The Priory of the Orange Tree is an epic fantasy book that feels instantly classic. I had this book on my radar for a while and bought it months ago and have been trying to get some time when I could read this without needing to postpone my blog posts. Because this is over 800 pages long, I think it’s been scaring people off a bit, but really it’s shorter than a regular fantasy trilogy.
Queen Sabran knows her queendom needs an heir, but she is afraid of childbed. Ead has been protecting her for eight years and trying to belong in a court that is highly suspicious of her. On the other side of the world, Tané has been training for years to become a High Sea Guard, but her fate entangles with a strange man who might have the Red Disease and might destroy everything she ever fought for. As West and East put their history and pride first and refuse to ally, the Nameless One starts to awaken and a thousand-old prophecy might be coming to fruition and destroy the world.
I did not enjoy Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, so I was a little intimated by committing to such a long book by her, but the plot, the blurb and, let’s be honest, that COVER made me more confident I’d like it. And I’m so glad I did!
This book is everything I ever wanted from a fantasy epic: not one, not two, but several amazing women doing badass things and with entirely different personalities and flaws, some likable and some not, some heroes and some villains; there were dragons and other creatures; there was court drama and scheming; there was diversity and a world building that actually didn’t make the non-European-based countries sound unrelatable and foreign.
I adored the complexity of Niclays Roos, and he was honestly one of my favorite characters. He’s so damaged and in such a dark place and yet finds himself thrown into adventure and danger all the time, and his decisions are normally not the best but still tug at my heartstrings to watch him struggle. I also loved Tané, who reminded me a bit of the main character in The Poppy War for her typical Chosen One trope, along with her ruthlessness and ambition and training to be a warrior and best those who are higher born than she. Which I absolutely LOVED. Sabran and Ead also have special places in my heart, they’re badass and Sabran gave me Elizabeth Tudor vibes, so I loved that.
Reading this felt like immersing myself in a world that I have missed all my life. Fantasy books are normally similar in some tropes and world building, but The Priory of the Orange Tree does something really special with bringing so many unique characters to life and into vivid, lush places. I loved following the story from different corners of this world and anticipating the moment they would meet and things would Go Down.
There were a few things that made me consider giving it 4 stars, though: I found the writing to be a little distanced at times, which didn’t bother me a lot, it’s a typical high fantasy writing, but it could make it less emotionally impacting; while I think the book justifies its length, it can still get a bit slow and it read a little slowly (for me, at least, as I wanted to get Every Detail right) so I suggest you pick this up when you know you’ll have time to dive into it for days, otherwise it might drag on; at the same time, the notion of time got a bit lost for me because sometimes week-long travels of the characters will be shortened to a paragraph, and I lost track of how long things had been going on. Which made some decisions of the characters seem a bit sudden.
That being said, I look forward to re-reading this book and knowing what happens next, I can see the characters through different lenses. It’s an amazing book and I think fans of high fantasy books with lots of adventure and a bit of court intrigue will love this, too!