are in place, the wheels speed up, and there is no stopping those wheels until we reach the end.
The Priory of the Orange Tree will receive nothing but love and praise from me, as you can probably tell. And though I know this might not be the case for everyone, I encourage you to give it a try. This book is a solid 5/5 stars for me, and will remain one of my favourites for the rest of my life.