If I were to offer you a dystopian fantasy novel and your inclination was to politely decline it, I would understand your reluctance as my bookshelves are as short on that genre as yours would be. But before you pick up your usual reading matter, let me tell you about the book I've just read.
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is set in London and Oxford in 2059, and features a young clairvoyant called Paige Mahoney. Paige works in the criminal underworld, gathering information by breaking into people's minds, and thus "she commits treason simply by breathing". When she's attacked and kidnapped one day, she finds herself transported to Oxford, a city kept secret for 200 years, a penal colony controlled by an otherworldly race, and there she is assigned to Warden, her master, keeper and trainer - and her enemy.
What follows is a gripping story that leaves the reader in awe of Samantha's imagination and creativity, and wrapped up in a fast-paced study of power-play and ingenuity on a fantastical scale tempered by some very human emotions. The world of Scion and Sheol I which Samantha has built here is marvellously detailed in its construction. It combines plausible futuristic elements with a rich Victorian and Edwardian heritage - much of that based on fact and detail that's real, not imagined. The combination is a winning one.
There are other lovely touches such as chapter names echoing the titles of John Donne poems, a walk-on part for Lord Nelson, Warden's fondness for a gramophone playing 1930s and '40s songs, and candlelit Oxford colleges ... it's a brilliant construct, and this book is just the first in a planned series of seven, so there's lots more to look forward to.
I shall be very interested to see how Samantha's writing develops over the series; her world will, I'm sure, become even more detailed and fascinating as she proceeds, and while her story-telling is already compelling I think her pacing will evolve, and I hope the back-story of Paige and of Scion will further emerge. As to the characters, Warden is intriguing and ... (I'll leave you to discover what else besides), Paige's crime syndicate boss, Jaxon Hall, is deliciously over-the-top (Samantha hopes for Benedict Cumberbatch in this role in the film of the book which is to be made by Andy Serkis's company), and Paige herself is clever, resourceful and independent, if occasionally touchingly naive. Samantha's research into topics such as Roman augury and soothsaying, Victorian clairvoyance and street slang allows her to ground her fantasy world in a recognisable reality, and I think the book is all the stronger for this - it's a great read.
For some visual cues to The Bone Season, have a look at this Pinterest board, and to hear from the author herself, listen to today's Woman's Hour, then read the epigraph (below) and let your own imagination take you into Samantha's amazing one.
"Besides this earth, and besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits: that world is round us, for it is everywhere." Charlotte Brontë