“A queen should learn the ways of watching. Like a falcon, she waits for her moment to strike. She also knows when she need not strike at all – when her shadow, her presence, is more than enough.”
Shannon introduces us to an entirely new cast of characters in A Day of Fallen Night, which takes place about 500 years before the events of Priory. As in Priory, Shannon excels at creating a strong cast of female characters with excellent queer representation.
The three lead protagonists represent each major region of the world—East, West, and South—which have very different religions, political structures, and cultures. In the East, the mountain-dwelling Dumai trains as a godsinger, establishing a connection between humankind and the dragons that her society worships. In the West, Glorian is the young heir to the queendom of Inys who struggles with her royal calling. In the South, Tunuva is a warrior from the mysterious Priory of the Orange Tree, a religious organization who follow the Mother and are committed to defeating the Nameless One, an enormous fire-breathing dragon.
While Samantha Shannon already shined at creating strong, emotionally complex female leads in The Priory of the Orange Tree, the male characters were underdeveloped by comparison. In A Day of Fallen Night, Shannon avoids this problem by introducing Wulf, a young man from the North who becomes the fourth main protagonist in the second part of the book. Wulf strives to find his calling in a world that underestimates him, proving to be a multidimensional character every bit as compelling as the three female leads.
The main story of A Day of Fallen Night concerns the reawakening of an ancient evil and its impact on each of our main protagonists and their respective lands. Through it all, Shannon keeps returning to two main themes: the importance of finding oneself and the power of love in all its forms. The author proves especially adept at depicting relationships among her characters, including several queer relationships.
The main problem with A Day of Fallen Night is its inconsistent pacing. After an exceptionally slow start, the plot sputters in fits and starts but never rises to the same level of intensity as in The Priory of the Orange Tree. Every time I felt like the story was gaining traction, it would be interrupted by an ill-timed chapter break and associated change in perspective. Rather than sequencing chapters to help build momentum or reinforce certain aspects of the story, the alternating perspectives give the novel a disjointed feel, compromising the flow of the story.
The latter part of the book becomes more exciting as the paths of our protagonists intersect. However, the payoff is not commensurate with the long time invested to reach that point. The ending of the book features several plot twists, but most of these were rather predictable.
Given that both The Priory of the Orange Tree and A Day of Fallen Night are standalone novels set in the same world, which book is the better place to start? Readers who prefer chronological order should start with A Day of Fallen Night, but otherwise my recommendation is to begin with The Priory of the Orange Tree, which offers a more accessible introduction to the world and a more engaging story.
Overall, A Day of Fall Night is a beautifully written epic fantasy full of nuanced character development, but it suffers from disjointed flow and fails to deliver a story that justifies its 880-page girth.