In 2019, fantasy author Samantha Shannon took a break from her Bone Season series to deliver a doorstop standalone epic fantasy The Priory of the Orange Tree. That book was a world-spanning adventure that brought about the culmination of a thousand years of history. Three years later, Shannon has delivered an equally weighty (850 pages plus) follow up / prequel – A Day of Fallen Night. This is also a standalone, if readers want it to be. Set five hundred years before the events in Priory it requires no knowledge of the original book to be enjoyed as it tells the story of characters who are at best mythology in the original novel.
A Day of Fallen Night opens with three births. Thenarrative then jumps forward from these events to focus on these families, each in a different part of the world (chapters are headed by quadrants East, South and West and, later, North). The action picks up with strange happenings and the eruption of a volcano signalling the return of evil dragons along with a killer plague, both thought long since wiped out. Soon the whole world is in peril and each of the main characters will have a role to play in unravelling and facing down the threat.
A Day of Fallen Night has everything epic fantasy afficionados love – it is preceded by pages of maps, builds to huge set-piece battles, and has full character lists, a glossary and timeline as end notes. Shannon delivers a lovingly detailed world building with rich histories and diverse cultures, peopled by complex characters who have their own agendas and beliefs. And the text is full of plenty of descriptive and vivid descriptions of landscapes and cities. Despite its length, A Day of Fallen Night is consistently engaging. While the action jumps between its various settings and characters, Shannon manages to end most chapters with enough of a cliffhanger to keep readers hanging on each return. And while it is a long build, the whole does build to a multi-location, action and disaster filled finale complete with a possibly-too-convenient deus ex machina.
For those who have read Priory of the Orange Tree what this narrative demonstrates is that history is much messier and interesting than the stories that remain. And that, at best, those stories are a way of managing our understanding of that complexity. Which means that possibly Shannon’s next book set in this world (which she also says will be a stand alone) will go back 500 years further, to some of founding mythologies of these civilisations, that in the present of this story are told very differently in different settings.
The only quibble is that as a prequel, this can feel a little like mythbuilding and mythbusting for those in the know the outcome of this tragic period in the world’s history. That said those who have not read Priory of the Orange Tree are unlikely to care and will be more invested in the world in peril. Returning readers are also more likely to be more interested in some of the finale’s easter egg -style setting up of some of the conditions that exist at the beginning of the original book. Either way, epic fantasy lovers are likely to find plenty to enjoy in this blockbuster epic.