A review of 'The Priory of the Orange Tree' by Samantha Shannon

Finally caving in to peer pressure from instagram’s bibliophile army, I picked up this book which promised me a ride through a world filled with magic, prophesies, draconic creatures and warriors.

To understand the story, let us take a look at myth that is the foundation of this world.

More than a thousand years before the story begins, chaos and sorrow reigned all over the world in the ‘Grief of Ages’. Draconic creatures led by the nameless one and the high westerns, his lieutenants, have unleashed the draconic plague and are terrorising all the known world. Galian Berethnet and Cleoling Onjenyu vanquish the nameless one and this in turn brings down his lieutenants and the draconic plague. Though how this happened is a matter of contention. The known world is more or less divided into four regions, Virtudom in the west, the kingdoms in the south, the east and everything else. Virtudom and the south have different versions of the founding myth. The virtudom believes that Galian plunged his sacred sword Ascalon into the draconic creature and married Cleolind founding the religion of 6 virtues and the Berethnet dynasty to rule over Inys. The South however holds that it was Cleolind the mother who vanquished the nameless one bringing an end to the ‘Grief of Ages’. The East does not worship either the mother or the saint. They believe that the dragons are living gods. Distinct from wyrms or other draconic entities, dragons draw their energy from the seas and help bring rain and prosperity to earth. During the ‘Grief of Ages’, dragons fought the draconic creatures alongside humans of the east and continuing this legacy the dragons choose riders from elite trained warriors. The rest of the world is mostly unchartered and unexplored territory and is infested with pirates and other vagabonds who answer to no queen or king but their own fleets captain. This is the geo-socio-political picture of the world in which this story is set.

The story follows the journeys of Tane Miduchi and Eadaz uq-Nāra. Although from faiths that have opposing belief systems, both of them need to work with each other to vanquish the nameless one when he rises from his deep slumber. Given that divulging anymore details will only spoil the book, lets go look into some other things that have really caught my eye in this book.

The only steamy romance scenes you see in this book are between characters of the same sex. Though the world in which the story is set is as conservative if not more as the real world we live in, the people in the tale do not shy away from expressing their interests. Tongues wag, sparks of rumours fly and swords clash to defend so called virtues but love always finds a way.

Another great aspect of the book is how it handles its female characters. We see a queendom, an elite group of all-female warriors and women in general having an equal potential and opportunity to rise to the highest positions and the best thing about this is that none of this was done in a manner that seemed jarring.

It is also very interesting to note the parallels between the real world and the world of the priory of the orange tree. Inys is without question England and Sabran is probably modelled after Elizabeth I. Virtudom can be seen as the equivalent of medieval christianity and Ascalon is synonymous with holy cross. The east is unmistakably Japan or the far east and the Miduchi are probably inspired from the Samurai. The South I am assuming is North Africa given the geographical markers like a large unfathomable desert. The rest of the world and the unchartered territories are definitely the Americas yet to be discovered.

The writer Samantha Shannon has done a splendid job to keep you hooked and I am sure that you will come back to continue reading one chapter after the other and before you realise you would have read this tome effortlessly while also enjoying the colourful characters and their journeys.

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