The Priory of the Orange Tree: A world of lost potential


Natalie Anderson

“No women should be made to fear that she was not enough.” Though the story fell short, The Priory of the Orange Tree did not lack in empowering messages.

Natalie Anderson, Staff Writer

Sitting at 848 pages, I was excited to read The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. As an avid fan of high fantasy and large books, I was ready to see what the hype about this book was. Unfortunately, it fell quite short of my expectations. 

When a story is high fantasy, there needs to be a fine balance between the worldbuilding, the plot, and the character development. The plot and character development were not nearly matched to the amount of thought placed behind the worldbuilding. 

The world of this novel was intricately built with places and history, however, I do wish the magic of this world would have been described in a little more detail, as I am still left with questions as to how some of it works. 

Also, with a book like this, you are bound to be confused for the first couple of chapters as you are entering a whole new world; there are different names, places, and made up creatures. As you keep reading, the author should begin to drop little pieces of information which help the reader understand more of what is going on. 

Yet, I feel like Shannon tried too hard not to give any sort of information dump. There were bits and pieces here and there, but most was left for me to figure out on my own. The only time I feel like I received enough information was when the characters were finding new details previously unknown to them. 

With as much time spent into the making of the world, I feel that some of the characters fell quite flat or cliché. 

Ead Duryan: a sister of the Priory, sent to Inys to protect Queen Sabran Berethnet. Out of the whole book, she had the most chapters dedicated towards her. However, she did not receive the character development she deserved. There was some detail of her past and why she was where she was, but she really did not have any driving motivation until almost half way through the book. Even then, it could have been developed more fully. 

The same could be said for her personality. The main description of her personality that I have is duty bound. That was really the only characteristic that she had. There were several other sides of her that were briefly explored, but not nearly to their full extent. Therefore, I believe she was a flat character.

The next character is Tané. Her motivations and personality were further explored, but she was cliché. She fell into the strong female archetype who has been working for this large goal for her entire life. She has the classic rival who is matched to her skill and always taunts her that she will never make it. So, she divests herself fully into training and does not allow herself a break. And of course, when the day comes, she achieves her goal, in spite of not feeling worthy of it.

Then, just when she has barely gotten a taste of it, it is snatched away from her. Yet, when she has an opportunity to rebel and take back the life she briefly had, she proves herself a hero in the face of danger and everything is forgiven.

I wish Tané had been given more chapters because she had so much potential. Despite her being cliché, she was my favorite character. I am just disappointed Shannon did not let her live up to the future she could have had. 

And then, there is Niclays Roos. Although he was more of a side character, he was the most developed character of the story. He had clear driving factors and motivations for his actions, and he had a well developed back story and personality. The story would have been so much better if Shannon put this much detail and thought into the other characters like she did for Roos.

The plot development was also somewhat of a letdown. There was lots of build up and suspension towards the climax which was the battle against the Nameless One, the antagonist of the story. However, the battle was about two chapters long and we did not nearly get to see the scope of power the Nameless One could have if he had been fully released upon the world. 

This was also a spot where I was left with questions as to how some of the magic works. I never quite fully understood how it was successfully used to re-imprison the Nameless One. Like, a bright flash and he was gone? I want to know how the magic was able to bind him. Just because it had once before, does not tell me the logistics of how it was able to. 

I also feel like the water trials that Tané goes through were way too rushed and underdeveloped. These should have been a much larger part of her story because they were the last step to her achieving her goal of becoming a dragonrider. Out of all of them there are, (around twelve, an exact number is not given), only three are described in some detail. And, they did not seem quite worthy of testing skill. 

Being woken in the middle of the night to swim in a pond and find a pearl? The justification of this task was that they must be ready at any time, even in the night, to answer a call. This task just felt silly. I think the tasks should have been much more stress inducing to reflect the position being fought for, and all of them should have been detailed to help further Tané’s character evolution. 

I also had a hard time with some of the representations. I have seen this book praised for the LGBTQ relationships, however, it was frustrating that they were used almost solely as plot devices. This is something that is, unfortunately, common in books right now. There is either a token LGBTQ character for the “representation,” or there is the LGBTQ couple that is only mentioned when the plot needs to advance. 

I am not often a critic of books, and I usually fully enjoy what I read, but as someone who had high expectations, The Priory of the Orange Tree fell way too short. In high fantasy, there needs to be a fine balance between world, character, and plot development. Focus too much on one, and the others will not rise to the potential they could be.