Fantasy, LGBT

My Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree: by Samantha Shannon

Publish Date: February 26th, 2019
Number of Pages: 827 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBT+

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

It took me many moons, many breaks, and many other books in between, but I felt accomplished when I finished this behemoth of a Fantasy novel. Now, was the book as incredible as I hoped for it to be?…

Honestly, I find it hard to say…

There were quite a lot of parts of the story that I enjoyed immensely, some more than others, but I felt as though the book needed a little more editing done as in it maybe needed to be condensed because this book was long…so so long, and I felt like it didn’t need to be. There were quite a lot of high-octane, important moments that pique your interest, but with that comes a lot of slower moments within the four intertwining stories that may or may not be a real haul to cross over, and it felt like because of that the more exciting parts of the story fell flat because they couldn’t entirely hold up the weight those slower scenes gave us.

I will also say that when I started this book back in April 2019, I had no idea it was going to take me until October to fully finish it. The reason behind that was because those slower moments made me have to take breaks from it. The excessiveness made my eyes travel to other books to read in between sessions, and it was like I had to work my way up to getting back into this book. I look at other reviews, at least the ones that are glowing, and scratch my head at how those people managed to zoom through this large book in three days or less…

I didn’t hate it, and there are plenty of parts of it that I really had a lot of fun reading! The dragons and wyverns, even a new creature called an Ichneumon, the slow (literally so effing slow) burn romance, and I really enjoyed quite a lot of the characters. It’s like I said though, I think the author tried to do too much all within this book, that with inconsistent pacing that made it feel like the plot got lost a few times in the middle (or maybe just went off on a tangent too many times) that made the book not start to really interest me until about pages 450-500, and made me not enjoy this title as much as I could have.

Believe me, I am disappointed about that too…

What It’s About:

There’s an ancient evil that rose almost a thousand years ago; an enormous fire-breathing dragon known as “The Nameless One.” He was the king of all dragons and wyrms, and with his army of other fire-breathing creatures, he was destined to destroy the whole world in his raging flame and end life as we all know it. Miraculously, he was defeated and imprisoned deep beneath the ocean, with a myth that so long as there’s a descendent on the throne of Virtudom of the one that ended his tyranny, the dragon-king would never rise again.

Almost a thousand years later, The lands of the east and west are tense and isolated from each other; the reason being that there are different legends of how The Nameless One was actually defeated. The West believed a single man with a magical sword was the hero, while the east believe there water-dragons banded together and defeated their enemy. It caused tensions to rise, and for any alliance between them to end, and have shut their gates of entry with the east terrified of a draconic plague, and the west for thinking the east as heretics and “wyrm-lovers” for revering their water-dragons as gods, along with the possibility of them being allies with The Nameless One.

The story revolves around four main characters as they travel all over the world as rumors begin to stir that the king of dragons may once again ascend from his prison and lay havoc upon them all once again.

TanĂ© has trained her whole life to becoming a high-level dragon rider in the East, but when a strange circumstance presents itself in front of her the night before her coronation ceremony, it causes her to make a choice that could ruin all the work she’d done, and all that she’d sacrificed to get there be for nothing…

Ead Duryan may live inside the walls of court, but she couldn’t possibly feel more like an outsider. As a lady-in-waiting, she keeps a watchful eye over the queen, Sabran Berethnet, who is the descendent of the one they believed to have vanquished The Nameless One. As threats draw near and shadows dance in every corner, Ead must use forbidden magic in order to assure no harm comes to Sabran in the dark times ahead…

Lord Arteloth “Loth” Beck, who is a close friend in Sabran’s court, is banished and sent on a dangerous quest in order to find answers, but finds more than he could’ve imagined…

Niclays Roos, former alchemist for Queen Sabran and her court, has been exiled in the East for many years, making him vain and bitter in his old age, but ends up on an unexpected journey for answers, justice and retribution…

What I Liked:

