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A Day of Fallen Night is the second book written by Samantha Shannon in her Roots of Chaos series, and is a vibrant prequel set 500 years before the events of the hugely popular The Priory of the Orange Tree. For those who haven’t yet read The Priory of the Orange Tree: don’t worry. The nature of this series is that you can read each book as a standalone story or as part of the chronology. In fact, Samantha Shannon has said that A Day of Fallen Night can act as the perfect entry point for the book depending on what pace you like the story to flow. The story is told through the eyes of three main protagonists – Glorian, Tunuva and Dumai – each of these powerful female protagonists are unique storytellers with adventures that seem unconnected but weave together beautifully in Shannon’s signature style.
In Priory, we were introduced to a world steeped in lore and superstition. We visited Virtudom in the West, where we followed Ead’s tale of a young lady-in-waiting to Queen Sabran IX of the Queendom of Inys. Ead is an outsider in the Queen’s court – fiercely loyal, but concealing her position within the Priory of the Orange Tree who have charged her with the protection of the Queen at all costs. Meanwhile, Sabran must conceive a daughter in order to further her royal line and prevent the return of The Nameless One – a monstrous fire-breathing wyrm who once spread a draconic plague. Seiiki in the East is a Warlord-governed island nation, closed off from the West to prevent the spread of the sickness. Here, we met Tané, a 19-year-old orphan with aspirations to join the High Sea Guard and perhaps even become a revered dragon rider, but is faced with a choice that could threaten everything that she has spent her life training for. With the portended return of The Nameless One and the risk of total annihilation looming, East and West must find a way to put their differences aside to combat a common foe.
In Fallen Night, we see an expansion of the world that we know and love from Priory, finally seeing what the northern lands of Hróth and its surrounds have to show, as well as glimpsing the power plays in the eastern lands of Seiiki. The travel that our protagonists undertook also touched on remote parts of the map that had not yet been shown. I found myself consistently impressed by the level of detail put into each culture and how those differences influenced the story in subtle ways. These differences all have one thing linking them together: duty. One of our protagonists, Glorian, is the product of two very separate cultures and must forsake one for the needs of the other. Her fraught relationship with her mother, whose dynastic line she must continue, contrasting with the supportive warmth of her northern father was a rich and fascinating dynamic. Dumai grew up on a mountain peak, tending to pilgrims, sheltered from the politics of the world below. When her father (whom she never knew) calls on her to save an empire from corruption, she takes up the mantle and finds new ways to grow into her responsibilities. Tunuva, who has spent her life in service to the Priory, finds that sometimes duty isn’t a clear path when she must start making choices of the heart.
All these personal battles set the stage for one much larger. When the Dreadmount erupts, filling the skies with ash and dragons and the land with devastating plagues, all the provinces must work to heal their fraying world.
On a lighter note, the queer-normative world that Shannon has created is refreshing and empowering. Her understanding of character dynamics, and the complexities within, leaves you not only treasuring our three protagonists but the entire supplementary cast. She integrates their stories with the wider world lore in ways that make the reader feel completely immersed as they’re being pulled through the story. The way that she deftly flicks between perspectives leaves you wanting more. More lingering moments with Tunuva and her partner Esbar, more of the sharp wit of Glorian, more of the compassion of Dumai, more time to read in a day.
Whilst I felt that I had been quite familiar with the Priory itself from reading the first book and understanding it through the eyes of Ead, it paled in comparison to how not only Tunuva saw it but how the lore of the Mother and the orange tree had changed in each country. As you learn how each place thought that the Nameless One had been vanquished, the way that this vital history had developed branches and changed over time, you come to realise how the Mother’s legacy has roots that nobody can truly comprehend. Whether this part of the world’s history naturally shifted over time, or was warped to suit individual means, is still a question begging to be answered.
Don’t be daunted by the size of the books in this series. Each is a hefty tome, but the contents make it worth it. Both The Priory of the Orange Tree and its brand-new prequel A Day of Fallen Night are a must read for anyone who enjoys epic fantasy with slow-burn sapphic romance, political intrigue spanning vast empires, complex but elegant religious systems, and thrilling dragon battles. Samantha Shannon has delivered two stunning 5-star reads, and I can’t wait to see what else emerges from the Roots of Chaos.