The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Publisher/date: Bloomsbury Publishing (February 26, 2019)
Genre: YA Fantasy
You wear so much armour by daylight that, by night, you can carry it no longer. By night, you are only flesh. And even the flesh of a queen is prone to fear.
In darkness, we are naked. Our truest selves. Night is when fear comes to us at its fullest, when we have no way to fight it. It will do everything it can to seep inside you. Sometimes it may succeed - but never think that you are the night.
Ead Duryen is a spy from the Priory, sent to the West to protect a queen who may or may not be descended from the Mother. Sabran Berethnet is that queen, whose only mission (or at least the only one everyone seems to care about) is to beget an heir.
Tané is a water-dragon rider from the South, with a secret that not even she knows.
Arteloth (Loth) Beck is Sabran's best friend. Or...he was until her spymaster sent him away for getting too close. Now he is tasked with finding secrets in a draconic kingdom. If he doesn't die first.
Niclays Roos is an exiled alchemist, sent to the East because he failed to make Sabran an elixir of life so that she did not have to marry and have a child. He drinks too much and makes bad decisions after losing the love of his life.
The world is divided. And unless they come together, the great destroyer of worlds, the dragon Firedel, will awaken and reap armageddon upon the world.
This book is very reminiscent of the Game of Thrones series, without the R rating. It's not one of those books that you devour, more like a puzzle that you must piece together, one tiny solitary piece at a time. I've seen reviews that stated that the book was far too long. And while I agree that Niclays' story probably could have been left out entirely (or at least the part from his point of view,) each piece did eventually fall into place, so I cannot agree that it could have been too much shorter.
While usually a fan of morally ambiguous characters, Niclays was just a sniveling whining sod to me who refused to drag himself out of the misery he was in for a bit of redemption, instead choosing to destroy other people to save himself. I think I would have liked the story a lot more without him in it. Other than him, the book is full of wonderful people. The queen, whom you will not like at first. Ead, brave and true and strong. Tané, loyal and fierce. And Loth, who never gives up through impossible circumstances.
I will say that there are several places in the book where a look or comment seems very significant to the story - something that will come up later or lead to a plot twist - that never come to fruition. That may just be a function of such a large book - I'm sure some editing was done and those parts may have come out while the reference was left behind, or some such. I cannot imagine the work that went into such a behemoth, definitely don't drop this one on your toe.
I switched back and forth between reading it and listening to it, and the narrator has one of the most difficult jobs in history with this one, because there are sooo many voices and accents to accomplish. And while some of them came out a bit weird (Niclays sounds like she's speaking through her teeth with her hand over her mouth,) they are all unique. This is so important in an audio book, without being able to differentiate the characters when they are speaking, it becomes very difficult to understand. So I can forgive a little weirdness!
4 stars. It may take you a couple months to finish!