I know we've primarily been writing about ARCs we've received and read, but I just read The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon and I need to talk about it (even if it's just into the abyss that is the internet). If you are on BookTok or Bookstagram, then you probably 1) have seen someone talking about this book or 2) have read this book already. There is a good reason why it's so popular, even at over 800 pages long.
If you follow me on TikTok, you already know that I was in a race against the clock to finish this book. In all my wisdom, I checked out this book from the library (after waiting on the hold list for several weeks) and then proceeded to read other books until the day before it was due. Since the hold list for this book is many people deep, I was not allowed to renew it so I did what any reasonable person would do...I eschewed many of my other duties and read like the wind (I also wasn't feeling well and went home early from work so that helped a little bit, though my body disagrees with me).
I'm not sure there is an easily way to summarize the plot of this novel that would be much different from the synopsis provided with the book itself, but I will try. It is the story of a world divided that follows a small cast of characters spread out across the different kingdoms and countries. Sabran is the unwed Queen of Inys who must produce an heir to provide hope for the future of her kingdom. Ead is a member of a secret society and has been sent to protect Queen Sabran from evil forces. Tané makes a decision that could change the course of the future she has worked toward her entire life. As chaos and darkness looms in the near future, we watch as seemingly different storylines come together for the final showdown.
Reading this novel felt like watching an episode of television and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. Each of the main cast of characters had their own journey that we followed and some of those journeys seemed to have nothing to do with each other. As the book progresses, you start to slowly see how these people are actually interconnected in a way that they don't even know. While there were some consecutive chapters that followed the same character and story, a majority of the time, when a chapter ended, you would move to a different character's story. The choice to use third person narration allowed all these very different storylines feel incredibly cohesive even when you were not able to see how they connected.
Each character had clear motivations and were incredibly relatable. Most of the characters were very set in their religious ideals, but the religions presented in this novel were fictitious which allowed this decidedly not religious (but very opinionated) reader to still be able to relate to their convictions. The relationships between characters was so endearing. I felt like I could plug myself and my friends into any of the friendships and it just warmed my heart to see such love between individuals.
The world building is beautiful and breathtaking. It's easy to start reading a fantasy book and get confused as to how things work, but I never once felt like I needed to play catch up. As with most fantasy books, I had a little bit of a difficult time remembering who was who and the relationships of all the characters at first (mostly because of the unusual names that), but it didn't take long before I knew who everyone was and had formed my own opinions about which characters belonged together.
Even with all the action that was going on, there were still moments of quiet and time for romance. I loved the way that romance developed slowly over the entire course of the novel, but it didn't feel like a slow burn. It was very much like real life - feelings just sneak up on you when you least expect it.
I started reading this book around 1pm on Friday and finished just before 11pm on Saturday. Even though I was on a time crunch to read this book, I probably would have found myself reading into the wee hours of the morning and repeating "just one more chapter" to myself without the time crunch. I was consistently pulled deeper into the story and found myself thinking about what could happen next even when I wasn't reading it.
If you are looking for a breathtaking story with strong female characters and found family vibes, The Priory of the Orange Tree is the book for you. Start reading now so you can take your time to really fall in love with this story and prepare yourself for the prequel novel A Day of Fallen Night coming February 2023.