In Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon introduced us to a new world. With longform world building, she created a high fantasy tale with detailed descriptions on the various lands and their religions, fashions, and people. In her prequel, A Day of Fallen Night, Shannon takes us back to the lands, 500 years before the story of Priory, to see the catalyst for the events in Priory.
Full disclosure, throughout this review you will see that I believe A Day of Fallen Night is a superior book to Priory. I struggled through Priory and its slow mechanics, feeling disassociated from the POV characters. Fallen Night made me want to read more and more, and I got through it and was less drained then when I finished Priory. So keep that in mind, and I will try and keep each book spoiler free. If you want a longer review of my thoughts on Priory, please check out my guest appearance on Friends Talking Fantasy’s episode.
It is hard to compare one book to the next when they both have such different feels, but Fallen Night is faster and better paced, and its plot is much more interesting. Where Priory worked best in political machinations, Fallen Night uses people that are a bit more naïve, who have lived for years in peace and are then thrust into bad situations, having to change directions in order to survive. It is fascinating to see Shannon work with a new cast of characters, some who were mentioned previously, and some new faces we hadn’t seen yet.
The main POV characters in this book come with a narrator from the North, South, East, and West”
From the North we meet Glorian, the princess who is coming into her own and trying to find her identity when her mother is the first strong queen that Inys has had in generations. The North believes that each of these queens is created in order to keep wyrms at bay, and Glorian knows that she will need to birth a child at some point to keep the queendom safe. Glorian was a bit more boring than the rest, but mostly because I don’t love the northern tales as much. They are often the most straightforward and the hardest to align with. Often it is based on the queendom with a lot of men coming in to dictate what goes on. It is a very interesting dissection of the patriarchal issues when you create a kingdom based on lineage and birth. I will say that the book often comments on that and points out the issues. The hardest part about this storyline is the fact that Priory still has the same lineage going strong, so we know that it must continue on. It’s a hard needle to thread, and it is understandable that sometimes Glorian’s character suffers for it. But it does make the story interesting when thinking about how few things change over the next 500 years. It also is fascinating considering what Glorian is able to do within the pages of the novel to keep her own independence. It was well done, but relatively straightforward.
Next we have Tunova Melim in the South, a fascinating character who is one of the women in the Priory. I loved Tunova. I thought it was so interesting to see a queer woman in a position of power. A strong woman who was older, who had a spouse, and who had a child and lost him and was still dealing with the grief. Her storylines were sometimes the easiest to guess, but it didn’t make me enjoy them less. I loved that we got to see complex love and strong relationships from Tunova. I loved her relationship with Esbar and Esbar’s daughter, and I liked that there was always love and respect even in disagreement. This was such a strong storyline that was so well thought out. We also get a lot more fleshed out version of seeing women in the warrior position and men in domesticity, something I loved to read and learn about. I always love a good trip to the Priory in these books, the worldbuilding is amazing there and it makes me so happy to see the different types of magic.
West we have Wulf, the pure bleeding heart of this book. He’s so sweet. So wonderful. I cannot get enough of him on the page. He is willing to do what is needed, he is willing to accept the world for what it is, and he is willing to question himself when he needs to. I loved Wulf, even when he frustrated me with some of his choices. Did he have as much complexity? No. But in a female lead book, I was honestly okay with that.
Then we have Dumai in the East. The Eastern characters are always my favorite characters. They have a fascinating religion, they seem to do a lot more diplomacy than any of the other nations, and their courtroom intrigue was so complex I loved it. I loved that Dumai was raised in the mountains, loved her backstory, and loved the relationships she had around her. Everything about her was perfect for me. Which does lead me to the fact that I wanted more from her storyline. I always feel like the East is given less of a storyline in these novels, to their detriment. There is so much going on there, and it has a lot more of the lore that we aren’t as well versed in. It may be because Shannon is white, and the East has characters that stem from Asian lore, especially considering the types of dragons that Shannon uses. But a lot of their storylines usually involve travel, talking, and then rushing in to save the day in some ways. I always wish we had more time with them to explore their relationships more. It felt like we were almost told things from them I wish we got to see on the page. I do hope as these novels continue we get more and more out of the East, which has some of the strongest storytelling in my opinion.
Overall, Day of Fallen Night is great. The characters are interesting or lovable, and they work around each other in the plot deftly. I liked how Shannon created moments between them, and the way she was able to foreshadow issues.
With all this good, it should be noted that I think there are still some issues with pacing. Shannon can take us down a long rabbit hole of plot, explaining things in a very long way. But then, in some important scenes, we learn about important things that happen off page. A deep discussion into the politics of the various religions? Off page. Certain meetings we are told about. Certain romances are left until the end. Overall, it just felt like we should get a bit more if we can, and I hope to see better and better pacing as we go on. It was a huge improvement from Priory to say the least.
I will say that reading this made me appreciate the story of Priory a lot more and what she was able to do with that book. I feel much more knowledgeable about the world and how it works in Fallen Night. I honestly think starting with this book and seeing if the story is something to read along with is the right way to go. Please, pick up this book!!