Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree

Here there be spoilers. If you’d like to enjoy the novel without spoilers, this book contains a rating of one gerfunkle. Enjoy, lovelies!

I really liked this.

I think part of it was the fact that the novel was so entirely self-contained. Yes, there’s a little bit of a hook at the very ending, but for the most part it covers its full arc without feeling incomplete. I’ve been reading a lot of full-length series lately, so sitting down for something that wouldn’t carry on for five other novels was nice.

I mean. I could still kill someone with the paperback, though. This book is dense.

If I could sum it up for you, I’d say this book is the kind of thing my grumpy old coworker was ‘asking for’ when he whined about the ghostbusters remake. Or was it the fact that Rey was the jedi in Star Wars? Anyway, whichever ‘THERE’S A WOMAN IN MY SOUP’ whinging he was doing that day, he claimed all he wanted was for people to write their own stories with female characters.

He’d absolutely hate this book. It makes me love it more. But it’s also very empowering of women, without the sometimes eyeroll worthy thisisamarketingploy emphasis Hollywood is dipping into these days. I am unequivocally here for Eadaz. Tané is a delight, and I found her introduction for the story completely gripping. The romance between Eadaz and Sabran was just…magnificent.

The male characters are no slouches either. Loth is about the most lovable creation I’ve ever encountered. Niclays is bitter, resentful, hurting and vengeful. It all makes him an incredibly believable character, and I have to say, no matter what terrible thing he did, I still felt empathy for him. That’s the gift of a talented writer.

So characterization is certainly a five out of five here.

The worldbuilding was great. Samantha Shannon pulls from many different cultures in order to flesh out the different continents she’s working with. Most of them were some iteration of a theocracy, and for me that really added a lot to the whole mix. Playing with religion is one of the things I really enjoy in a fantasy setting, just because when you’re a history nerd, you know how prevalent and relevant it has been in shaping cultures (for good and bad.) To boot, Priory clearly has a rich history. You get flashes of it as you’re reading. The book definitely leaves holes here and there for you to be curious about, but it tells you just enough to give the world a solid spine. (I found the deification of ‘The Saint’ to be particularly delicious. And when the truth comes out about him…HOOBOY.)

A five out of five goes here, too.

The plot almost got a five out of five stars. I was REALLY feeling it right up to the ending, and the ending wasn’t bad, but I do feel that it was a touch rushed. Fighting The Nameless One was everything I wanted it to be, but it came upon us so abruptly and felt like it concluded too quickly. Other than that, though, the plot was brilliant. It was everything I wanted in a high fantasy: the political intrigues of Virtudom, in particular.

It’s a four out of five stars for this.

Finally, Priory has a rating of one gerfunkle. And I’m going to add this: the story is still plenty dark. What I love about the fact that Shannon excluded gerfunkle was that she was able to explore so many other things that women have dealt with historically. The pressure to have children, for instance, even if that wasn’t what she wanted, was something that made me gravitate towards and feel for Sabran. Honestly, speaking as a woman who loves to read, I think the prevalence of gerfunkle as That One Thing Women Always Face helps rob us of a rich and poignant past, one filled with so many things we have stood against and overcome. It’s a part, but it’s not the whole, and I really like seeing pieces of the entire pie.

Enjoy this one, readers. I know I did.

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