A Day of Fallen Night by Samantha Shannon from @BloomsburyBooks #BookReview #Fantasy #Dragons
A Day of Fallen Night by Samantha Shannon
Bloomsbury Publishing, Hardback, £18.99
Reviewed by Melody Bowles
A Day of Fallen Night is a prequel to the highly popular The Priory of the Orange Tree, set in the same world a few hundred years earlier. You don’t need to read Priory first, but as someone who’s read both books, I’d recommend it. Characters and myths are shared across books, and I think the prior knowledge I had of the world from Priory enhanced my enjoyment of this book.
The story follows four narrators with their own backstories, cultures and relationships. There is teenage princess Glorian, young warrior Wulf, newly discovered princess Dumai and experienced mage Tunuva. They all have strong and compelling character arcs, but Tunuva’s was my favourite. I found her, in particular, an unusual but welcome character. Someone of her age and background would usually be mentoring heroes on the sidelines. Instead, she is cast very much in the heroine role.
The central plot (which properly kicks in after a long portion of buildup) concerns the waking of some dangerous ‘wyrms’ from a mountain. As in the first book, the wyrms or Western dragons have Eastern counterparts worshipped by characters from those regions. They mirror the differing myths we have in our own world of dragons being holy in China and other Eastern regions versus being terrifying monsters in English and other Western regions. I’ve always enjoyed the simple idea of ‘what if both existed’, which the Priory-verse explores, and it works well here too. Apart from the wyrms, the characters’ main obstacles stem from the world’s fantasy politics. Then there are the plot beats which have the distinct taste of soap opera. I absolutely love soaps, and I am all for shades of them appearing in otherwise serious fantasy novels.
The book is the epitome of ‘slow burn’. The whirl of information in the prologue soon gives way to building the characters’ stories. I’m not sure the book needed to be over 800 pages long. The chapters are short enough to keep the story moving for the most part, but there were sections which dragged out the inevitable for too long. The politics of the world, while interesting, sometimes err into telling too much about places the characters only fleetingly visit. If you do lose track of who someone is or where they are, there is a handy index in the back to remind you.
Those who enjoyed the sapphic romance of Priory (very much me), you have been catered to. Dumai’s romance plot takes a while to get going and doesn’t top the one in the first book. But given its opener is vaguely threatening poetry, I did not feel terribly hard done by. It’s a solid plot and a nice break from the wyrms burning everything.
Impatient readers may want to skip A Day of Fallen Night in favour of something with less detail and a quicker pace, though I think patience with the book is more than rewarded. If you loved the Priory of the Orange Tree, you’ll enjoy this more than worthy follow-up. If you love detailed world-building, fantasy royalty, politics and dragons, this is definitely the book for you.