Samantha Shannon’s new book is a fantasy novel

‘The Priory of the Orange Tree’ features a queen, dragons, assasins and even a secret society

Samantha Shannon takes a break from her dystopian series, The Bone Season, for The Priory of the Orange Tree, a sprawling, 825-page epic featuring a queen who needs to marry to secure the line of succession, wise and wicked dragons, assassins and a secret society.

About the reason for the break, the 27-year-old author writes in an email, “Writing and editing The Song Rising, the third book in the series, was a difficult process. My editor had it for quite a long time, and while she was preparing notes, I wanted to set my mind to something else. I decided to take advantage of the break to start writing a book about dragons, which is something I’d wanted to do for many years.”

The London-based Samantha says The Priory of the Orange Tree came together over about 20 years. “There wasn’t a single ‘genesis’ in that respect. I can trace the initial spark of inspiration way back to primary school, where I first encountered the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. Among other things, The Priory of the Orange Tree is a re-imagining of that story in a secondary world.”

Elaborating on the Saint George and the Dragon inspiration, Samantha says, “It is often presented as an example of great courage and self-sacrifice in the face of evil. That is how I understood it at school, in any case. However, when I started to research its history in depth, I discovered that it has deeply-problematic origins, and that George is more of a villain than a hero in many respects. I wanted to challenge his legend.”

Samantha Shannon’s new book is a fantasy novel

The author says the words that come to mind when she thinks of dragons are “Danger, wonder and possibility. I have loved dragons, especially talking dragons, ever since I first saw Dragonheart on my fifth birthday. They embody my desire for magic to exist. I love how unapologetically powerful they are, too. If you introduce them as antagonists in a story, you have to think of clever ways to get around the fact that they can cause so much destruction in so little time. I enjoy that challenge.”

Samantha, says The Priory of the Orange Tree is a standalone book “in that you can read it as a self-contained story. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. But I would love to write more books set in the same world, and I do have a strong idea for a sequel.”

On the pros and cons of writing a series versus a standalone book, Samantha says, “There were times when I wanted to expand on certain plot lines and characters in The Priory of the Orange Tree, but had to resist and keep things as succinct as possible. I like that you can follow the same characters over a long time in a series, so you can show how they grow and change in many situations and unfurl every sub-plot gradually.”

The book has three strong women — Sabran, the queen of Inys who has to conceive a daughter to protect her country, Ead Duryan, her lady in waiting with secrets of her own and the dragon rider from Seiiki, Tané. “Even though Tané came into my head first, Ead is the closest the book has to a protagonist. She has the most story, out of all the characters, and her narrative is most closely tied to the title,” Samantha says.

The novel addresses gender equality by building worlds on the shoulders of powerful women. “In many fantasy books, female characters are routinely treated as second-class citizens. Sexual violence and discrimination are so common in the genre that they’ve almost become an expectation, to the point that some people will accuse fantasy authors of being ‘historically inaccurate’ or ‘politically correct’ if their books feature women in positions of power. I wanted to resist that expectation in The Priory of the Orange Tree. I am growing tired of it. Fantasy is the world where imagination is the limit, and I wanted to imagine a world where women didn’t have to face the constant threat of abuse and disparagement.”

Despite the love between Sabran and Ead as well as Roos and Jannart, Samantha would not like to term the novel queer fantasy. “I’d rather it was just classified as fantasy. Placing it in a sub-category suggests that queerness is somehow incompatible with fantasy in general.”

Research included “sixteenth and seventeenth-century history and dragon mythology from several countries.” Samantha also took a research trip to Japan in July 2017.

The richly detailed clothes in The Priory of the Orange Tree Samantha says, “are based on the fashions of the 16th and 17th centuries. Characters in Inys dress rather like the Elizabethans, with ruffs and stomachers, and characters in Seiiki wear sleeveless coats that resemble the Japanese jinbaori.”

Samantha who is currently editing the fourth book of the Bone Season series is also working “on a Priory-related project, which I hope I can talk about soon.”

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 1:45:10 PM |

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