Stings like a bee – The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

the mime orderThis book is the sequel to 2013’s The Bone Season. If you haven’t read that, you probably want to stop reading now.

I enjoyed reading the Bone Season. At its core it’s a wonderful mix of Pullman’s Northern Lights and Orwell’s 1984. My overriding memory of it though, is that it was unnecessarily complicated.  There’s an awful lot going on in the Bone Season. Almost too much. The combination of London setting and ideas to burn, put me in mind of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne series. Pollock’s first book, The City’s Son was too bewildering for me. The follow up pared down the ideas to one or two of the really good ones, making The Glass Republic an exceptional novel. So it is with The Mime Order. Having opened up a multitude of paint cans for book one, this time Samantha Shannon uses only a few shades to paint something wonderful.

The Orwellian overtones of the first book are largely gone. Scion still sits over the story, but their totalitarian regime hovers over proceedings without interfering too much. Shannon has essentially ring-fenced her storylines. There are concentric circles of plot, with the mysterious (and murderous) Rephraim on the outside, and the oppresive (and murderous) Scion inside that. Residing in the middle are the oppressed (and murderous) syndicate of clairvoyants.  The events of the Mime Order take place at the heart of Shannon’s creation.

Paige Mahoney has one eye on the architects of her misery, but the action here deals almost exclusively with the mime-lords and their quasi-Dickensian London. After escaping from Sheol I, Paige quickly realises that she has little chance on her own. Despite their argument at the end of book 1, Paige’s latter-day Fagin, Jaxon Hall, has offered her a place back at his side as his ‘mollisher’. When a brutal murder takes place at the top of London’s clairvoyant syndicate, a power vacuum is formed in the city’s underworld. There’s a space at the top and only one person can fill it. Paige is faced with a choice. Aid Jaxon to a likely victory, but forever remain under his yoke or double cross the man who trained her. Jaxon isn’t interested in her tales of the Rephraim, he won’t let her go up against Scion, but if she becomes head of the syndicate she can reveal the truth to her fellow voyants. She could spark a revolution.

The Mime Order channels Dickens and Gaiman, with colourful characters in an oppressed criminal underworld. I do love a good alternate London, and Shannon’s is one of the best. Once again, the choice of Seven Dials as a key setting is inspired. I love it around that area of London and the dials is so otherworldly it’s perfect for a tale of myth and magic. Shannon plays deft homage, whilst banging out a great story.

The plot of the Mime Order has little out of the ordinary. Criminal factions play off one another, each vying for supremacy. What sets the novel apart, once again, is the world building. The gangs of voyants are marvellously drawn, as are their colourful leaders. There’s skulduggery aplenty. Lies, plays and double crossings, back-stabbings and full frontal assaults; it’s all here. The magic and clairvoyance upon which the novel is based are woven seamlessly into the fabric of the story. This adds great atmosphere; almost anything could happen. Shannon’s writing is highly addictive, I read this book for great chunks at a time, desperate to find out what would happen. The story swings back and forth with several twists, building up to a (possibly overdone) humdinger of a reveal.

It’s no secret this is a projected series of seven novels. The overreaching arc is left wide open for volume three; loose threads abound. The Mime Order was such a compulsive read, it’s going to be hard to wait for the next book. I’m eager to find out where the story will go next. Having constructed her world like an onion, Shannon has plenty more layers left to reveal. There are five more books to go, so lots yet to happen. If they’re all as good as The Mime Order, I’d happily read 50.

Many Thanks to Madeleine at Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book. 

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