Book Review: A Day of Fallen Night, Samantha Shannon

Tunuva Melim is a sister of the Priory. For fifty years, she has trained to slay wyrms – but none have appeared since the Nameless One, and the younger generation is starting to question the Priory’s purpose.

To the north, in the Queendom of Inys, Sabran the Ambitious has married the new King of Hróth, narrowly saving both realms from ruin. Their daughter, Glorian, trails in their shadow – exactly where she wants to be.

The dragons of the East have slept for centuries. Dumai has spent her life in a Seiikinese mountain temple, trying to wake the gods from their long slumber. Now someone from her mother’s past is coming to upend her fate.

When the Dreadmount erupts, bringing with it an age of terror and violence, these women must find the strength to protect humankind from a devastating threat.

A fantastic romp through a richly imagined world filled with warrior mages, queens and empresses, dragons and knights, Shannon’s characters are as fleshed out and convincing as the apocalypse that is visited on their world.

What I Liked

  • The worldbuilding which was phenomenal, creating not just one but four distinct cultures
  • The diversity and representation of lgbt relationships – the Glenns were wonderful fathers
  • The characterisation, especially of our point of view characters
  • The exploration of motherhood and ownership of the female body

What Could Have Been Different

  • The connections between the different strands of the story did become a little strained
  • A somewhat distant opening could have been reworked
  • Was there an overreliance of coincidence to propel the plot?

Many thanks to Samantha Shannon and Bloomsbury for the chance to read this ARC, courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Although Samantha Shannon had declared that The Priory of the Orange Tree was a standalone novel, it is testament to the world she created that it has called back to her and drawn her back in to tell some of the other stories of her world, It was also a fantastic read, turning a number of fantasy tropes on their heads and introducing us to some badass female characters in Tane the dragon rider, Ead the warrior mage – as well as Queendoms, enchanted swords, evil witches and of course lots of dragons.

So when her prequel appeared on NetGalley, even at a somewhat intimidating nearly 900 pages, I leapt at it.

Shannon offers us four separate stories from her world 500 years prior to the events of The Priory and those stories revolve around the central moment of the eruption of the Dreadmount volcano, the prison into which The Nameless One had been banished in mythology.

I loved Tunuva’s story, and I think that is because of her age: as a forty-nine year old reader, seeing a fifty year old woman wielding a spear, trained as a warrior to defeat The Nameless One, a powerful mage in the Priory – and having a passionate romantic and sexual relationship with Esbar, another member of the Priory and destined to become Prioress. Life in the Priory, the hidden and secret community dedicated to the magical orange tree which is the source of their magic, siden, felt fleshed out here more than in The Priory – and it was surprisingly brutal in its rules: beneath the nurturing matriarchy, outsiders who stumbled across the Priory were kept prisoner or executed; punishments focussed on isolation and withdrawal for months.

Dumai had the most traditional hero journey, perhaps: like so many fantasy heroes, she is plucked from an isolated community – in her case of Godsingers on a mountain – and a hidden past is revealed to her which leads her to a series of adventures and quests. So far, so Star Wars. In Dumai’s case, she is initially revealed to be the daughter of the Emperor and becomes a dragon rider, waking all the other dragons of Seiiki. In terms of romance, I felt that she had the most tender relationship with the courtier Nikeya even if she were the daughter of her enemy at court.

Wulfart Glenn, also, is that staple of fantasy, a foundling: he is discovered by his fathers with a wolf looming over him at the edge of the Haithwood a semi mythical pagan haunted hawthorne wood – and home to the witch Kalyba in The Priory. To save him from superstition, he is put in service to Bardholt Hraustr, the northern King of Hroth who had married Queen Sabran the Ambitious of Inys but stayed in the North for most of his reign. Wulfart became part of his retinue and his lith, trusted warriors.

Finally, we have Glorian, the teenage daughter of Queen Sabran and King Bardholt. Like Sabran in The Priory, she is simultaneously powerful as a Queen yet powerless as her obligation to bear the heir is overwhelming: the belief is that only the bloodline of the Berethnets keeps The Nameless One at bay. Her position is doubly powerless as she is a minor throughout most of the novel subject to her mother’s and later her regent’s wishes, and also terrified of being either a tyrant or a weak Queen as her great grandmother and grandmother had been. She was, if I’m honest, my least favourite character but perhaps had the strongest arc as she becomes Glorian Shieldhart.

The novels opening chapters were strangely distant in the tone – almost as if recounting mythology rather than narrating a story, which is itself perhaps appropriate: these are characters and events that had become mythology by the events of The Priory. But it was a little disconcerting as we are given a lot of rather heavy infodumps about Dumai’s mother’s flight to the Imperial Palace or Glorian’s ancestors and how a tyrant’s reign followed by a weak reign had nearly destroyed the kingdom. Those opening chapters felt bereft of dialogue, I think, felt distant and perhaps in need of a little more of an editor’s eye…

In terms of plot, the novel literally centres on the eruption of the Dreadmount and the return of wyrms to the world after 500 years, an event that happens in the middle of the novel – and the plot really picks up at that point. There is a wonderfully tense section where only a handful of people are aware of the arrival of the wyrms and the rest of the world is sceptical; then there is an onslaught of dragon attacks and the novel become genuinely apocalyptic. The five dragons that flew from the Dreadmount bring the world to its knees both individually – they are almsot kaiju like in their size – as well as through a combination of draconic hybrid creatures and a burning red plague that they spread – and certain points made about the plague and mask wearing and closing borders really reminded us that the novel was being written according to Shannon over the last three years, in a world encountering covid.

Could the opening half of the novel have been pared down a little? Yes, probably. Dumai probably did need the time to move into her new role. The story of Siyu – essentially Esbar and Tunuva’s daughter, born to Esbar and fathered by a man but named for Tunuva – and her elopement with the father of her child seemed to drag a little… but Canthe’s presence in the Priory as an outsider but one with her own magics was vital. And some of the plot developments felt a little contrived and overly reliant on coincidence.

There was however fantastic representation of sexuality here: Wulf, brought up in a homosexual gay household, found love and romance with both men and women; Dumai has no interest in men, and in the later chapters of the book reveals her revulsion at the idea of heterosexual sex, and is uncompromisingly Sapphic; Esbar and Tunuva both bore children with men but loved each other. Glorian? Glorian – when of age sexually if not dynastically, which is troubling in itself – has sex because she must simply in order to maintain the lineage and bloodline but appears to have little if any desire or need for it and would probably be somewhere on the ace spectrum. And not a single one of these relationships is a plot point or an issue – save Glorian’s. It is a world beautifully accepting of sexuality, as was the same world in The Priory. In fact the cruelty of the enforced heterosexuality of the Inys throne and the shackles that the mythology places on the queens actually felt palpable in this novel and is explicitly alluded to: who owns the Queen’s body?

In reflection, I felt this was a stronger book than The Priory personally – although what it has done is prompted me to consider re-reading it, to see whether my reading is different in light of my deeper understanding of the world. If that is not a sign of a great prequel, I am not sure what is!

Samantha Shannon is a New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author. She was born in West London in 1991 and started writing in abundance when she was twelve. She studied English Language and Literature at St Anne’s College, Oxford, from 2010 to 2013, specialising in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Principles of Film Criticism. 


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Plot / Pace:

Rating: 4 out of 5.


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Page Count:

880 pages


Bloomsbury Circus


28th February 2023


Amazon, Goodreads, Publisher

1 thought on “Book Review: A Day of Fallen Night, Samantha Shannon”

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