Last week, when I put down Samantha Shannon’s The Mime Order I looked at the cat and said, “Well that was a doozy of an ending.” She blinked twice in response, which I can only interpret as “Agreed.” As I mentioned last week, I like to read adventure stories with a fantasy twist and Shannon’s The Bone Season books are shaping up to be just such a series.
Here’s the rundown:
The books fall under the genre of what I think of as an alternate-timeline urban fantasy (it’s dystopian too, but not in a Hunger Games/Divergent/Maze Runner way at all). It’s 2059 and the world has lived with a fierce paranoia of “unnaturalness” since 1859, when it’s widely believed clairvoyance took on a sinister quality that threatens the safety of amaurotics (non-clairvoyant folks). This has lead to what you’d expect: round-ups and subsequent imprisonment of “voyants” and the criminalization of clairvoyant activity, all governed by controlling political entity called Scion. Of course, there’s something even worse than Scion lurking in the shadows, but I’ll leave it to you to find out more about the Rephaim.
Shannon’s SciLo (Scion London) is culturally rich, developed primarily through her beautiful integration of slang used in the voyant criminal underworld. As Shannon notes in the glossary of The Bone Season this slang is loosely based on terms from the nineteenth century, which complement one of the primary aesthetic qualities of SciLo, which is that it’s gotten a little stuck in the Victorian era, fashion wise. While ladies aren’t wearing corsets and bustles, there are subtle hints that in Shannon’s vision of the future SciLo residents have developed modern versions of Victorian garb. The books take on a palpable dreary, gritty vibe that I love.
The Bone Season series follows Paige Mahoney, a “voyant” in SciLo (Scion London). Paige is near the top of the clairvoyant hierarchy, both in talent and in the criminal syndicate that both exploits and protects voyants. She’s a “mollisher” for the enigmatic Jaxon Hall, mime-lord and leader of the Seven Seals — so basically, she’s the enforcer for a crime-boss in a larger organization.
Here’s how the books match up to my qualifications for this mini-series of posts:
- Adventure is the primary focus: There’s a little romance in The Bone Season and it is continued in The Mime Order, but it’s complicated and both parties acknowledge this probably can’t work long-term. While their attraction is a cause for friction, it’s not the primary motivator of the plot. Mostly, the focus is on the deeper mystery of how Scion and the Rephaim work and what their real motivations are. Paige struggles with learning to develop her skill as a voyant and coming to terms with the ways in which being a leader is extremely difficult.
- We’ve already covered that this is a super-cool urban fantasy, but I want to reiterate here that without Shannon’s development of the complexity of mime-crime, the syndicate and the aesthetic of SciLo, these books wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. It’s a real talent to develop something so complex without completely losing your readers.
- This is YA, but since Paige is 19 and living in an extremely adult world, I think it has appeal for a wide range of ages.
When I was looking through reviews of The Bone Season, I saw some people saying that Shannon is the “next JK Rowling” and that her world building is similar to that of Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I cannot emphasize to you enough that this is not true. Shannon’s talent may very well live up to Rowling’s, but other than the facts that these novels take place in the UK, there’s some “magic” involved (though I would argue that clairvoyance and magic are totally different animals), and there will be seven books… there’s no resemblance to Harry Potter whatsoever.
The only drawback I found was the beginning of The Bone Season, which felt a little forced at first, but evens out completely after a few chapters and Shannon’s writing just keeps getting better in The Mime Order. There’s some loose ends to a very complex, very big mystery in The Bone Season that are barely touched on in The Mime Order, and in my opinion, this is a good thing. Shannon is setting the stage for something much bigger that can easily span seven books and though I hate to wait, I’m eagerly anticipating the next five books.
While Paige is a mostly likable protagonist and her character fleshes out more over time, I think the stellar world building and the deeper mystery of Scion and the voyant syndicate are what really draw me in. I recommend picking up both books and reading them back-to-back so you don’t lose the nuances of Shannon’s narrative. Luckily for us, they’re the kinds of books that are fun to read twice, so the re-reads over the next few years will be enjoyable. Sorry, between this and The Throne of Glass series, I’ve really got you into a mess. It’s ok, we’ll start a support group.
Allison Carr Waechter is a real life cartomancer, though she’s loath to do readings for amaurotics. Right now she’s busy scribbling away at her novel and thinking about whether or not another cup of tea will keep her up tonight. If you’re interested in rants about tea, cats and books, you can engage her on twitter or check in at her website.