  1. The Dragons! I never tire of reading books with dragons (or wyverns) within the story. By the way, shout out to the author for knowing the difference between the two! Surprisingly, not as many people know the difference, Google it if you’re one of those people…
  2. The Diverse Cast of Characters! Representation matters, and that is a mantra the author must’ve told themselves as they created the cast of characters within this story. We’ve got almost all ethnicities involved, and even a good amount of LGBTQ+ characters are represented, two of them are of the four protagonists this story follows.
  3. The Slow-Burn F/F Romance! A major highlight of this book is how you watch a relationship start from literally nothing and experience how it develops into an uneasy alliance, to friendship, and then a romantic relationship. It was done so well, and between two important & complex female characters too! Yes, that’s right: a slow burn LGBTQ+ F/F romance!
  4. There’s Feminism Up The Wazoo! If people thought that Game of Thrones was feminine empowerment, think again; this title puts that comparison up in smoke. Every female is a strong, fierce lady in ancient times, even amongst the male characters and fiery demons of the sky coming to cause a lot of chaos. Also worth noting is how these all these powerful women are in high positions of power, which is surprisingly so rare for a fantasy novel!
  5. The Lady Of The Woods Shocking Twist! There’s a mysterious legend behind a witch known simply as “The Lady of the Woods” and seemed like a story that was used to frighten little kids to stay out of the forest at night. ***Mild Spoiler Alert***She’s real, and she plays a bigger role than you’d first think. At around the 500 page mark, a shocking twist is revealed and added some pretty brow-raising news that changes what everyone in this story was lead to believe their whole lives! It. Was. Awesome! Going off of that, there were plenty of other twists throughout the story, and they were fun, but they weren’t anything earth shattering or *gasp* worthy; I’d say this specific twist is the only one that got a big reaction out of me, and the reason behind that is because to me, it was the only one that felt like the author had it planned out before she even started her first draft, when she planned out all the major story beats. It wasn’t randomly placed or added for pure shock value, no, it changed the landscape of the story, and revealed the opposite of what was known as the “truth” was actually a lie for a very long time.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Book Moves Incredibly Slow…After the initial set-up, the book moves at a much slower pace than I’d anticipated. It’s rich and exuberant with the world building and character development, but when other reviewers on Goodreads say things like “Just stick with it, it gets so much better around 70% in”…Okay, a book SHOULD NOT take that long to finally get interesting…especially a book the size of this one…the book is gargantuan and could cause some major damage if used as a weapon.
  2. TMI With The Worldbuilding…This kind of goes off #1, but consider this more specifically towards the world building done in this novel; while part of me wants to commend the author for going so in-depth with all the history, the different cultures, the history and the legends, the languages, and of course the dragons…it just felt like some of it was a gigantic info dump that made the story so much slower to get through. Maybe it was all important to some readers, but to me, it felt like up to 200 pages could’ve been taken out; I didn’t need so much information on literally every single city they visited or the history of the crown in one of the kingdoms, especially if they were only a part of the story for one chapter.
  3. The Confusing Gender Politics…So while I loved the females with power in the Queendom, part of me was confused by the way their political systems were set up. My impression of some of the lands had the same set up as the same ole way as traditional male-dominated courts we feel familiar with in a plethora of other fantasy. It felt like it was supposed to be a polished and ready to be another chauvinistic, sexist society, but it simply wasn’t…it was just female instead. What my complaint about this is why have a female dominated rule be so similar to that of a male reign? Why not switch up the rules of how the court rules, how the royalty reigns? I felt like the author could’ve made the story a little more interesting if she maybe flipped the normalized, familiar societal culture of a fantasy kingdom on us and created something new and different.
  4. An Ending Like Season 8…What’s super ironic about the ending is that it actually felt so rushed and condensed…UNLIKE LITERALLY THE REST OF THE BOOK. It wasn’t a terrible climax, but I was still shaking my head as it ended and thought “That’s it?!?” It was squeezed in to make sure it was there, to reassure we get an ending, but maybe if the author took my advice and condensed the overall book, maybe she would’ve had either more time or more space to make it more memorable. Sloppy pacing in my opinion. (And yes, I’m referring to the final season of Game of Thrones if no one has caught that by now)

Conclusion:

A story with a rich and complex world full of mystique and wonder, and female empowerment in almost a surplus amount that makes it feel fresh, new, and exciting addition to the fantasy genre; I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this title as much as I’d hoped I would. In my opinion, the author maybe needed to have spent less time on their world-building, and maybe more time on tightening up the plot to possibly condense the intimidating size of this standalone novel.

The characters are the big highlight rewarded to those who dare lift this book off the shelf like a literary King Arthur and Excalibur in order to open it’s pages; they are complex, engaging and well-developed as they travel over land and sea and move the story at it’s inconsistent pace. I recommend this to anyone who loves dragon-centric fantasy, anyone looking for a well written female/female slow-burn romance, or someone who’s just looking for some badass, powerful female characters trying to save the world, and that I’m seriously not exaggerating on! Just because I may not have enjoyed it doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking into for yourself; the book has a lot of positive reviews which makes it incredibly worthwhile to a lot of readers! I just don’t want a book that grabs my attention at the halfway mark!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, LGBT, YA Fantasy

My Review: Sawkill Girls: by Claire Legrand

Release Date: October 2nd 2018
Number of Pages: 450
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Genre(s): Young Adult (YA), LGBTQ, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

One of the worst things of being an avid reader is that it ruins a lot of other books for you. You’ve read so many amazing stories with rich, complex worlds and memorable characters that you followed with along their journey, and seeing anything that either feels like a copy of that or isn’t possibly up to the same standard as that last book that made you fall in love with reading just falls flat in your mind…

This title was recommended to me by a friend, and we’ve read a lot of the same titles and enjoyed them for the most part, so of course I snagged a copy of this when it arrived into the bookstore one day. I had high hopes that I’d found something spooky that would keep me up late into the night and make me jump at every shadow that I thought even slightly moved, but this one just didn’t do quite that.

