‘The Piory of the Orange Tree’ by Samantha Shannon is a standalone fantasy novel with LGBTQ+ representation. It currently has an average rating of 4.17 on Goodreads, and I rated it 3 stars.
In a divided world an ancient and powerful enemy is beginning to stir, and a queendom becomes ever more dangerous without an heir. The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for nearly a thousand years, and to protect her country Queen Sabran the Ninth must have a daughter but there are assassins lurking behind every corner. Ead has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting in Inys, she is an outsider to the court and a mage in hiding, and has vowed to protect Sabran. In the West, Tané has trained to become a dragonrider all her life, but one decision forces the life she saw for herself to unravel.
“We may be small, and we may be young, but we will shake the world for our beliefs.”
This read was a very interesting one for me as whilst I enjoyed a lot of it, there were a lot of things that just didn’t work or feel good in the story.
One of the things Shannon got right in this book are the characters. We follow four different perspectives in this book so you do fear you may lose interest in one of them, or they might not be all fully fleshed out characters. This is not the case. All of our main characters are complex with their own backstories and motivations, none of them bleed into each other and Shannon manages to create four distinct voices.
Playing on the strength of her characters Shannon also manages to build a brilliantly sweet queer romance, and I highly recommend this if you are looking for a good, healthy queer romance in a fantasy novel, this book gets it right and it’s brilliant. If you’re also looking for good diversity representation in fantasy this is also the place to find it, Shannon has made sure she does not fall into the very tired idea of a white fantasy writer just writing about white people.
If you are scared of fantasy and it’s complex world-building, but also by the length of this book as my hardback copy comes in at over 800 pages – don’t be. The writing in this is incredible, most of it is very easy and simple to follow without it feeling it’s been ‘dumbed down’ for you – so if you’re new to the fantasy genre this could be a good place to start. However, the only criticism I have of the writing is when Shannon introduces characters she tends to info-dump and tells us their names, roles, appearances, where they live and where they were born all in one go, so that can be hard to follow but there was a character guide in the back of my copy that meant this wasn’t a huge problem.
If you’re a huge fantasy reader who is very invested in fantasy elements this may not be for you as it does focus quite heavily on politics, with some fantasy elements such as magic and dragons thrown into the mix. However, again if you’re not a huge fantasy genre reader this could potentially be good for you. I personally enjoyed most of the plot throughout this, but I do understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea as the pacing is slow for the first 100 to 200 pages of this book. Also, whilst there is action in this I would argue that it’s quite limited.
Overall, it’s not a book I would recommend to seasoned fantasy readers as it doesn’t have what they’re potentially looking for or expecting. But if you’re a reader looking for great diversity representation and a sweet LGBTQ+ romance with some mention of dragons, this might just work for you.
This book is an absolute monster with my hardback edition coming in at over 800 pages, but it’s also a monster as it’s a really dissatisfying read. I loved the beginning and middle of this, I fell in love with all of the characters and was sucked into the plot and world building, but the ending of this really let it down. I read this for a buddy read and I’m not sure I would have finished this entirely if hadn’t been for that, because the ending is just that bad. I was prepared to put this down without the full story being told – that’s not good.
Whilst we follow four different perspectives in this book, the main character truly is Ead. Whilst the other three play somewhat important roles in the story and plot, it’s Ead who is the main driving force. I did like Ead as a character, all the choices she made appeared to make sense with what we knew about her as a character, and whilst she was strong it was clear she had a huge heart as well. I enjoyed two of the other main characters: Loth and Tané, and whilst neither added as much to the story as Ead did they both played important roles and had distinct voices. I particularly like how Ead and Tané contrasted each other as characters, and how this later was played out in the plot of backstory of the novel.
The other perspective we followed was that of Nicholas, who had a very interesting story compared to the others and I loved his backstory. His was a disgraced alchemist who had been banished, as well as still grieving over the man he never got to properly be with – it’s a good backstory. For the beginning and middle of the book he played a large role in the story but in the last third I can’t really tell you what he did to drive the story forward. After he figured out where the mulberry tree was, I’m not sure he did anything that changed the story in any significant way – he even slept through the last and main battle. If Shannon had killed him off 600 to 700 pages in, nothing would have changed for the last 200 pages or so – he added that little to the story at the end. To be honest, I think I would have liked to have seen him killed off too, it definitely would have raised the stakes.
Despite this I did like the romances in this. Ead and Sabran were a great queer love story and I loved the two of them together. They’re pretty much star-crossed lovers who come from conflicting cultures and religions, but they find love and compassion in each other and it was beautiful to read. I also really liked the romance between Margaret and Knight Lintley, and I wish we had got to see more of that rather than hints or being told about the couple through other people.
The villain at the start seemed to be awful. The Nameless One was built up to this awful villain and I dreaded his appearance as I feared it would be the end for some of my favourite characters, but when he appeared he only last about thirty pages before he was killed – so that was underwhelming. There was also a great villain in Kalyba and I loved her backstory, she was ruthless at the start as well causing Sabran’s miscarriage and appearing to be almost too powerful to stop; yet she was tricked really easily at the end and died quickly. It almost felt like Shannon had written herself into a corner by overpowering her and then realising there was no way to easily kill her. Really, the villain that should have been the focus of this was Fyredel, a dragon and one of ‘The Nameless One’s’ most powerful servants. He was powerful and even escape the final battle alive – he was terrifying, cunning and vicious from his first appearance and would have made a more suitable villain I think
A brilliant job was done weaving every story in this book together, it felt like there were no loose ends and the backstory provided to us worked and made everything else make sense. It was genius in doing so and easily could have propelled the book to new heights if it had not been for the ending. The book really fumbled and failed at the end. We spent 700 pages building up to this final battle between the Nameless One and his servants and our protagonists, and then it only lasted for what felt like 30 pages. Whilst the battle was going on I never felt any fear for any of our main characters as most of the villains were killed so easily, and no one seemed to die or be gravely injured during the fight – which happens in battles. The battle could have been made better if it had been extended or if someone important had died during it, yet Shannon seemed too scared to kill of any of her main characters and instead chose to give all of them some semblance of a happy ending. Unfortunately, this took away from the brilliance of the plot she so carefully laid out in the rest of the book.
It must be said however, it’s a significant accomplishment to write a standalone fantasy novel that’s over 800 pages long and still make the world feel clear. Shannon is capable of incredible world building as this world is not only deep, rich and complex, but it’s also easy to follow for a fantasy – it’s not filled with unnecessary things that would make it seem too much or muddled, she strikes a perfect balance in that sense.
I did enjoy this book for the majority of it, I think it has a great world with fantastic characters and a sweet romance. However, I personally hated the ending which means I can’t give this the 4 or the 5 stars I want to, as it was let down in the last one hundred pages for me.