30 Days of Pride: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Title: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication date: 26 February 2019

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 848 pages


Goodreads blurb: 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 still can’t quite believe I managed to finish Priory! This book has been sitting on my shelf for over a year, with me promising every month that this will be the month. Well I finally did it! And this book was just as huge and epic as everyone promised it was. It’s a fantasy that feels pretty much entirely the opposite of male gaze fantasies like Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. Priory is a sprawling, majestic fantasy of such scale and imagination I don’t think my review is ever going to live up to it!

Priory is told through four main voices, and I’m going to attempt to describe the hugely complex and massive scope of this book through these four characters. We have:


In the West of the Kingdom is the land of Inys. Ead is a Lady of the Privy Chamber to Queen Sabran of Inys. She’s a secret mage and secret protector of Sabran. Sabran has had several cutthroats sent to kill her, and Ead is trying to hunt down the mastermind behind the cutthroats. She also wants to further her standing in Queen Sabran’s court, having been sent from a secret society to keep her alive.

Ead and Sabran were probably my favourite characters, although Sabran doesn’t have a POV. I just really loved the way their relationship developed and how Ead’s journey changed so dramatically thanks to Sabran. Also Ead is just so badass with both her magic and her swords and her bow and just everything, I love her!!


Far to the East is Tané. Tané is a young woman training to be a Dragon rider in the Eastern kingdom of Seikii, long enemies of Inys who despise their dragon worshipping. She has just helped an outsider into her town, against laws barring outsiders from the nation thanks to the red sickness, because she feared it would halt the trials of her class to become the first dragonriders in 50 years.

I really enjoyed Tané’s POV. She has such a fun and action heavy journey, full of dragon battles. She spends the book beating herself up over the mistake she made in the first few chapters, and wants nothing more than to be punished for her error. Instead, she becomes central to the fight against the Nameless One. As usual, I adored her dragon Nayimathun, I always love sentient creatures in fantasy, and these dragons were no different! I loved exploring the differences between the Western dragons and the Eastern dragons and how these influenced the religion of each nation.


Niclays is a man who was banished from the West after insulting Queen Sabran. He has spent 7 years in Orisma, a small island in Seikii. Orisma is the only place where outsiders are allowed in Seikii, and they can never leave. Niclays is an alchemist, and is trying to create the elixir of life. His journey to create this, leads him to Tané and her dragon, past pirates and into the centre of the war against the Nameless One.

Niclays was such a terrible person. He kind of represented to me all other traditional male fantasy: the least interesting character, kind of awful and yet still somehow manages to win at everything despite how much you hate him and don’t want him to. And I have full faith that Shannon intended him to represent that because it’s honestly ridiculous how much he survives despite his complete ineptitude. He’s so full of anger and vindictiveness at his circumstances, taking no responsibility for his own actions which led to his exile.


And finally we have Lord Arteloth Beck, best friend to Queen Sabran. He has just been exiled to Yscalin, a nation who gave up the Virtudom religion of Inys to pray to the Nameless One, a dangerous dragon thought to be kept away by continuation of Sabran’s line. He was exiled by one of Sabran’s advisors due to his closeness to Sabran and the fear it was keeping her from marrying.

Loth is sweet and lighthearted and full of goodness (perhaps too full as it makes him unable to recognise who’s an enemy and who isn’t, always thinking the good of people). His journey is really the one that ties everyone’s stories together, though it doesn’t seem like it at the start.

These four very different paths and stories weave their way across a huge world. When I started, it was difficult to see how everything would come together – this world is so large I couldn’t imagine these four stories passing even vaguely close to each other. And yet, they do! These four provide the structure to this huge book, and despite my initial disbelief, Shannon manages to weave an intricate and detailed tale which takes these four all across the world, their paths crossing and crisscrossing over each other, as the book introduces the Nameless One and the fight of all worlds to destroy him.

The scope and scale of Priory reminds me of what George RR Martin did in 7 books. Except Samantha Shannon managed it in just one, without any rape, and with a so throughly female gaze that you are constantly confronted about your own biases. I had thought I was pretty good at not assuming things in fantasy, given that I pretty much only read diverse fantasy. But yet, I found myself constantly shocked and surprised when characters turned out to be women!! I was horrified at myself. I love how Shannon takes hold of all your unconscious biases and just throws them out the window. The world Shannon imagines is one without the gender, sexual and racial prejudices and trauma so familiar in so many other of the “big” fantasies. It is full of different nations and religions, creatures, magic, history and politics that Shannon has clearly invested so much time and research in, to create an entirely new world free of these biases, that feels so incredibly real.

A particular highlight in the worldbuilding was the religions. I always love books that heavily explore fantasy religion, because they’re always so unique in every single book, and this was no exception. I particularly loved the way Ead’s history and faith connected with Sabran’s faith. I’m not going to say much to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say, the way these two religions connect and contrast each other is so great! I also really loved the way Sabran’s religion, and the religion her entire nation is founded on, is so embedded in who she is as it’s related to her bloodline. Journeys questioning faith are always very interesting, and Sabran’s journey in this is particularly interesting given her faith is so embedded in who she is as a person, given she is the descendant of the individual who started her religion.

