A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.
Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.
Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
I received an uncorrected proof copy for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Any quotes used in this review are subject to change upon release.
If you follow me on any form of social media and don’t know how I feel about Samantha Shannon then I think you may be blind. I’ve been an avid fan since the release of her septology, The Bone Season, aka one of my all-time fave series. If you follow me on any social media and don’t know how I feel about this book, then I wonder if you’ve been hiding under a rock because there was a huge thread on twitter about my reading experience. And yet, here I will try and somehow collate my thoughts, feelings and emotions into some form of coherent words because honestly, my instinct for this review is just to write lakshflkahflkdj fihefieOIDHuhihwlKHF odkshLDSKJLAKJDHKADJHFAHOF.
“You know how a knight rescued a princess from a dragon and … lived happily ever after. Everything you know is false.”
This book is AMAZING.
Honestly, I’m not exaggerating or being blinded by my SaySha love when I say that this is the best book I have ever read. Perhaps it isn’t a perfect specimen of epic fantasy for you, but for me, this book had every single thing I could possibly have asked for. Samantha Shannon is a master wordsmith, world-weaver and storyteller. You will not regret pre-ordering or buying this book, and the best part is that it can be repurposed as both a weapon and a shield as it is nearly 900 pages and heavy as a brick. True story.
“No woman should be made to fear that she was not enough.”
Fiercely feminist, while still having universal appeal for all genders of readers – This is the ultimate feminist reclaiming of the high fantasy genre. In an industry ruled by Tolkien and Sanderson and GRRM, Samantha Shannon is decimating the patriarchy one powerful chapter at a time. I applaud her. From the small tokens of having one of the central empires being referred to as a “Queendom” to empowering quote after quote reminding us that we are enough, and we deserve better.
At the same time, I don’t feel like this is so female-driven that it wouldn’t hold appeal for other genders. It has a healthy balance of genders and sexualities across the wide cast of characters, meaning that every part will hold appeal for someone. Naturally, I had favourites, but unlike A Song of Ice and Fire, I didn’t find myself skipping certain chapters because I wanted to read and know and experience the whole universe Shannon created.
“I do not sleep because I am not only afraid of the monsters at my door, but also of the monsters my own mind can conjure. The ones that live within.”
Complex, fully-formed characterisation across a varied ensemble – So in terms of characters, I’m going to say that Samantha creates an ensemble which is a cross between Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire. She tells the story from a close third-person perspective of four narrators (all of whom I will talk about in more detail in a moment), reminiscent of Bardugo’s style of storytelling, while the narrators spend most of the book apart, much like GRRM’s narrators. Not only that, but the entire cast, both narrators and otherwise, are incredibly diverse in terms of both race and sexuality.
- Ead Duryan / Eadaz du Zāla uq-Nāra (West) – the central narrator and easily my favourite character. Ead is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Sabran Berethnet, ward of the Ambassador uq-Ispad of Lasia. However, her real name is Eadaz, a spy and bodyguard sent by The Priory of the Orange Tree to protect the Queen. Basically, a magical assassin / dragonslayer / bodyguard.
- Tané of the South House (East) – an orphan, now warrior raised to one day join the ranks of the Miduchi, famous dragon rider’s of Seiiki. Early on in the book she achieves this dream and is paired with her dragon aka the best character ever. More on her later.
- Lord Arteloth ‘Loth’ Beck (West) – A Lord of Inys, banished from his homeland for being too close to Queen Sabran, his childhood best friend, undertaking his own adventure in neighbouring Yscalin to save his country. During her time in Inys, Ead had also become good friends with him.
- Niclays Roos (East) – A scholar from Mentadon, exiled from Inys and banished from all the family he has left in the world. Now residing in Seiiki, he is bitter and resentful of the Queen, craving the lover he lost many years before. Also uses banging insults, such as, ‘witless cabbage’.
