YALC 2015! Saturday’s Exploits.

You’re probably thinking ‘Why the YALC post now? It’s been OVER A WEEK’. Well, life has been pretty manic since YALC and I’ve spent so long flailing like Kermit at all my nearest and dearest (and other persons besides!) that I haven’t actually managed to get my YALC feelings down into one cohesive blog post. I want to do some longer blog posts about one or two of my favourite panels (watch this space!) but for now, here’s my take on my first ever YALC.

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The Mime Order

9781408857397

“Some revolutions change the world in a day. Others take decades or centuries or more, and others still never come to fruition. Mine began with a moment and a choice. Mine began with the blooming of a flower in a secret city on the border between worlds.
You’ll have to wait and see how it ends.
Welcome back to Scion.”

NB: This is a review of an ARC won in a giveaway by @say_shannon .
The hardback of The Mime Order is published on 27th January 2015 by Bloomsbury.
Warning: This review will contain mild spoilers for The Bone Season.
You can read The Bone Season and my review of it here.

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The Story So Far:
In The Bone Season we met Paige Mahoney: a young clairvoyant, a dreamwalker, working in the criminal underworld of Scion London. Kidnapped and taken to a prison camp in Sheol I, she was chosen by the mysterious Warden to be trained for purposes as yet unknown. But Paige was determined to break free and in The Mime Order we have returned to London, where she is suddenly a wanted fugitive, in hiding from her captors, many of her friends, and the all-seeing eye of Scion.

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The Mime Order:

The Bone Season was one of my favourite reads last summer, and it was with eager anticipation I awaited the chance to get my hands on it’s follow-up, The Mime Order. After the high-paced action in Sheol I, we are left hanging at the end of the novel with Paige, thrust into a train with Nick, and Warden vanishing before her eyes. They’ve left Sheol I, but we don’t know yet if they are safe. What is going to happen to Paige when she is flung back into Scion? And what will the Rephaim do about their escaped harvest?

What I loved about The Mime Order was that it picked up precisely where The Bone Season left off, and it felt like a very smooth continuation. Yes, there were occasional drops of information to remind us about what had come before, but none of the “summary of the last book in a few hundred words” that can happen at the start of books in a series (one of my pet peeves). What Paige knows of the world gradually broadens in The Mime Order in comparison with The Bone Season, but it feels very much like Shannon is carefully pushing the world further out within Paige’s control – she’s not going to be stood there overwhelmed by everything all being opened up to her at once. And I really enjoyed that. I find with some fantasy that there is that tendency to go “epic” really quickly, especially with a second book in a series, but the slow-burner effect created in the Bone Season series so far has been far more successful. It makes the projected seven books very realistic, as we are left to assume as readers that things will get bigger and grander. After all, we are yet to learn much about the world outside London, so who knows where that might lead?

As in The Bone Season, the setting is fantastically brought to life. This is a place the reader can explore as if it were here in front of us: no inconsistencies, no places where it feels anything other than fully realised. Much as we learnt our way around Oxford in The Bone Season, here we explore more and more of London and it becomes familiar to us as it is familiar to Paige. We get an idea of her knowledge of the city what life must have been like for her before her adventures in The Bone Season. We see the workings of Scion, of government controls, and what it must be to live in Scion London. And most of all we find out what life is like working for Jaxon Hall, and the workings of the syndicate, which previously we had only spent a little time on. The underworld that Shannon creates is fascinating reading as we discover how the mime-lords and mime-queens govern their territory out of sight of the increasingly authoritative Scion.

Paige grows as a character too: she avoids the trope of the “strong female character” (don’t get me started!) whilst simultaneously being an excellent protagonist. She has weaknesses, she has characteristics that sometimes land her in trouble, and she treads the line between “I will beat this” and “I’m about to die” very thinly indeed! She keeps us on our toes but in no respect pretends to be a flawless character. After everything she experienced in The Bone Season, there are plenty of fears and worries and unanswered questions that she has to deal with, but in London there aren’t people she can really speak to about what has happened. Warden is nowhere to be found, and Jaxon is hardly the first person Paige would trust. Watching these concerns manifest themselves in an environment where she is on the run from Scion and not necessarily trusted by those she has returned to in the syndicate is intriguing and tells us a lot about her character. I also liked how Shannon played out the repercussions from Paige’s relationship with Warden – it’s not a traditional situation, trying to find the man who was your ‘keeper’ in Oxford – as there were plenty of opportunities to jump down well-worn storylines and they were avoided. This has made the relationships impacted upon as a result of this feel far more realistic, and avoids the pitfalls of other YA novels where certain dynamics can then overrule the entire plot, to the detriment of the story.

