Read an Exclusive Excerpt from Samantha Shannon’s Expansive Fantasy Epic The Priory of the Orange Tree

Cover illustration by Ivan Belikov

In The Bone Season, the first book in her bestselling YA series of the same name, Samantha Shannon took us to a dystopian vision of England in the year 2059, but in her next novel, she’s building a new world from the ground up.

The Priory of the Orange Tree, which arrives on bookshelves February 26, 2019, is a fantasy in the classical sense: a massive epic (800 pages, plus, naturally, an appendix) set in an imagined world rife with heroes, villains, beauty, danger, palace intrigue, and—of course—dragons. It’s an entire trilogy’s worth of story packed into a single volume, and the advance buzz is deafening—in a starred review, Kirkus said it is a book “filled with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head.”

Today, we’re pleased to share with you an exclusive excerpt from the novel, which you’ll find below the official summary. The Priory of the Orange Tree is available for preorder now, and if you can heft it, we recommend a hardcover copy—the cover is a thing of beauty (and so shiny!).

A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction–but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

The excerpt follows.

He was masked, of course. They always were. Only a fool would trespass in the Queen Tower without ensuring his anonymity, and if he had gained access to the Privy Chamber, then this cutthroat was certainly no fool.

In the Great Bedchamber beyond, Sabran lay sound asleep. With her hair unbound and her lashes dark against her cheeks, the Queen of Inys would be a picture of repose. Tonight it was Roslain Crest who slept beside her.

Both were unaware that a shadow bent on slaughter moved closer by the moment.

When Sabran retired, the key to her most private space was left in the possession of one of her Ladies of the Bedchamber. Katryen Withy had it now, and she was in the Horn Gallery. The royal apartments were guarded by the Knights of the Body, but the door to the Great Bedchamber was not always watched. After all, there was only one key.

No risk of intrusion.

In the Privy Chamber—the last rampart between the royal bed and the outside world—the cutthroat looked over his shoulder. Sir Gules Heath had returned to his post outside, unaware of the threat that had stolen in while he was elsewhere. Unaware of Ead, concealed in the rafters, watching the cutthroat touch the door that would lead him to the queen. In silence, the intruder removed a key from his cloak and slid it into the lock.

It turned.

For a long time, he was still. Waiting for his chance.

This one was far more careful than the others. When Heath gave way to one of his coughing fits, the intruder cracked open the door to the Great Bedchamber. With the other hand, he unsheathed a blade. The same make of blade the others had used.

When he moved, so did Ead. She dropped in silence from the beam above him.

Her bare feet lit upon the marble.

As the cutthroat stepped into the Great Bedchamber, dagger aloft, she covered his mouth and drove her blade between his ribs.

The cutthroat bucked. Ead held fast, careful not to let a drop of blood spill on to her. When the body stilled, she lowered it to the floor and lifted his silk-lined visard, the same as all the others had worn.

The face beneath was all too young, not quite out of boyhood. Eyes like pondwater stared at the ceiling.

He was nobody she recognized. Ead kissed his brow and left him on the marble floor.

Almost the moment she moved back into the shadows, she heard a shout for help.

[space break]

The Sundial Garden drank in the morning light. Its paths were honeyed by the sun, and the roses that trimmed its lawns held a soft blush. It was watched over by the statues of the five Great Queens of the House of Berethnet, which stood on a lintel above the entrance to the nearby Dearn Tower. Sabran usually liked to take walks on days like this, arm in arm with one of her ladies, but today the paths were empty. The queen would be in no mood for a stroll when a corpse had been found so close to her bed.

Ead approached the Queen Tower. The woodvines that snaked up it were thick with purple blossom. She ascended the many stairs within and made her way to the royal apartments.

Twelve Knights of the Body, clad in gold-plated armor and green cloaks for the summer, flanked the doors to the Privy Chamber. Floriated patterns covered the vambraces, while the Berethnet badge took pride of place on their breastplates. They looked up sharply as Ead approached.

“Good morrow,” she said.

The moment of caution waned, and they stood aside for a Lady of the Privy Chamber.

Ead soon found Lady Katryen Withy, niece to the Duke of Fellowship. At four and twenty, she was the youngest and tallest of the three Ladies of the Bedchamber, possessed of smooth brown skin, full lips, and tightly curling hair of such a deep red it was almost black.

“Mistress Duryan,” she said. Like everyone else in the palace, she wore greens and yellows for summer. “Her Majesty is still abed.” Katryen glanced toward the doors. “There has been another intrusion. This time, the knave was far less of a blunderer. Not only did he reach the Great Bedchamber itself—he had a key to it.”

“The Great Bedchamber.” Ead hoped she looked shocked. “Then someone in the Upper Household has betrayed Her Majesty.” Katryen nodded. “We think he came up the Secret Stair. That would have allowed him to avoid most of the Knights of the Body and get straight into the Privy Chamber. And given that the Secret Stair has been sealed since—” She sighed. “The Serjeant Porter has been dismissed for his laxity. From now on, the door to the Great Bedchamber must never be out of sight.”

Ead nodded.

“Do not speak of the intrusion. Her Majesty does not wish to sow unease at court.”

“Of course.”

As she passed the guards a second time, Ead sliced her gaze over the blank slates of their faces.

She had long known that someone in the household was letting cutthroats into the palace. Now that someone had given them a key to reach the Queen of Inys while she slept.

Ead meant to find out who.

Preorder The Priory of the Orange Tree, available February 26.

Follow B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy