A tale of dragons and queens that sprawls across an entire world (and over several hundred pages), The Priory of the Orange Tree has become a modern fantasy classic in the eight years since its release. It was originally billed as a standalone novel, so fans were surprised and thrilled when Samantha Shannon announced not only that she was writing a prequel, A Day of Fallen Night, but also that even more books were to follow. In this essay, Shannon explains how the next installment in the Roots of Chaos series came to be.
When I started The Priory of the Orange Tree in 2015, I intended for it to be a standalone novel. Ever since I was young, I had dreamed of dragons—and from the start of my life as an author, I knew I wanted to write about them. It was just a question of when, and how. In 2015, I had my chance.
That year, I submitted the first draft of The Song Rising, the third installment in my ongoing Bone Season septology. My editor was taking an unusually long time to get back to me, which left me without a project to work on. I would later discover that this was because I hadn’t quite hit the mark with the draft: The Song Rising would require a comprehensive overhaul (and remains the most troublesome book of my career to date). Unable to move on to the fourth installment until I knew the rough shape of the third, I had a window of opportunity to work on a book about dragons.
I had never meant to write anything but the Bone Season series until all seven books were finished. I wanted to get each installment to my readers as swiftly as possible. Yet as I considered my situation, I realized that if I spent too long using just one voice and living in just one world, my craft could begin to stagnate. As a writer, I consider it crucial to push myself out of my comfort zone every once in a while, to ensure I can adapt and grow. For the sake of both the series and my own ability, I needed to branch out.
I decided to return to third person—the perspective I had always used in my teens, before the protagonist of The Bone Season took me by surprise with her voice—and to take my first steps into a new subgenre: high fantasy. By doing this, I hoped to strengthen my creative muscles and cultivate a more lyrical and mature writing style, which I could then use to develop my protagonist’s voice in the Bone Season books.
Between tough rounds of edits on The Song Rising, I worked on the manuscript of The Priory of the Orange. It soon ballooned in scope. Fitting an epic journey into the space of a single novel was a challenge, but I was resolved to do it. By the time it was done, I had built multiple countries, an enormous cast of characters and a backstory that stretched back for centuries. And I knew this world had more stories to tell.
I was still determined not to commit to another long series. Ten years into writing the Bone books, I’m still in love with the story and characters, and I have to weigh my schedule carefully each time I consider working on something else. Despite my best efforts, writing Priory and its prequel, A Day of Fallen Night, has caused significant delays in the Bone Season series. I feel a great deal of guilt because of this, and it has, understandably, frustrated some of my long-term readers. At the same time, I can’t regret the dragon books. The Mask Falling, the fourth and most recent Bone Season installment, is by far the strongest—my favorite book of my career. I firmly believe this was because Priory improved my writing, as I suspected it would. Working on Priory was an alchemical process, allowing me to unlock another stage in the lifelong process of being a writer.
When I decided to write another book in the world of Priory, I did it with a clear vision. My aim with the Roots of Chaos cycle is to write a series primarily made up of standalone novels. They will work together to tell an intergenerational story that spans thousands of years, but each may also be read as a self-contained story, hopefully in any order. This means readers aren’t left waiting for the story to continue—each book is its own adventure.
A Day of Fallen Night begins five centuries before Priory and covers the period known as the Grief of Ages, or Great Sorrow—a devastating war between wyrms and humankind. When I wrote the first book, I mentioned this period frequently and thought that exploring it further would be useful for demonstrating the magical imbalance that forms the bedrock of the series. During this era, siden (one of the two branches of magic, associated with flame and earth) spun out of control, birthing the fire-breathing wyrms. Showing this era would also allow me to explore parts of the world I had never managed to reach in the first book, such as the beautiful Queendom of Sepul and the snowbound North.
I knew it was a gamble to start afresh with a new cast. Many readers have told me they connected with the characters in the first book. I initially worried that they might only want to see this world through those characters’ eyes—that even I might not be able to imagine it without them. By the end, however, I loved the new cast even more than the first. I can only hope they grow on readers, too.
Photo of Samantha Shannon by Louise Haywood Schiefer.