I really loved this book! It is just as huge and expansive a world as you would imagine from a book of this size, but it takes traditional fantasy and completely twists it on its head to create a world where the female gaze is central and with such remarkable worldbuilding, I’m just in awe of its creation. Highly recommend!

Book review: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Title: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication date: 8 October 2019

Genre: Dystopian | Young adult

Page extent: 416 pages

Goodreads blurb: A speculative thriller in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power. Optioned by Universal and Elizabeth Banks to be a major motion picture!

“A visceral, darkly haunting fever dream of a novel and an absolute page-turner. Liggett’s deeply suspenseful book brilliantly explores the high cost of a misogynistic world that denies women power and does it with a heart-in-your-throat, action-driven story that’s equal parts horror-laden fairy tale, survival story, romance, and resistance manifesto. I couldn’t stop reading.” – Libba Bray, New York Times bestselling author

Survive the year.

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between. 


The Grace Year is another chillingly terrifying feminist novel in the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Natural Way of Things. With an achingly familiar message of strength and resilience, The Grace Year adds its own spin to the classic feminist tale of resistance.

The Grace Year begins with main character Tierney, on the eve of her Grace Year. In order to remove the evil magic that so tempts men, girls on the cusp of womanhood are sent to an encampment in the wilds to last a year. There, strange occurrences happen as their magic arises and burns out, and nobody knows who will last the year as poachers try to hunt them, selling their parts back to the county.

The Grace Year is a familiar yet new story about finding the strength to resist. It’s a tale about trust and forgiveness. Although we open in the county with their strict control of the women, the majority of the book is set in the encampment. The setting is so beautiful and made for such a haunting and creepy atmosphere throughout. With ghostly stories, there was always an edge to everything, as if we didn’t quite understand what was true and what wasn’t (which we really don’t). I loved the uncertainty – the mysterious atmosphere and magic of The Grace Year affected Tierney so much that it was hard to know what was real and what wasn’t. I loved that at the end of the day, the most danger came from the girls themselves as opposed to the men of the county, or the poachers. So caught up with the power granted to them during the year, they become mad with the power, the last sliver of ‘freedom’ before they are forced into marriage or work.

It is such a dark and brutal journey, one which I think really debates the definition of a happy ever after. I loved some of the secondary characters – the way Tierney’s mother comes to life throughout the book is wonderful, and I loved the slow reveal of Ryker. There are many twists and turns, some utterly shocking which I never saw coming but which are just so clear afterwards! I feel like this is a book that will shine even more in a reread, with so much foreshadowing more noticeable.

Although a dark novel, there are moments of hope and joy. There is fierce love and friendship and ultimately, there is such resilience and strength in these characters. This was a brilliant read, and one which follows its predecessors shoes very well!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Title: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Publication date: 8 March 2018

Genre: Contemporary| Young Adult

Page extent: 337 pages

Goodreads blurb: Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

So this book is now one of my all time favourites. It is so fucking funny and so topical and just utterly fantastic in every single way. This book had me completely sold from around page 20 with “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them, largely because Little Bo Peep is fucking irresponsible and should not be in charge of livestock” which I could not stop laughing at for 5 minutes straight.

The Exact Opposite of Okay follows Izzy O’Neill, a sex positive and hilarious teen as pictures are released online and sent around her school of her having sex with a politician’s son. Izzy tries to ignore the constant calls of ‘Slut’ and ‘Whore’ with limited success as the situation spirals out of control.

I loved absolutely everything about this book – Laura Steven is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, and I am so excited for everything else she does. The humour really helps lighten the otherwise very heavy and topical subject matter which crosses revenge porn, feminism, gender equality, the friendzone, slut shaming, and ‘Nice Guy’ syndrome. It’s an utterly captivating and wild comedic journey through the life of a teen girl who actually enjoys having sex. And is obviously therefore vilified for it. The discussions around the treatment of men and women (‘player’ vs ‘whore’) are nuanced and throughly feminist. I particuarly enjoyed the introdution and development of the ‘nice guy’ syndrome – the age old truth that if you have to say you’re a nice guy, you really really aren’t. This book is the perfect starting point for so many discussions with teens about these issues which are so goddamn important.

What an absolutely spectacular range of charcters as well. Izzy, the MC, is extremely sarcastic, full of sass, so honest about herself and so so brave in the face of unimaginable odds. Ajita, her best friend, who is just amazing – so supportive. Danny, Izzy’s friend who seems to now be falling for her and doesn’t get why she doesn’t like him. Everyone knows a Danny. I dislike him more than I dislike the more openly hostile men – the nice guy/friendzone jerks are just so much worse somehow. At least the regular jerks openly admit they only want to fuck you… Betty, Izzy’s grandma, was lovely as well – though I did feel she needed to do a little more parenting.

Laura Steven takes some really dark, tricky topics and has created a book filled with humour and hope and so much anger and passion. It is both a feminist manifesto and comedy gold and I adored every single page.

“What do I want to be now? Bold. Fierce. Honest. A fighter. A revolutionary. A bitch. Because the way the world treats teenage girls – as sluts, as objects, as bitches – is not okay. It’s the exact opposite of okay.” 

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

P.S I of course immediately bought the sequel and I’m planning to read it this month and cannot wait!