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Samantha Shannon’s best-selling novel “The Priory of the Orange Tree” brought readers into a world where magic lies hidden in the fruit of the earth. In her newest novel, “A Day of Fallen Night,” Shannon has yet again invited us to eat of the not-so-forbidden magic fruit. “A Day of Fallen Night,” a striking standalone prequel to “Priory,” interweaves the stories of three women — Tunuva, Glorian, and Dumai — from three wildly different fantastical cultures. Yet they are united through their devotion to their loved ones and quests to hunt down the demonic wyrms which threaten their world. “A Day of Fallen Night” sometimes struggles with the magnitude of its scope, but above all it is a striking, women-led addition to the world of modern epic fantasy.
“A Day of Fallen Night” may take place in the same world as “The Priory of the Orange Tree,” but it stands by itself. Shannon establishes a new cast of characters, unique threats, and a sweeping plotline within the 850 pages of “Fallen Night.” While some might be daunted by the book’s length, it is refreshing that “Fallen Night” is a truly self-contained novel. Its end vaguely hints at the events of “Priory,” but understanding the novel doesn’t hinge upon familiarity with the plot of “Priory.”
However, the pacing within this standalone novel isn’t perfect. “A Day of Fallen Night” suffers from a disjointed flow that makes following its characters confusing. Shannon attempts to connect various locations, characters, and wars in one chronological plotline, but keeping the piece chronological requires awkward jumps in time and location. Some long journeys are summarized in one paragraph, while others take entire chapters, making the story feel unevenly sluggish or breakneck.
While the central plot can become confusing, the individual themes of the novel are much easier to follow. The novel brings into focus an idea that is familiar to us all: love. “A Day of Fallen Night” is an ode to love in its many forms — whether it be between family members, friends, or lovers. No matter how sweeping the plot becomes, Shannon grounds the magical world of the novel in strong individual relationships that showcase the connective power of love. Tunuva supports her sisterhood, Glorian battles the world for her unborn child, and Dumai sacrifices everything for her family and friends. Shannon also champions inclusivity in the novel, representing relationships between women and between men, romantic and platonic.
Additionally, the overall diversity and strength of female characters in the novel is impressive. Shannon, as a master in “feminist fantasy,” highlights the sheer power of strong women in the novel. Tunuva, Glorian, and Dumai are all warriors in one way or another, brave in the face of danger. They vitally embrace their ferocity without relinquishing their emotions and vulnerability. While so-called “strong female characters” in fantasy can sometimes appear cartoonish and one-dimensional, the women of “Fallen Night” have depth and come across as entirely realistic.
“A Day of Fallen Night” is not for the faint of heart; its length is staggering and its epic, sometimes overwhelming plot can trip up those unaccustomed to the high fantasy genre. However, its focus on the power of love, as well as its empowering and relatable female heroes, ground the work in a world that feels familiar. Shannon has condensed a sweeping fantasy world into one novel, and although the pacing can leave the reader befuddled, in the end, it celebrates the triumph of strong women and the love between them.
—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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