Samantha Shannon’s The Mask Falling is the fourth book in her The Bone Season series. Shannon finished the first book ten years ago, when she was a nineteen-year-old studying at Oxford. Now an internationally bestselling author, with the rights to adapt sold to Andy Serkis’ production company, Shannon’s reached the mid-point of the saga.
‘This is the point at which I hope readers will understand why this is a seven-book series,’ Shannon told NITRB in our Creatives in Profile interview earlier this week. ‘The world opens up on a whole new level.’
For those new to The Bone Season, the series follows Paige Mahoney, a young clairvoyant in a world where being clairvoyant is not easy. Britain, Ireland, and parts of Europe are occupied by the sinister regime of Scion, which aims to eradicate all forms of ‘unnaturalness’ from its streets. Clairvoyants are forced underground, where various mafia-like cohorts reign. To survive, Paige has aligned herself with Jaxon Hall, a powerful Mime Lord (sort of Crime Boss), who offers her protection in exchange for the use of her powers. And Paige’s powers are powerful, even by the standards of clairvoyant world. She can leave her own body, reach out and occupy other people’s ‘dreamscapes’, possess them, walk around in their skin. She gets better at this throughout the series and, as you can imagine, it comes in handy.
But it’s not all plain-sailing for Paige. In the first book, she’s kidnapped and imprisoned, exposed to an even more sinister side of Scion. As the series unspools, as Paige discovers more about her own ability, about the world and people around her, the scale of Shannon’s ambition becomes clear.
Dystopia novels are typically restricted to a city or a small country, she says. But with The Bone Season, Shannon takes a more global view. The first three books in the series, The Bone Season, The Mime Order, and The Song Rising, take readers to alternative, slightly Steampunky versions of London, Oxford, Manchester and Edinburgh. The latest, The Mask Falling is ‘the Paris book.’ Each city, each country has a different relationship with Scion, a slightly different hierarchy, a different regime.
It’s clear Shannon cares deeply about the world she’s creating. She’s been building it for the last ten years. Many elements of The Bone Season are tied to real historical events, real figures from the past. There are maps in the front, to help readers chart Paige’s adventures. For those deeply-immersed in the fantasy genre, this will be a joy. For others, some of this exposition may be a little raw. At the beginning of The Bone Season, Paige begins by earnestly explaining every element of the world, how she feels about it, what the difficulties are. But it’s stuff you need to know. And Shannon doesn’t hang about. Though parts feel a little to-camera, it’s not long before Paige is jumping across rooftops, breaking out of prison cells, forging allies, making enemies.
The fast pace keeps the pages turning, but it can also make it tricky to keep track of characters, their status, their various abilities. But Shannon seems aware of this. In the back of The Mine Order, there’s a substantial ‘People of Interest’ section at the back, detailing trajectory of each character in the series right up until the beginning of the novel. It doesn’t always make for the most seamless reading experience, flipping backwards and forwards, but it is a thoughtful addition. And for those most deeply-immersed in the story, followers of Shannon’s since the very beginning of her career, it probably won’t be necessary.
There’s a huge following for The Bone Season. When you type ‘mask falling samantha shannon’ into the search bar, YouTube lights up with book vlogs, ‘unboxing’ videos and reactions. There are a lot of readers deeply invested in Shannon’s story, in the relationship she builds between Paige and the series’ love-interest Arcturus Mesarthim. Arcturus is a Rephaite, an immortal, humanoid being that feeds on the aura of clairvoyants. It’s not an easy relationship, but the obstacles drag willing readers deeper into the story. Though set in the future (The Mask Falling is set in 2060), with aesthetics from the past (Shannon’s world seems tethered to Victorian London, but also involves futuristic technology), The Mask Falling is absolutely a book of the 2020s. The relationship between Paige and Arcturus has been carefully considered with regards power and gender. There are characters with non-binary gender identity and fluid sexual orientation. In an interview with Cymera Festival, Shannon confirms that Paige is in fact demisexual (the trait of only experiencing sexual attraction to people with whom you have an emotional bond). This had, apparently, been suggested by a reader. It’s an anxious time for creators, with a readership more righteous and louder than possibly ever before. But Shannon seems to take this in her stride. She says she doesn’t ‘write by committee’ but thanks her readers for making her consider things that otherwise might have slipped under her radar.
Alongside The Bone Season series, Shannon released The Priory of the Orange Tree in 2019. You’ve probably seen the striking cover in bookshop windows. Based on the story of St George and the dragon, the novel is a high-fantasy standalone, based in a matriarchal kingdom on the brink of war. At over 800 pages, Shannon did well to fit it in between Bone Season releases, for which her fans are continually desperate. But with both The Priory of the Orange Tree and each instalment of The Bone Season series, Shannon proves her mettle. The six-figure deal for her debut was no fluke. The books are big because the ideas are big. And, with books five, six, and seven to go, they’re only going to get bigger.
The Mask Falling is now available to buy from Bookshop.org. You can follow Samantha Shannon @say_shannon on Twitter and also find more information about her writing and upcoming events on her blog, samantha-shannon.blogspot.co.uk.
About the Reviewer
For ten years, Ellen Lavelle has interviewed authors for The Young Journalist Academy, Nothing in the Rulebook, Newark Book Festival, and her own blog. She’s written for several publications, including The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award Blog. Now an editor at Nothing in the Rulebook, she writes fiction and non fiction, while working as a digital copywriter for an education company. You can follow her on Twitter @ellenrlavelle