CHARACTERS TO WATCH
- Queen Sabran IX of the House Berethnet – Queen of Inys and Queen of my heart. Sab is arguably the most powerful character in this book – she made me laugh, cry, love, grieve and so much more. The House of Berethnet has been the ruling house of Inys, a Queendom ruled only by Queens since the Saint defeated the Nameless One. The legacy of her rule, saying that the most evil dragon of all time, the Nameless One, cannot rise while a Berethnet sits on the throne of Inys, bears down on her. Sab is everything.
- Nayimathun – an Eastern dragon, viewed as a God by the Seiikinese, and the dragon who chose Tané to be her rider. Nayimathun is wise and her words are so powerful they are already tattooed on my body. Yes, she talks. The dragons talk. More about dragons later.
- Lord Kitson Glade – Best friend of Loth who journeys with him to Yscalin, comedic relief to this heavy story and all round nice guy.
- Aralaq – OKAY BUT THE CREATURES OWN THIS BOOK. Aralaq is Ead’s good friend from childhood growing up in the Priory, he is an ichneumon and he is great. Again, a talking creature and he gives me life.
“When history fails to shed light on the truth, myth creates its own.”
In depth world-building of multiple cultured inspired by both Eastern and Western history – It’s no secret the level of detail Samantha put in to researching this novel. If you search her twitter, you will find multiple threads on history, etymology and in-depth details of everything she has created here. Let’s talk about the world, each country is based on a different region in a particular period of history. For example, Inys is based on Elizabethan England and the myth of George and the Dragon, while Seiiki is based in Japanese lore. Yscalin has a very classical Italian feel about it while reading, though that is something I am projecting. Each country is incredibly well thought out and diverse, with it’s own history and laws. This book is honestly a feat of majesty.
“My blood is the sea, and it cannot be still.”
D R A G O N S – I’m sure by now you’re aware that this book is about dragons, specifically a war between Virtudom (Inys, Yscalin, Mentendon and Hróth) and the Nameless One, a Western dragon defeated by the Saint and buried beneath the Esyr. The premise of the novel is that the Nameless One is returning and everyone is trying to stop this happening. Therefore we have the evil draconic beings, these include wyverns, cockatrices, amphiptere, ophitaurs, jaculi and basilisks, and they generally reside in the West. Then there’s the Eastern dragons, the ‘good’ dragons who are revered as Gods in Seiiki and ridden by the chosen of Clan Miduchi. The level of detail Samantha puts into these beings, and all the mythical beings throughout the novel, is exceptional and intriguing. They add so much to the world and let’s not forget… the dragons talk.
“My heart knows your song, as yours knows mine. And I will always come back to you.”
Central sapphic relationship – I realise this was kept quiet for a long time and a lot of people were surprised to hear this but I have been trying to shout about it for months. THIS BOOK FEATURES AN F/F RELATIONSHIP AND AT LEAST ONE OF THEM IS BISEXUAL. Yes, you heard me, queer ladies. Can I get a ‘FUCK YES’? I don’t want to talk too much about this because I want you to discover the beauty of this relationship for yourself, but let me tell you, this is possibly one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching slow-burn romances I’ve ever read and 100% my favourite F/F. I cannot tell you how in love with them I am.
So that’s all I have to say, folks. This is probably the longest review I’ve ever written, but if you still aren’t convinced, I would recommend checking out Ellie’s and Bethan’s reviews. They both write a bit more coherently than me and probably include information I forgot.
TL;DR – This is the best book I’ve ever read. A feminist fantasy masterpiece, plus DRAGONS. For fans of GRRM, Tolkien, Sanderson, Robin Hobb and Tamora Pierce.
Representation: LGBTQIA+ (primarily a central F/F relationship, and M/M relationship), mental illness (depression and anxiety), variety of PoC and varying cultures.
Content Warning: Miscarriage, death, violence, war themes, emotional manipulation, grief.
Are you anticipating Priory? Let me know if you’ve pre-ordered in the comments!