The plot of last year’s bestseller The Bone Season, written when Samantha Shannon was 21, may sound slightly bonkers to those averse to fantasy: clairvoyants in 2059 are hunted by the oppressive Scion regime, a puppet government indebted to the otherworldly Rephaim for protection. Paige Mahoney, a young clairvoyant who works for her mime-lord, Jaxon Hall, breaking into people’s minds for information, is captured and sent to a penal colony in Oxford where she incites revolt.
At its best The Bone Season was a triumphant blend of Orwellian dystopia and China Miéville nonconformity. The first of a seven-book series, it hinted at a Rowling scope of imagination, but for adults rather than children – a drumbeat of a book and one that was easily recommended to those who don’t normally read fantasy.
Its sequel, The Mime Order, charts Paige’s life in hiding back in Scion London. Will she inform London of the puppet government’s machinations, or will she hunker down, like a razor clam in the sand, and attempt to live a “normal” life as much as she can? Forces on all sides seek to thwart what would otherwise be a straightforward plot. Paige as a narrator is fierce, but empathetic too. The stakes are high as Scion clamps down on clairvoyance and Paige’s face appears all over the capital. But in a dystopian world everyone is selfish: Paige must unite the syndicate, to warn them of the Rephaim, in the hope that some day they will be able to revolt against them. But as the most wanted person in London she must do so in secret: she does not know who she can trust, or where to turn.
The central, gripping whodunit plot of the novel reaches a conclusion that will certainly make everyone crave book three. If there is a criticism across the half-thousand pages it is for a lack of action. What one might think would happen, after the events of book one, probably doesn’t. But there is enough here to be stuck to the page like a book binder’s glue.
Shannon’s ability to take classic tropes, such as forbidden love and dystopian societies, and give them a well-knuckled twist is to be admired – books one and two have demonstrated that she looks set to become a trailblazer for young talent.
There’s something decadent about a long series of books such as this, about waiting year on year to pick up the next one in the sequence. So far the way Shannon’s characters shift, backstab and fall are as fascinating as the twists and turns of the plot. Let’s hope she can continue in the same vein.