Samantha Shannon is best known for her dystopian urban fantasy novel The Bone Season and its sequels. That book relies rather heavily on tropes on the genre to create a slick page turner, using familiar ideas to get the reader into the action. The Priory of the Orange Tree is entirely different beast, a shelf-breaking 800+ page fantasy novel with a rich deep and complicated world. We wondered exactly how Shannon would maintain her famously smooth style in an entirely different genre.

The answer is, of course, dragons. Both as a metaphor for social constructs and as the magical lizards that are both terrific and terrifying in a single breath. It’s a very large novel, but then given how dragons are in it, we are surprised that they all fit. Shannon has created a complicated and intricate fantasy world with its own traditions, sensibilities and biases. Then she’s dropped intelligent talking dragons into the mix, bending and changing that world utterly, making a glorious and believable mess of the whole world. It’s rather marvellous.

The story follows the perspective of four characters, each of which seem to showcase a different corner of the world. For example, Ead Duryan is a mage from the titular Priory and comes from South. Tané, the would-be dragon rider comes from the East, Doctor Roo is a scientist from the East and Loth Beck is a wealthy scion of the Northern lands. Each character’s path impacts each other in surprising ways, with various actions influencing each other. Some of these cultures worship dragons, others fear them, and then they are those who are pragmatic and indifferent. Added to this is the fact that they are different types of dragons, and we start to see how and why the various parts of the world come into conflict with each other.

Around this all is the legend of a thing called ‘the Nameless One’, a powerful being that has lain dormant for much of history. This ancient and evil creature will cause much chaos and strife if it ever wakes up. And, of course, various factions have conflicting ideas as to what will keep the thing asleep.

This is a big book with a lot of interweaving narratives; an extended read for even the most avid fantasy fan. There are a lot of interpersonal relationships and drama throughout the various storylines and it’s refreshing to see romantic subplots being a thing applied to everyone. We get all the colours of the rainbow here, with both gay and straight relationships being given plenty of room. It’s a long book with some pretty involved intrigue, but that is the appeal. This is an elaborate romantic drama first and a sweeping fantasy epic second.

The Priory of the Orange Tree puts Samantha Shannon in the same league as Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin. Shannon is a master of dragons.