Review – The Priory of the Orange Tree

Posted August 23, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha ShannonThe Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon

Oh boy, how to review this chunkster? I actually started to read it back when it first came out, and was fascinated… and then got distracted, as happens so often for me. Then I ended up reading it at a pace of five pages a day, alongside other workerbees from Beeminder! Which was pretty cool, actually; I thought I would find it really frustrating, because I’m usually a fast reader. Granted, I didn’t exactly stick to five pages a day — it was more like a chapter every other day. Either way, it worked, and I found myself eager for my daily snippet instead of daunted by the size of the book, which has been a problem for me lately.

It’s a retelling of George and the Dragon, but it doesn’t really show unless you already know that; you can also just sink into it as a story about dragons, alchemists with dubious backbones and morals, pirates, witches, queens, friendship and love. I didn’t know anything much about the characters and their relationships before starting, so I very much enjoyed watching them unfold. I never expected Sabran to grow on me so much, or for her relationship with Eadaz to work for me; her moodiness and even capriciousness made her really unattractive to me as a character from the start, but as she opened up to Ead, I came to pity her and understand her a little better… and slowly I could at least see part of what Ead saw, even if I’m not wholly convinced by the depth of the relationship given the timing.

I do agree with some other reviewers that there are pacing issues; Tané’s parts feel almost sketched in compared to Ead’s, which really dominated all the others for me. I’ve read about the book having to be substantially cut and revised, and it makes sense for it to linger on Ead the way it does… but it makes it feel like the others are both secondary and have not enough to say given their significance. I really felt like Tané needed a bit more time to grow, given her completely self-centred and self-righteous behaviour at the start.

I’m not wholly sure I followed the sterren and siden magic system, but this was partly the piecemeal way I read the book, I think. It’s certainly a world I’m sad to leave and interested to potentially revisit.

I’ll agree with other reviewers that comparisons to Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings are completely inappropriate, and if you’re looking for those worlds, you should probably just reread the originals. The Priory of the Orange Tree is not that close a comparison, and you’ll definitely be disappointed if you’re just looking for more Tolkien or GRRM. I’m not saying that as a value judgement, though; The Priory of the Orange Tree is its own thing.

Rating: 4/5

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6 responses to “Review – The Priory of the Orange Tree

  1. I didn’t know that about George and the dragon- interesting! And I’ll admit I’ve been super curious about this one, not least because it’s a chunkster and I was wondering if it would appeal to my epic fantasy love haha. It sounds like it’s its own thing though. Glad you mostly enjoyed it! I’m seriously thinking of giving it a shot here one of these days…
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    • Yeah, I think I discovered that when I was partway through and went “…huh, interesting”. Some of it is more obscure bits of that legend, and it’s basically the years-later aftermath… but yeah, George and the Dragon!

      It is definitely epic fantasy… just that I don’t think GoT or LotR are good comp titles for it.

  2. I’m looking forward to this — when I’ve finished the odd other chunkster, of course! — as I’ve already heard so many good things about it. I’ve only lightly skimmed your review but already it’s drawing me in…

  3. Thanks for the review! It’s cool that you can read a book, leave it for a while and then come back to it. For me, if I ever “drop” a book, that’d be it lol. I’ve tried picking up books that I “dropped” before but it never worked.
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