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Mon Dec 27, 2021, 02:18 PM

I just finished reading

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. It's long at 800 plus pages, and the first half moves rather slowly, while the second half seems rushed. For example, Tané, one of the major characters, has to travel over a thousand miles very quickly. She does this apparently overnight on a bird that might as well have "Deus Ex Machina Airlines" painted on its side.

It's a character-driven novel -- for the most part. I spotted one exception, where a group of people get involved in a hare-brained assassination plot which is likely to be fatal to some or all of them, simply because they are being paid. Apparently, not one of them says, "This is too risky, I'm not going to do it." Interestingly, there is another, parallel, assassination plot which is far more sinister and comes a lot closer to succeeding.

There are four major character arcs. Each of these major characters make mistakes, and each one has to suffer the consequences.

The Nameless One is waking up, his draconic army stirs, and the red plague is the scourge of the West and South. Across the sea, the Eastern kingdoms want to remain closed, but it's not going to happen. How the Nameless On is to be thwarted is, of course, what drives the plot.

Shannon is a master at building relationships, both platonic and romantic. Sabran is allowed to fall in love with her arranged marriage partner, a young man, but then is equally allowed to fall in love with her lady-in-waiting Ead without having to apologize or renounce her sexuality. Sabran's bisexuality is explored, but only so much as it is important to the characters. It is never simply there to place a lantern on representation, instead woven organically into the story. It is representation done right: unapologetically, openly, and normalized between the characters involved. Love, in all its beauty and pain, it shown through these excellent relationships. Ead may be bi, she may be a lesbian. Lord Loth has been Sabran's closest friend since both were children, but while he is most certainly straight, there is nothing even remotely sexual about their relationship, vile rumors to the contrary. The sexuality of Tané is not gone into, because it's simply irrelevant to the story. One of the significant secondary characters, male this time, is unabashedly gay. He is really pissed because his lover went off on a personal quest and died doing it. Shannon does sex scenes really well, omitting the pornographic details, while leaving the reader in no doubt as to what is going on.

The ending, which comes in a real rush, is very well done. I'm pretty sure this is a stand-alone novel. After all, the Nameless One is -- spoiler -- defeated. (But did you think that anything else would happen?) It's too bad there probably won't be a sequel, if for no other reason than the world-building is so well done. And The Nameless One's chief hench-dragon -- spoiler -- is still out there, so that leaves a door open for a sequel.

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