The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
Paige Mahoney may have escaped the horrifying prison camp of Sheol I, where she was little more than a slave, but she’s missed much in Scion-ruled London. Many of the people she’s saved are now missing or dead, and Paige’s description is on every board across the city, baying for her capture. And it isn’t just Scion which is changing its tactics– the Underking of London’s voyant criminal syndicate has been brutally murdered, opening up a rare opportunity for the mime-queens and mime-lords looking to fill the vacuum of power. They’re assembling with their mollishers to fight for the crown. Jaxon Hall, Paige’s boss, is determined to win the throne, but Paige is more concerned with rallying support against the Rephaim pulling Scion’s strings. With dark secrets and betrayals around every corner, Paige is going to have to fight with everything she’s got to survive.
“Words are everything. Words give wings even to those who have been stamped upon, broken beyond all hope of repair.”
For some reason, it took me some time to get through the first book in this series, The Bone Season. I think it’s because it is a strange blend of fantasy and sci-fi/dystopian, with clairvoyants struggling to survive in a world which is determined to vilify and ostracise them using technology to locate them and execute them. It’s a strange blend… but it works. After an initial struggle, I found myself quite drawn into Paige’s dark and terrifying world, and I finished the book with a vague desire to read book two. Perhaps not instantly, but I cared enough to buy it. And there it sat on my shelf for several months, never quite appealing enough to pick up, but not bad enough to sell or leave at my family home instead.
In the end, it came down to wanting to change up my reading genre. I’ve read a lot of YA fantasy novels recently, and while I love them, I couldn’t feel enthusiastic about another one just yet. So I turned to The Mime Order instead. As with most books in the middle of series, I didn’t try and catch up and refresh my memories of what happened in the previous novel, hoping that the narrative filled me in on the way. And for the most part, it did. There were a few character names [mostly the escaped voyants from the prison camp] that I couldn’t recall for love nor money, but beyond that I got back up to speed with surprising ease. The action was also a lot better in The Mime Order than it had been in The Bone Season. Although there were really amazing and heart-racing moments in TBS there were also long periods of not-much-happening. The Mime Order ratcheted up the tension from about an 8 all the way up to an 11. It leapt out even from page one, and for most of the novel Paige is fleeing for her life or fighting someone who wants to kill her. Which may sound exhausting for readers, but honestly, it was exactly what I’d been hoping for.
And even when it slows the pace a little and allows the reader a brief chance to breathe before throwing them into the next action scene, there is the delicious tension simmering beneath the surface. It’s hard not to feel for Paige, and all too easy to understand her frustration and helplessness when Shannon’s beautiful writing gives the sense that the walls are closing in all around you. The tension in this book is apparent– offering Paige a series of painful and difficult choices which could prove catastrophic in the long run.
One of the most interesting things to look out for in this book is the relationship between the Seven Seals gang, particularly between Paige and Jaxon, her mime-lord. Jaxon presents an intriguing and multi-faceted character, one which is capable of intense cruelty one moment, and of loyalty and kindness the next. It’s a great dynamic, and it was one of the best things about this series, watching Paige mature and figure out what she was and wasn’t comfortable with.
On the world-building front, Shannon also steals the crown. Her world of Scion London is breath-taking, dark and deadly but also stunning, and while there were moments of sci-fi or fantasy jargon that I didn’t understand, I thought it was impressively detailed. Everything in Paige’s universe is like a spider-web, with delicate, almost invisible threads connecting everything together. I don’t think I’ve seen this kind of meticulous detail in quite some time, and it was possibly the best thing about the book.
It wasn’t a perfect read; there were moments when I felt like I didn’t really know what was going on, or just wasn’t into it. The rephaim, while offering an interesting over-arching villain pulling the strings of the human government trying to wipe out or enslave Scion’s voyants, but they’re just a bit meh. They’re curiosities, shadows in the background, but overall the main draw for The Mime Order is the syndicate of criminals teaming up, back-stabbing and spying on one another. They’re far more interesting to read about, and although the rephaim were clearly the main villains of TBS, they take a backseat in this novel.
Overall, I thought The Mime Order was an improvement on a strong but imperfect first book, and it ends on such a fabulous cliff-hanger that I did just stare at the last page for several minutes mouthing, oh yikes. A 9/10 stars from me, and I should add that I went out the next day to pick up The Song Rising so I didn’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next.