In the kingdom of Virtudom, one of many territories featured in Samantha Shannon’s new high fantasy novel The Priory of the Orange Tree, a monarchy is necessary to keep evil at bay. According to the local faith, Sabran the Ninth—the latest in a long line of queens descended from a heroic figure called “The Saint”—is by her mere existence preventing a being called the Nameless One from reemerging. Sabran’s status among her people is goddess-like, but it comes at a price. With the Nameless One’s followers prophesying his return, she cannot waste a moment in finding a husband to conceive an heir. Into the closed-off recesses of her court drifts Ead Duryan, an enigmatic figure with forbidden magic up her sleeves. Ead is no friend of Sabran, but she has taken it upon herself to protect the queen at all costs.
For enthusiasts of the high fantasy epic, The Priory of the Orange Tree is the real deal, a book large enough to draw its own gravity, with maps in the front and a glossary at the back. But it ultimately derives most of its heft from the crossed motivations of its range of characters, from Sabran’s old friend Loth, caught in a deadly quest of his own, to Tané, an ambitious and obsessive would-be dragon-rider from the Eastern end of the world, which revers the creatures that the West fears.
Shannon frequents well-loved fantasy concepts but rarely leaves a familiar trope untampered with. Her dragons, honed to the setting they inhabit, are so specific in their biological quirks that it’s hard not to feel that you could do further research into your favorite species if you could only find the right field guide. Her prose is self-assured and light on its feet, maintaining a tightrope height without sacrificing the tension of its narrative or descending into the overwrought; her dawn doesn’t break, but “crack[s] like a heron’s egg,” causing “pale light [to] prowl . . . into the room.” Lay this one in as a companion for a lazy summer break or a weekend spent snowed in.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Samantha Shannon about The Priory of the Orange Tree.