I would have classed The Bone Season as adventure fantasy, but in The Mime Order we begin to stray far more into dystopian territory. It definitely doesn’t go all Hunger-Games on us, but naturally by being back in London, and being closer to Scion, we see more of the iron first of government taking action of the everyday lives of its citizens. The very existence of the underworld syndicate is testament to Scion’s determination to be rid of all clairvoyants, as are the introductions of yet more methods in The Mime Order by Scion to identify and exterminate its clairvoyant citizens. But with the focus on the syndicate, we see less of Scion than we might, which works well as it means we are still focused on Paige’s adventure. It hasn’t upscaled into dystopia rapidly in the way that books like Divergent have, which plough the characters straight into the massive, overwhelming, dystopian situation where only the big things have to matter and you don’t have time to explore how the little things interconnect. The Mime Order is very carefully weaving the web of Scion, strand by strand, and so far it’s going excellently.

And then, the ending. The ENDING! I am keeping this entirely spoiler-free, so suffice to say that it was unexpected and brilliant and I certainly couldn’t have called that! And I am now DYING to find out what happens in book three.

Which is exactly how it was supposed to feel at the end.

 

Things I liked about this book: The smooth continuation from The Bone Season; the setting (again); the balance of dystopia and adventure.

Things I was less keen on: These are only tiny things now, but I would have liked to have seen more of Nick and Zeke. While Paige’s relationship with Nick may not be the most important one to her now, as it was at the start of The Bone Season, he’s still a really interesting character and him and Zeke have a really interesting dynamic that I would love to see more of!

 

The Mime Order: 9.5/10 (because there is no such thing as a perfect book!)

 

If you liked this, try:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Slated by Teri Terry
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Slade’s Children by Garth Nix
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

The Bone Season

bone-season-cover

 

“Paige, you will have two tasks tonight,’ he said, turning to face me. ‘Both will test the limits of your sanity. Will you believe me if I tell you that they will help you?’
‘Not likely,’ I said ‘but let’s get on with it.”

The Bone Season is Samantha Shannon’s first novel, the first in a projected series of seven (seven! No more trilogies here!). It’s a sci-fi fantasy dystopia hybrid, and plays with these genres very effectively in creating the setting, scenarios, and driving the plot forward.

It’s the year 2059. The story begins in Scion London, where clairvoyants are prosecuted for their skills. We are introduced to Paige Mahoney as she works for the criminal underworld, unbeknownst to her father. She’s working for the rather scary yet charming Jax, but everything falls apart one day when she accidentally uses her illegal powers on a train. She’s spotted by Scion police, and runs for her life. But soon she ends up in Sheol I, a penal colony full of stolen voyants from the city. And they want her skills badly.

The first thing that struck me about this book, apart from being very tightly plotted and paced, was that the setting was absolutely alive. Shannon clearly has immersed herself in the setting of her book, which translates fabulously to the page. The world-building has been absolutely nailed. We have government systems (that are anti-voyant), we have rebellions, we have transportation systems, laws on recreational activities, sectioned cities, the sorts of jobs people do, and wider UK context with mention of Ireland, which leads back to more world history in terms of how Scion cities have been created and where the fear/persecution of voyants has come from. As an avid fantasy reader, I have put plenty of books down that have had woolly world-building, but as far as I can tell, Shannon’s world is watertight, and I am one very happy reader!

The opening is relatively exposition-heavy – after all, we are being introduced to another world – but by using first person, the pace keeps ticking over and it feels quite conversational between Paige and the reader. No encyclopedic info-dumping here! It gives us enough to tide us over and seems to tell us a lot. By the end of the book we know that really, we knew very little indeed. I always think that the cardinal sin of fantasy writing is info-dumping. It’s why I still stick to YA fantasy over adult fantasy. In my experience, adult fantasy books seem to think that now they’re writing for adults, they can give themselves the luxury of some unnecessary long-winded info-dumping exposition. This is not the case! I’d say that The Bone Season strikes the balance of world-building verses info-dumping generally very well. This is helped by the fact that Shannon uses very effective description in her writing. Certainly knowing your setting as inside-out as Shannon does has helped fantastically with this.

