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Urskuul’s Reading Circle: The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon

Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the Bone Season series: The Bone Season and The Mime Order. Please read with caution if you have yet to finish the first two books.

Good afternoon lovely people! And, for those of you who are reading this in a different time zone, Merry Christmas!

That’s how time zones work, right?

I hope you all had a wonderful time at the Summer-ning festival? I thought it was fantastic. I was even privileged enough to go back stage at the festivities. It was a shame Lord Urskuul didn’t turn up in the end; apparently important demon lord business required his attention. I did meet some of his close henchmen (and henchlady) – the lesser known “Four Horse-people of the Rather Annoying Day”:

• Sir Slept-Through-My-Alarm-I’m-Going-To-Be-Late
• Madam Vending-Machine-Stole-My-Pound
• Sir Some-Talkative-Strangers-Sat-At-My-Table-And-Disturbed-My-Lunch
• Sir Aargh!-Computer’s-Just-Crashed-And-I-Haven’t-Saved-My-Work

Freakshow by Xavier Ward

I got their autographs and a selfie with them. I also met this fellow called Garim. You may remember the bit at the end where everyone ran and screamed as they attempted to flee the grounds before the minotaur could stomp on them or gore them with his increasingly sharp horns? Well, that’s Garim! He’s lovely. Turns out he is a big reader of books too and so he is going to join Urskuul’s Reading Circle. Please make sure you’re welcoming and friendly when he turns up for the first-time next month. I’d suggest you stay away from topics such as labyrinths, Greek heroes or the death of bovine animals.

Now, it is my sad duty to announce that a few of our members didn’t survive the fun at the festival. We discussed it at the meeting and believe we’ve worked out the list of everyone who passed. Melissa (who unfortunately wasn’t amongst them) has the full list of names. I don’t have that to hand, but I’d like you all to give a brief moment of your time to remembering our fallen friends:

1. Old annoying fellow who came once and kept disrupting the discussions by coughing.
2. Young lady with the dyed black hair and eyebrow piercing. I think she was some kind of goth; is that the right term?
3. The nondescript person. Can’t remember if they were male or female. But they wore clothes. And had hair.
4. Some others. I didn’t like them much, so no great loss.

We did originally think Trevor had also sadly passed, but since the meeting I have been in contact with him. Turns out he got on the wrong train and ended up in France. He couldn’t really explain how. Anyway, his wallet was left on the train and he doesn’t have enough money on him to pay for a ticket back unfortunately. So, if you have any viable ideas on how he can make some cash, please send him a message. I would note that selling his soul isn’t an option: Lord Urskuul has already made it clear it’s not worth that much.

The Song Rising (cover 1)Now, the latest book we read through was one called The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon. This is the third novel of seven in her Bone Season series (preceded by The Bone Season and The Mime Order). It’s probably best if you’re new to the series that you read them first, so you have a vague idea of what’s going on. And what is going on? (You may want to stop here to avoid spoilers.)

Well, it’s 2059. Everything is wonderful. Except for the fact that alien monsters called Emim keep coming to England to kill and eat people. Luckily, there are some less-killy aliens called Rephaim who are purportedly on humanity’s side and want to protect us from the Emim. Oh, and a number of humans have developed various clairvoyancy powers (which gives them abilities such as seeing the future, possessing people, control ghosts etc. You can pick up a pamphlet called “On the Merits of Unnaturalness” which gives a bit more information about the seven orders of clairvoyancy. The author doesn’t actually write it until 2031, but Shannon has managed to tap into her own voyancy powers to put out advance copies). The Rephaim want to round up any humans displaying voyancy abilities (apparently, they attract the Emim. Not only that, but the voyants’ auras are also quite tasty for the Rephaim to eat, not to mention allowing the particular Rephaite to steal the power for themselves).

To manage this, they basically control the whole of Britain and Ireland (now called The Republic of Scion England and The Republic of Scion Ireland. Sorry Scotland and Wales, you’re no longer countries. You’re the Highlands, the Lowlands and the Westlands in the Republic of Scion England). It’s not a great world to live in, I’ll be honest, so the Rephaim’s protection has a fairly steep cost. They might not be the Emim, but I’m not sure they’re much better. “We’re a tyrannical dictatorship that controls every aspect of your lives but at least we won’t eat all of you,” isn’t the greatest campaign slogan I’ve heard. Maybe everything isn’t so wonderful after all.