It’s by no means a bad book at all; any book that has any sort of fanbase with those that are able to explain what they liked about it can be considered a great book to read. Certain writers, of course, are better than others, but thats another topic to get into some other time. The point I’m trying to make from earlier is that I didn’t connect with the book as much as I’d hoped.

Everything about it led me to believe that it would have everything necessary for me to absolutely love it: the beautiful cover design, the exciting blurb, and the personal recommendation from my friend. Unfortunately, for myself at least, it just wasn’t fully able to live up the hype.

What It’s About:

Marion Althouse moves to Sawkill Rock with her mother and older sister, Charlotte, as a way for them to hopefully move on in life after the unexpected death of her father. Sawkill Rock is an island town off the East coast (I believe), and the very day she steps foot on the island, Marion discovers that beneath the seemingly perfect, pristine town hides a deep, dark, terrible secret that goes centuries back into the past, a malevolent presence thats infiltrated the land from its wide trees to the stones and decay. Any sort of hope that Marion had for her and her family is swiftly taken away through the night when Charlotte goes missing, just like the others…

Zoey Harlow, the police chief’s daughter, is continuously haunted by the sudden disappearance of her best friend, Thora, that happened a year ago. Determined to find out what happened exactly happened, she makes the startling discovery that there have been disappearances of girls from the island for many years, and somehow it’s overlooked and covered to the point that hardly any of the townsfolk seem to notice. Somethings not right, and Zoey starts to suspect the elite Mortimer family who may know something, or even be involved…

Val Mortimer has been brought up in wealth and privilege with the generations of women in her family, but beneath the luminescent pearl necklace, the flawless hair, sharp smiles and the spotless, silky exterior hides a secret that they’ve kept hidden that could not only threaten their welfare, but the fate of everyone should it escape…

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep. He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.”

– Claire Legrand, “Sawkill Girls”

The mysterious, hungry presence has preyed upon the young women of the island for so long, devouring them in its long, scythe-like claws, and it’s been slowly gaining strength to untether itself from its willing host and be able to freely walk on this world in which it doesn’t belong in. It’s a campfire story, a child’s folktale, a myth of an insidious monster that lurks in the shadows of the trees and is always watching, and is always hungry…

What I Liked:

  1. The LGBTQ+ Representation! The three main characters are on the queer spectrum of sexual identity! Zoey is ace (asexual for those not with the lingo) along with being black, so she’s representing multiple groups within the story, and it’s revealed that both Marion and Val become openly queer as well and develop feelings for each other. Their mutual attraction felt somewhat out of the blue, but was still satisfying nonetheless.
  2. The Mortimer Reveal Right Away! So there’s an actual big reveal of Val and her dark family secret rather early on in the story, and part of me was questioning as to why the author would have something like that not wait until later to make a shocking reveal, but as you read the story, it makes more sense for how it develops and Val’s character evolution, which is actually pretty amazing because I felt like her character had the most development within the story, even with her interesting initial position.
  3. The Connection of the Three Girls! They didn’t know it at first, and neither did we to a degree, but the girl’s fates were all connected in a strong way that grew along with the story as more and more happened. All three of them have an initial connection– having lost something close to them from the monster (Marion – her sister, Zoey – her best friend, and Val – her freedom), but also learn that they’re connected in other supernatural forces that play a huge part in how things play out. A theme that sticks out is female friendship amongst these diverse characters, and the author illuminated that in a beautiful, if unorthodox way.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Book Unraveled Along with my Interest…The book started off with a bang; it brought up the main conflict almost within the first couple of chapters of the story, but really became a slow burn towards the middle, and I found myself struggling to keep going on for a lot of it. It’s not exactly a long story, but it took me so much longer than expected to actually finish it. I think honestly that it was because that most of the twists were revealed so early on in the story, and some were kind of predictable too. Everything after that, up until the climax, felt more like repetitive filler. I hate to say it, but part of me was considering to add it to my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile on several occasions. I just lost so much interest in it; it was like how I felt whenever I was assigned a book back in school. Somehow the required reading assignment always made me subconsciously want to read the book less.

Conclusion:

Overall, It wasn’t my favorite book, but it does hold quite a bit of potential, and my lack of excitement about it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, or not worth checking out! The author’s style of writing is gorgeous and so well done in some areas, but this story just felt like it was missing something, like Claire Legrand needed to go another step further with it. I wish I could say what that was exactly, but unfortunately I can’t. All I can say is that I just didn’t connect with it as much as I’d hoped, which makes sense since it doesn’t exactly fall under what I normally read.

I recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a thriller with strong diverse female lead characters, anyone wanting to add to their LGBTQ stacks of books, or those looking for a great feminine read.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell