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Cup of Crow Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree

Fantasy for a Beginner

The Priory of the Orange Tree left me with several complicated feelings, with the heaviest being one of disappointment.

To start, the novel does handle some of the tropes of fantasy well. Dragons, magic, chosen one, “the quest”, smart animal companions, and a big cast are all present in the book, and in a few cases, these tropes are handled very well.

Samantha Shannon loves her female leads in the novel and stretches their love, psyche, and internal conflicts to near abuse, showing how she can push drama through a lens of character-first rather than having the environment, plot, or lore drive the plot. Through the mid-book climaxes, I cared a great deal about what happened to the characters and their struggles. Discovering how Shannon's weaving of homages to classic fantasy novels and legends is fun to discover and make no mistake – this is a fantasy story in the most classic sense.

If you’re a newcomer to the genre, this is not a bad place to start, and you will have your superhero moments.

If you’re a newcomer to the genre, this is not a bad place to start, and you will have your superhero moments.

As a long-time veteran of the genre, though, the book left me frustrated and ultimately disappointed in the pacing, conflict resolutions, and final climaxes surrounding the execution with themes of love, choice, and consequences, with cliches around every page.

There is never a sense of real danger for the heroes, and when the stakes get too high, deus ex machina is the bigger rescue for the reader through immediately disclosed lore, a magical item, or a dragon that shows up to save a rider. For that matter, this device is used to save all the main characters at one point or another, making the tensest moments feel cheap. This can be forgivable for some readers if they’re looking for a long stand-alone story that has an epic fantasy structure with a cascade of dramatic moments, but when an important puzzle is solved mere pages after it is initially introduced, and that puzzle/resolution trick is used over and over, nothing feels appropriately earned.

With a world so clearly loved through its lore in the first half, it is impossible to trust any plot mystery to have an impactful resolution.

Samantha Shannon’s easy-to-read stand-alone has its moments, especially in the first three parts of its six-part narrative where the world is carefully unpacked. I can see how this book has cultivated its following, especially around young adult fans, but if you’re a veteran of epic fantasy, you may feel unfulfilled in the structure, pacing, and finale.

I’m giving The Priory of the Orange Tree 2.5 out of 5 stars.


Cup of Crow is a monthly book review installment from The Author Website.

Michael Crow is an avid fantasy reader, runner, and coffee addict. You can check out his reviews @TheAuthorWebsite and follow him on GoodReads to see what he's reading.


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