Over the summer, my friend and I started a bookclub to tackle our individual to-be-read piles. One of their picks was “The Priory of the Orange Tree,” an 800-page fantasy that had been trending on BookTok for several months. As a rare reader of fantasy and 800-page books alike, I was apprehensive about their choice; however, after making them read Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” (which left both of us disappointed and bored), I owed them. We began “Priory of the Orange Tree” in May, and finished it two, long months later.
“The Priory of the Orange Tree” is not a book that can be easily summarized, given that it could be smoothly separated into a trilogy. An evil fire-breathing “wyrm” (different from the peaceful water dragons) known as “The Nameless One” is gaining strength, leaving everyone increasingly terrified of its return after having been defeated 1,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the world is divided based on their religious and wyrm/dragon beliefs, making it impossible for the regions to unite: in the East, people have close relationships with dragons, viewing them as Gods; in the West, also known as The Queendom of Inys, wyrms and dragons alike are feared and Queen Sabran IX rules as the direct descendant of the original slayer of The Nameless One, Sir Galian; and in the South resides the “secret mage society of The Priory,” which believes the original slayer was not Sir Galian, but rather his wife, Princess Cleolind, and if I am remembering correctly, understand the difference between evil fire wyrms and good water dragons.
In addition to those conflicting politics, there’s a draconic plague, forbidden romances, a well-executed lesbian relationship and magical fruit. To say there’s a lot going on is an understatement.
Shannon is nothing short of ambitious, which she proves again with her new release “A Day of Fallen Night,” the prequel to “The Priory of the Orange Tree.” The world is again divided into the aforementioned regions (as well as the North), which Shannon alternates between in each chapter. Though “A Day of Fallen Night” is another long-strung tale of dragons and magic, Shannon roots the story in three specific characters, all of whom are young women coming of age in their respective part of the world: Dumai in the East, Glorian in the West and Siyu in the South. Though their paths are diverse — Dumai spends her days serving the great Kwiriki, Glorian prepares to take over the throne and Siyu awaits her ascension into the Priory — the characters mirror each other in their ambitious and rebellious desires as they navigate their duties to their families, their regions and their realm.
At this point in time, dragons have entered what is referred to as “the long slumber.” Though they can be awakened by the ringing of sacred bells, it is understood that the dragons should not be disturbed unless absolutely necessary. While the dragons sleep, wyrms begin to rise. In each region of the world, boulder-like rocks are found that generate a powerful and unfamiliar heat. Each region suffers the consequences of their arrival and prepares to defend their respective part of the world the best way they know how: in the West, with alliances; in the South, with magic; in the East, with dragons.
Though Shannon incorporates similar themes and storylines in “A Day of Fallen Night,” what sets it apart from “The Priory of the Orange Tree” is its dynamic characters and their carefully crafted relationships. In each region, the three aforementioned women are heavily influenced by their relationships with their mother: Dumai’s mother, Unora, fled while pregnant with her to the East, where she raised Dumai in seclusion; their strong relationship is later upended by the arrival of Dumai’s father. Glorian’s relationship with her mother, Queen Sabran VI, is quite strenuous. Queen Sabran is incredibly chaste concerning her love for her daughter; when Glorian breaks her arm, for example, she refrains from visiting her. Siyu and her mother, Esbar, have perhaps the most complicated relationship of all — in the Priory, the Mother (Cleolind) is loved and worshipped above all else, and this sacred devotion displaces Esbar’s love for Siyu. It’s Esrba’s lover, and Siyu’s mentor, Tunuva, who expresses the most motherly affection for her.
In addition to their familial relationships, Dumai, Glorian and Siyu are affected by their blossoming romantic relationships. While “The Priory of the Orange Tree” highlighted one romance in particular, Shannon allows several to prosper in “A Day of Fallen Night.” The romantic elements provide relief to the reader amid complicated fantastical worldbuilding and imminent wars, and emphasize Shannon’s ability to fashion realistic plotlines in tandem with fictional ones.
Finally, it’d be a mistake not to mention our protagonist of the North, Wulf. The North is not mentioned in “The Priory of the Orange Tree,” but plays a central role in “A Day of Fallen Night.” Glorian’s father hails from the North, his closest friend and defender being Wulf — a man who is feared at worst and eerily regarded at best, given that he was found as a baby in the mysterious and magical woods. His role in the story becomes increasingly curious and evidently important as the book progresses, and unfortunately, just as predictable. Nevertheless, it’s forgivable because of how “A Day of Fallen Night” flourished in its other objectives.
It’d be a shame for a book as ambitious, as imposing as “A Day of Fallen Night” to be anything short of a magnificent success — which is absolutely what it is. Again, Shannon writes a feat of a book that should be recognized for its splendor as much as for its expert worldbuilding and electric characters. With “A Day of Fallen Night,” Shannon is guaranteed an entrenched position in the fantasy world and genre, and will surely be an author who is read for years to come.
Daily Arts Writer Lillian Pearce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.