The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Okay, so this is an absolutely amazing book. It starts off with a slow burn, introducing us to the main characters and the world in such a way that you quickly feel like you’re somewhere familiar, hanging out with old friends and acquaintances. Before long, you’re being dragged deeper into the story, riding along with those same characters and feeling everything they feel, and knowing that something big, something dark and terrible is just over the horizon, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
The pacing of this book is superb. Every chapter brings in a little more depth, a little more detail, until before you know it you’re halfway through the story and everything has started falling apart around you. But you just can’t stop reading.
This isn’t a typical epic fantasy, though it does have a lot of the ingredients and tropes that make the genre so familiar. The world-building is fantastic, with the delineation between good and evil finely wrought, but in a way that makes it feel almost right. The good guys have flaws, and often make mistakes along the way, but still keep going despite the odds against them. And the bad guys are just there, bad for the sake of being bad. In any other genre, this last detail would be a dealbreaker, but here, it’s damned near perfect for the tone and style of the story being told. Simple, uncomplicated, just what the doctor ordered.
Without giving away any spoilers, there’s a lot that’s predictable in this book, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need. You know what to expect, so instead of trying to twist your mind around the narrative you can just sit back and enjoy the writing for what it is. And the writing is what makes this book so damned readable.
If you’re a fan of simple epic fantasy where right and wrong are nice and clearly laid out, and you know before you’ve turned page one that the good guys are going to win out in the end, then this is definitely a book for you. And if you love well-written characters with lives and loves and dreams of their own, then you’re going to fall in love with more than one of the protagonists in this hefty tome.
I just hope there’s going to be more from Sabran, Eadaz, Tané, and Loth at some point in the not too distant future.