It’s when we move with Paige to Sheol I (formerly Oxford) that this expands further. One of the commonly regurgitated pieces of writing advice is ‘write what you know’. Clearly Shannon isn’t a persecuted voyant who’s been kidnapped to the penal colony of Sheol I, but her author bio tells us she has lived in both London and Oxford. The influence is clear, and well utilised throughout. There are hints of Oxford, with all its grand colleges, that we would see today, but at the same time she has made it so clearly ‘other’ and different that we as readers have no issue with the transfer between what we know and what we don’t.

Paige’s character develops gradually from the beginning, and I feel like I finally have a hold of who she is by the time she’s been taken to Sheol I. She’s not a voice that grabs you with the first sentence, but you get the impression that she has plenty to say about what’s happened to her, if only you’d sit down and listen to her properly. So I did! She comes far more alive as soon as she has stuff to react to, which in this scenario works to her advantage; it is even played upon by certain characters. And a good opener to react to is when she’s kidnapped by the Rephaim to live in their penal colony.

The Rephaim have come to Paige’s world from the Netherworld, the place between life (the human world) and death (the aether). They rule over Sheol I, essentially farming human voyants. There is a huge status divide between humans and Rephs, and even more so between the humans that succeed and pass their ‘tests’, and the ones who fail – doomed to be ‘harlies’ and yellow-tunic’d cowards for the rest of their days. The kidnapped voyants are taken on by important Rephs to be trained. Paige, unsurprisingly, gets picked by Warden, who just so happens to be the fiance (blood-consort) of Nashira (blood-sovereign), who runs the colony. Warden also has a reputation for not training humans. And yet he chooses Paige. Clearly there is something else at work here, but Paige is oblivious to anything other than the fact that she has been kidnapped and has been sold off to a master like cattle. One word to describe her, in a positive way, is righteous. She’s no saintly do-gooder, but speaks her mind when she can, but also knows when to stop to save her neck. One thing we definitely know about Paige is that she has an excellent survival instinct.

I was worried that all these test and training under the Reph (and Warden) would turn the whole thing into a wannabe-HungerGames book. But it doesn’t. It might also explain why there appear to be so few tests to hop up the ranks of Reph trainees; Shannon may be trying to avoid a HungerGames-esque scenario. It definitely doesn’t feel like The Hunger Games, and for me is written a whole lot better! This is no Katniss Everdeen, come to be the saviour of the poor; this is Paige Mahoney, determined to save her skin and the few people she cares about from Scion London at the same time. It makes her far more relatable and realistic, which does her plenty of favours with the reader. Paige hasn’t come to preach.

I was also concerned with the character of Warden. My ‘oh god, a love interest which results in the lead losing the ability to think for herself!‘ klaxon was buzzing in my head. Thankfully, this fear was unfounded. Throughout the book, the relationship between Warden and Paige develops as student and teacher, with hatred – or at the very least, dislike – thrown in aplenty. It’s clear Warden has his own agenda going on, and we side with Paige in not wholly trusting him, but our curiousness as readers is also replicated in Paige. It’s this parallel with character and reader that is a real strength of the story, and keeps the reader hooked in what’s going on.

This was a book I could pause with from time to time, which was a refreshing change after both Half Bad and Cuckoo Song, which I practically inhaled. But I did reach that point where I just knew I must get to the end because everything was gearing up and I had to find out what was going to happen! Unfortunately, for me this was at about 1am when I had to be up the next day, which somewhat scuppered my desperate need to finish it. Such is the way of the late-night reader.

The only thing I did feel I wasn’t so keen on at the end was the way it flipped, in the last few chapters, from being something that I thought would be a stand-alone into something that clearly had sequels. I then expected a trilogy, so to discover a projected seven-book series was quite something! And to have a seven-book arc shows a heck of a lot of planning on the author’s behalf on plot, structure, etc. I think I’m just pining for a fabulously written YA book that doesn’t lead into a series.

 

The things I most liked were: excellent world-building, and tightly, well-executed plot. Everything felt relevant to the bigger picture. Causality rules supreme!

Things I was less keen on: I’m slightly apprehensive about sustaining this level of detailed plot and tight writing over a long series, but I look forward to the second book with curiosity.

 

The Bone Season: 8.5/10

 

If you liked this, try:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Slated by Teri Terry
Ashes by Ilsa J Bick

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks