#REVIEW: The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon

This was one of those awesome accidents, a book that I had never heard of until I picked it up off a shelf at Barnes and Noble, mostly because it was a giant, intimidating (800+ pages) doorstop of a book with a cool cover and an intriguing title and, finding myself still thinking about it, ordered it a few days later. I wasn’t familiar with Samantha Shannon’s previous work, and the notion of a one-volume epic fantasy sounded like a nice change of pace even if that one-volume was, on its own, enormous.

The basic plot is, I’ll admit, a touch on the pedestrian side: an Ancient Evil is about to awaken, and once it does, well … it’s gonna be bad, in the way Ancient Evils typically are. I mean, you don’t get to be an Ancient Evil unless you’re planning on upsetting a few apple-carts once in a while, if you know what I mean. It’s in everyone’s best interest if the Ancient Evil is prevented from waking up. That’s just kind of a given.

Where The Priory of the Orange Tree shines is how it’s about that admittedly seen-it-before premise. First of all, the action is literally worldwide. Each of the four main characters is from a different culture and a different country, and many of them do not begin interacting with one another directly until the last third or so of the book. Second, the role of religion in the book is really interesting. The Nameless One (its actual name, which … whatever) was locked away a thousand years ago, and as it turns out the different cultures do not exactly agree on the precise order of events leading up to said locking away, and some of them have based their entire governing systems on a line of succession from someone who the other cultures don’t even see as legitimate. There is an Important Magic Sword; no one agrees on who made it or who wielded it, although there is general agreement that it was used to stab the Bad Guy, somewhat less effectively than one might have hoped. Various aspects of the actual truth are uncovered at various points throughout the story; most of the time, those truths end up pissing people off.

Oh, and most of the main characters are women and lots of them are gay.

And there are dragons. And spies, and a rather interesting magic system, and court intrigue on a couple of different continents, and a plague, and I spent about half the book wondering how in the hell everything was going to get wrapped up in a single volume and the other half wishing it didn’t, which I have to figure is a recommendation. I’d happily return to this world for more, to be honest, but if there isn’t ever a second volume it absolutely wraps itself up satisfyingly.

Thumbs up. I’ll be on the lookout for more Samantha Shannon in the future.

#REVIEW: JADE WAR, by Fonda Lee

I’m not going to bury the lede: Jade City and Jade War, the first two books in Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga, are the best first two books in any speculative fiction series since George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. And frankly, they may well be better.

I have been open about my affection for Jade City, the first book in the series. It was my favorite book of last year, and I reread it before starting Jade War, which just came out. I suggested in the end of my review of the first book that I expected the second novel to begin incorporating spy elements, and holy crap was I right. Jade War’s most impressive achievement is the way it effortlessly broadens the scope of the series to incorporate literally the entire planet, with not only the clan conflict going on but multiple overlapping and competing interests, from rival governments to crime gangs in other countries to any number of different ethnic groups, some in their home countries, some expatriates, and others refugees, and their (sometimes intermixed) second-generation children. The scope of the book and the ease with which Lee keeps everything straight and their alliances and motivations clear is astounding.

There are several maps at the front of the book, and damn near every place on them is relevant at some point in the story. And it does this without losing focus on the core figures from the first book: the No Peak Clan, now led by Kaul Hilo and his sister and Weather Man Kaul Shae, and Ayt Mada’s Mountain Clan.

The first book got compared to The Godfather a lot. I did it myself. And the amazing thing is that it’s not remotely unfair to compare Jade War to The Godfather, Part 2, one of the most acclaimed sequels of all time. It is, if anything, better than the first book– which, as the middle book of a trilogy, is damned near an impossible feat.

I went out onto my back porch this morning and sat out there for a couple of hours to finish the last 200 pages or so of this book. I legit had to wipe a couple of tears away when I finished it. I know I’ve already compared it to ASoIaF, but despite all of my reservations about how the last several books of that series have gone, one of its most outstanding strengths is how well-drawn its characters are. One of my weaknesses as a reader is remembering character names– I’m bloody terrible at it– and in both ASoIaF and The Green Bone Saga if I wanted to I could sit down and sketch out a character map with everyone’s names, primary affiliations and family relationships. The characters in this book are an astounding achievement on Fonda Lee’s part. I said on Twitter after I finished the book that she had the talent of any other six writers, and I mean it. As a reader, I couldn’t be happier that I get to read this series. As a writer, it’s fucking depressing, because my God I will never be this good.

I knew last year when I finished Jade City that it would be very high on my list of favorite books for that year, and it was my favorite book of a very good year. Jade War is better than Jade City. I literally cannot recommend it any more highly.

Monthly Reads: July 2019

Book of the Month: Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig, but that entire bottom four are all fantastic books, and I’m pretty sure Jade War would have been BotM had I managed to finish it in July. Jade City isn’t eligible on account of being a reread, but I’ve already said how much I liked that one.

Unread Shelf, Jul. 31 2019

I’m not watching the debates; I don’t have the energy right now. I’ll pick back up with them once the also-rans are gone and the folks on stage are actually all credible candidates.

Meanwhile, have this:

A brief, pointless whine

I am currently reading this:

And it’s really good! It’s incredibly engagingly written and it’s about a subject I’ve got a lot of interest and not a ton of knowledge in, which is a good combination. But it is dense, and I am maybe 215 pages into it, and it is five hundred pages long.

Yesterday this came in the mail:

This is the sequel to my favorite book of last year, which is this:

And which I’d kinda like to reread before I get into the sequel. But those are both big books too! And I also have this giant fucker also on my shelf, which is longer than any of them, and I’m psyched to read it too!

(Slightly different style of picture deliberately chosen so you can appreciate the medium-rodent-killing nature of this book, as opposed to the other three, which are more suitable for small rodents.)

I mean okay they’re books and the good thing about books is it’s not like they expire while they’re waiting for you to read them. But I kinda have a lot of shit going on right now somehow despite it being summer break? And the point of this post is if any of y’all have any extra brain cycles that you’re not using that you could loan me they would be greatly appreciated for the next few weeks.

That is all.