“The stranger came out of the sea like a water ghost, barefoot and wearing the scars of his journey.” So begins Samantha Shannon’s epic new novel, The Priory of the Orange Tree. And if you’re looking for a daring adventure that’s full of dragons and magic, look no further.
This is a tale of spirits touching. In the wondrous world of Priory, magic grows from trees, dragons swim through the air and sea and a nameless evil brews in the depths. Shannon’s world is rich and deep. Crossing four geographically disparate perspectives, the story is truly a global one. Each culture takes cues from our own, mixing myth and legend to create something wholly original.
It is the scope of this novel that ultimately makes it difficult to describe. The world is so vast and complex that it resists summary. But at its heart, Priory is a tale of reaching out and daring to touch the other side of the world — of looking past our religious and ideological differences and working together to defeat the evil that’s coming for us all.
My favorite character in the novel is Ead, the warrior mage tasked with secretly protecting Queen Sabran of Inys. Ead is clever, sharp, magical and ultimately, an outsider. She must hide her true religious beliefs from the people around her or risk being declared a heretic. She does this with a quiet strength, a firmness of conviction that is truly inspiring in the midst of such intolerance. And as the friendship between her and Sabran deepens into a forbidden love, they prove that religious beliefs do not have to divide us.
Ead is only one example of the many female characters that dominate Priory. From queens to dragonriders, the world of Priory stands on the shoulders of powerful women. They plan the wars and fight the battles, refusing to be dismissed.
At over eight-hundred pages, Priory is well worthy of its epic classification, yet even these many pages don’t feel like enough. As a standalone novel, Priory does not plan on having a sequel, and for such a highly developed world, this seems like a missed opportunity. A series could have drawn out the action and given the prose and characters more space to breathe. Priory seems to overflow its bounds as a result.
On the whole, however, The Priory of the Orange Tree introduces a wonderful, magical world. It’s fun, full of adventure and heart, wildly cinematic and not inclined to let you go. Whether this is your first foray into Samantha Shannon’s work, or you have been a fan of her Bone Season series for years, this is not a book that will disappoint. It certainly deserves a space on your shelf and in your heart. And did I mention there are dragons?
Jessica Lussier is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.