Wizard’s Library: The Priory of the Orange Tree

Sometimes the coolest books are ones chosen for us.

Most of the times I have expanded beyond fantasy were books handed to me or suggested by friends or family.  My brother gives good recommendations for fantasy books and the last one he handed me was no exception.

I can definitely recommend The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon.

“The Priory of the Orange Tree” by Samantha Shannon

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Family and friends know how to recommend good books.

When I visit my brother, he often gives me a book when I leave, and one visit, I walked away with The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon.

The Priory is a massive, large format, 804-page epic fantasy.  

There is probably a small list of people who know you well enough to give you book recommendations.

Sometimes I get them from my wife, my brother or good friends.  I don’t often buy something just on the advice of someone working in a bookstore, because it isn’t likely that they would know what kind of fantasy stories I would like or hate.

Feminine influence in "The Priory".

People specifically seeking out female authors and protagonists will be happy with the strength of the two main characters, who are female.

Many of the countries and factions in the book are led by female characters too, including the villains.

In fact, there is really only one supporting character of substance who has dedicated chapters that is male, and he is definitely second tier in this book.

The characters are not stagnant.  Each one goes through developmental journeys along with their physical travels.

Who are the protagonists in "The Priory"?

I get frustrated with some epic fantasy novels when there are too many characters, especially if the book hops around between multiple main characters.

In this case, there is definitely a large cast, but only a couple of main characters and their supporting actors.

This includes Sabran, the Queen, Ead who works as a lady-in-waiting, but may be a spy or assassin, Loth who is a part of the court but turns into a reluctant adventurer, Tane the prospective dragon rider, and Niclays an out-of-favor alchemist.

Usually when I read something with this format, I have one favorite protagonist and hate when the chapter ends, the next chapter covering a different character, but in The Priory, it is easy to cheer for both Ead and Loth, who seem to anchor the story.

The pace of the book is fast enough that you don’t have to wait long to get back to your favorite to find out what happens next in their side of the story.

The magic system in “The Priory of the Orange Tree”.

I found the world to be realistic and the magic system fit in well with the story.  

The magic in The Priory is what is referred to as a “soft magic” system, which means that it has loosely defined rules.

What we know is that there are two kinds of magic in that world:

  1. Siden
  2. Sterren

We first learn about siden, which is forbidden in Sabran’s kingdom.  It is magic of the earth that is drawn up by rare magical trees like the titular orange tree.  When people eat the fruit, they gain magical powers.  We never learn the exact nature of those powers, but the agents of The Priory get enhanced speed, strength and dexterity, and the powers wane over time depending on how often they are used. 

Later in the book, we learn about sterren through the stories following the dragon riders.  It turns out, this part of the magic system comes from the stars, and it is intricately involved with the existence of certain kinds of dragons.

While you will not find details of casting spells or their effects like in some fantasy, this soft system fits well with this story.  The magic is feared, respected, forbidden, or commonplace, depending on where you are in the world.

Maybe that is what makes it seem more realistic!

Fantasy maps assist worldbuilding and add to the reading experience.

The obligatory map at the front of the book gives you a good idea of the size of the world, and you can reference it to track where the main characters are while you read.

The story covers a lot of the map in a quick fashion.  Sometimes it seems like the characters make it through a huge chunk of land or sea in a few days, when it seemed like it should have taken weeks or longer.  

The climate and terrain definitely influence the local cultures and the development of characters.

World Map and Dragons from “The Priory of the Orange Tree”.

What makes a fantasy book more exciting? Dragons!

One feature that I found great about this book was the portrayal of dragons.

There were the classical western dragons with huge wings and breathing fire, as well as the non-winged dragons from East-Asian cultures.

Other creatures adding to the color of the story were descendents of dragons, such as:

  • Wyrms
  • Basilisks
  • Cockatrices

Along with an enemy of dragons, the legendary ichneumon.

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

  1. What do you look for in an epic fantasy?
  2. If you have read The Priory of the Orange Tree, what did you think of it?

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