The Song Rising (cover 3)So, that’s the world. As for the story? Well, we’re following narrator and protagonist Paige Mahoney; a rare type of voyant known as a dreamwalker. She’s managed to survive the first two books, where she has gone from being a prisoner of the Rephaim to becoming leader of the Mime Order and Underqueen of London, allied with some rebellious Rephaim. Some of these rebels almost seem decent folks (Warden). Not the leader of the rebels, though. She’s a bit mean. But less mean than the leader of the Rephaim, Nashira Sargas. And Paige’s former boss and mentor (Jaxon Hall) is a traitor to the voyants and works with Nashira. He returned to Nashira’s evil police force and Paige discovers this at the end of book two/prelude of book three.

Are you getting the feeling it’s a bit of a depressing place to live? I mean, no one seems very nice to Paige at all. The Reading Circle felt quite badly for her. Amy and Alex were particularly vociferous, suggesting that we use a device to travel into her book and help her take vengeance on all the people who were picking on her. Melissa, predictably, torpedoed this suggestion by pointing out that no such device existed. Which is a shame, because it may have meant while the twins were off searching for the device they would have to miss a few meetings and we’d suffer a few less of their arguments.

The Song Rising shows Paige trying to come to terms with her new position as Underqueen; leading all of the people who report to her and trying to keep them safe, dealing with the rebel Rephaim and keeping the alliance intact. Things don’t go well. Firstly, it turns out that the scanners that are used to discover whether someone is a voyant have become much smaller and can now be fitted and hidden in things such as cashpoints. Prior to this, the scanners had always been of such a size that they were not easy to hide and so could be spotted and avoided. Further to this, Paige leads an attempt to attack and disable the Senshield Core (the power source for these scanners). It turns out this is a trap and, as a result of being temporarily captured, the scanners use exposure to Paige’s aura to upgrade their sensitivity and allow them to detect higher voyant levels up to four (previously they could only pick up the first three levels). And that’s what kicks the story off, sending Paige and allies on an epic quest to atone for the error and find a way to protect her people. She will travel far and wide during this quest: from London to Manchester, to Edinburgh and back to London!

The Song Rising (cover 2)Okay, that doesn’t sound that far, does it? I mean, it’s only a 6 or 7-hour train journey from London to Edinburgh (unless there are leaves on the line or we have the wrong kind of heat, both of which can cause severe delays to running trains). And it’s the future, so surely the trains run a lot better and faster now? Well, yes. But remember the whole scanner thing? If you can fit one in a cashpoint, you can probably fit one in a train. She’s being hunted all the way and these guys have some serious tech which makes it much more difficult than buying a ticket and getting on a train.

What did the members of the Circle think of it? Well, a fair number decided that owning a pet ghost sounded like fun (please note, a ghost is for life and death, not just for Christmas. Make sure you can take care of it properly rather than buy one just because you think they look cute). And sales of tarot cards from Urskuul’s Mystic Shop have seen a 90% increase this month. That’s probably a good indicator that the majority of us enjoyed it. It’s dystopian; includes monsters, aliens, ghosts and nasty humans. Feels a bit like home. The story rolls along at a comfortable pace which makes it an easy choice to read “just one more chapter”. Paige may have powers, but she’s not a superhero who can coast along and save the day. She seems vulnerable and out of her depth, but trying to make the best of it. This makes her easy to relate to and like; even if the challenges we’re facing on a daily basis probably aren’t to do with aliens controlling our country and trying to hunt us down and capture or kill us.

I’m not sure how bad it is going to get for her over the series, but I believe Shannon has worse things on the way. If you’ve got any empathy for Paige (and you really should by now if you’ve read and enjoyed the first two), then you need to read it just to find out what happens to her next. As long as Shannon keeps writing in such an enjoyable style, you’re probably going to be reading this one and the ones to come until the series is complete. You’ll need to, if you want to find out what Paige gets hit with next.

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