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Samantha Shannon talks about ‘The Mask Falling'

Marriage of genres Samantha Shannon sets ‘The Mask Falling’ (below) in Paris  

Samantha Shannon describes 19-year-old Paige Mahoney, the heroine of her supernatural dystopian saga, The Bone Season series, as a brave and determined young woman. “She is a little more fragile than she lets on and sometimes too reckless for her own good,” Samantha writes in an email interview.

Samantha made her debut with The Bone Season (2013), the year she graduated from St Anne's College, Oxford, where she studied English Language and Literature. The Bone Season is set in 2059 in a world where clairvoyants hide their powers from the oppressive rule of Scion.

Paige is a dreamwalker, a powerful clairvoyant, and works in the London criminal underworld. When she is drugged, kidnapped and imprisoned in Oxford, she realises there is a shadow government run by otherworldly beings, the Rephaim, who control Scion. Her jailor is an inscrutable Rephaite, Arcturus. The books following The Bone Season — The Mime Order (2015) and The Song Rising (2017) — follow Paige as she escapes from Oxford and starts a revolution. The recently released The Mask Falling (Bloomsbury), picks up the action in Paris.

Emotional heart

Samantha describes The Mask Falling as the heart of the series. “It is the middle point – the fourth book out of seven – but it also brings together everything I loved most about the first three books and sets up a few key mysteries for the last three. It is where some important threads are tied up while others continue into the second arc of the series. I also see it as the emotional heart, where I explore the relationship between Arcturus and Paige, arguably the backbone of the series, in more depth than ever before.”

The 29-year-old author says the series is a marriage of her two favourite genres — dystopian fiction and epic fantasy. “I call it an epic dystopia. Reading books like The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale, I was always curious to know what was going on beyond that setting. In the Bone Season books, you can see the dystopia from multiple perspectives.”

Heart of darkness

Jack the Ripper is an important marker in the series. “I’ve been interested in the phenomenon of ‘Rippermania’ for a long time. I was taken on a walking tour in Whitechapel when I was quite young (probably too young) and the mystery has haunted me ever since. The alternate history of The Bone Season series begins in 1859, so I knew the timeline was going to cover the Ripper’s reign of terror. I look for places to connect the real and the unreal, to ground the fantastical elements, and that seemed like a good one.”

Connecting the real and unreal calls for intensive research, which London-based Samantha says was fun. “Exploring Paris, which is my favourite city, is always a pleasure. I got to eat plenty of croissants. The linguistic aspect of The Mask Falling was a challenge, as I don’t speak French. I had to rely on friends to translate the dialogue for me, and it took me a while to work out how to deal with the sexism built into the language, since Scion isn’t a patriarchy.”

Samantha Shannon talks about ‘The Mask Falling'

The old Vic

Language brings us to the slang of the clairvoyants, which is an adaptation of the speech of the London criminal underworld from the 18th and 19th centuries. Samantha says she did that because it is supposed to indicate that Scion is still being affected by an event that occurred during that period. “A lot of 18th and 19th-century slang is such a treasure trove. I often look at the past for interesting, archaic words and phrases to weave into my work.”

The pros of writing a series, according to the author, is spending time in one world with one cast of characters, allowing you to develop and layer them over several years. “That is such a joy and privilege. Paige and I have been able to grow up together. The main drawback is scheduling. You ideally want to get the books out as quickly as possible so readers can continue the story without having to wait for years, but that can be a challenge for slower writers.”

Love, not war

While there are thrilling battles galore in the series, Samantha prefers writing love scenes. “They are a joy, especially when the two characters have a complex relationship. People are always surprised when I admit I can’t stand writing action– I find it tedious.”

Engaging with readers on social media Samantha says is a boon and bane. “It has been a great comfort throughout the pandemic. It has kept me connected to the publishing industry while there haven’t been any in-person events, and I love being able to hear from readers from all over the world.” Samantha says, social media can, however, be distracting and panic-inducing if you scroll for too long. “I would like to step back from it while I work on my next draft, but it is tough.”

The four-year gap between The Song Rising and The Mask Falling, Samantha says because her editor had The Song Rising for a long time and she wrote the standalone fantasy, The Priory of the Orange Tree between the two instalments. “It ended up taking me far longer than I expected to edit, which affected The Mask Falling. I also had a bereavement in late 2019, my beloved grandmother passed away, which meant I missed a couple of important deadlines.”

Listening in

Samantha says she hasn’t listened to many audiobooks. “I find my concentration slips and I keep having to re-listen to sections. I am glad they exist, and I would like to get into them. I have listened to all Bone Season audiobooks and really enjoy Alana Kerr Collins’ narration. She captures Paige’s emotions very well.”

Apart from the four novels in the series, there are also a couple of novellas set in the same universe. “The Pale Dreamer is a standalone prequel to the Bone Season series – the story of how Paige first earned her name in the criminal underworld of London. It will give readers a taste of the series and introduce them to some of its key characters. The Dawn Chorus is an in-depth exploration of Paige’s trauma after a certain event in The Song Rising.”

A film based on The Bone Season was in initial development at 20th Century Fox. “I have now realised it would be far stronger as a TV show. I’m working with a British production company to bring that to fruition.”

Future plans include another novel. “As soon as that is done, I will jump into the fifth Bone Season book.”

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:30:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/samantha-shannon-talks-about-the-mask-falling/article34253812.ece

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