Samantha Shannon and London, 2059
Samantha Shannon, author of the dystopian The Bone Season and its newly-published sequel, The Mime Order, explores her own future vision of London.
After one change of release date, the first sequel to The Bone Season, my début novel now hitting shelves – and I couldn’t be more excited. Unlike The Bone Season, which was chiefly set in a reimagined Oxford, The Mime Order takes place in London in the year 2059 and starts minutes after the first book ends. This version of London has been controlled by the anti-clairvoyant Republic of Scion since the Victorian era, and despite its technological advances, it still retains some trappings of the nineteenth century.
When I set out to create the dystopian fantasy world of the series, one of the first things I wanted to do was work out how London would be governed and organised under Scion’s regime. I wanted the imaginary map to be recognisable, but different enough from our version of the city to disconcert the reader. In the world of the Bone Season series, cities controlled by Scion – known as citadels – are categorised by a unique urban division system. There are six cohorts (similar to the London Underground transport zones), each of which is divided into a further six sections. There are also districts within those sections. The way this is shown in the book is with two numbers, one of which is a Roman numeral. For example, the district of Seven Dials lies within I Cohort, Section 4, otherwise known as I-4. In The Mime Order, we burrow deeper into the workings of the clairvoyant underworld and meet the mime-lords and mime-queens who hold dominion over each section. Without further ado, let me take you into some of the districts of the Scion Citadel of London…
1. Seven Dials, I-4
Among the most important districts in The Mime Order, Seven Dials is where the narrator, Paige Mahoney, lives in secret with her gang of fellow criminals. Nestled in the heart of Covent Garden, the district is home to the infamous White Binder, mime-lord of I-4, and also hosts the largest of the citadel’s black markets. Once a slum, it is now one of the more affluent areas and is considered to be a vital nerve centre of mime-crime in central London. The nearby district of Soho is just as lively, with many voyants frequenting the Minister’s Cat gambling-house to try their hand at a game of tarocchi.
2. The Devil’s Acre, I-1
In the shadow of the Westminster Archon – the seat of the Republic of Scion – lies the time-honoured home of the Underlord, the leader of the clairvoyant syndicate. In 2059, that leader goes by the name of Haymarket Hector. He is corrupt, idle, and cruel to both his enemies and those voyants who are loyal to him. Although it no longer exists in the real world, the Devil’s Acre is loosely based on the nineteenth-century rookery of the same name, which was close to Westminster Abbey and described by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman in 1850 as being full of “nests of ignorance, vice, depravity, and crime”. Sounds about right for Haymarket Hector’s domain.
3. Grub Street, I-5
Grub Street is another location that no longer exists in our world, although the street itself does still stand under a different name. In The Mime Order, it is “the beating heart of non-violent mime-crime” in London. Home to the only voyant publishing house in the citadel, Grub Street is famous for producing literature dealing with taboo subjects, including the famous pamphlet On the Merits of Unnaturalness and the heartfelt poetry of Mister Didion Waite. Its library contains precious fragments of forbidden books that Scion has seen fit to destroy. Grub Street’s residents are a mix of bibliomancers, writing mediums, pamphleteers and other littérateurs – and while some of them skulk in their garrets, others can be found reading and engaging in heated discussions in the coffeehouses of the street.
4. Camden Town, II-4
Much like our Camden, the Camden of The Mime Order is a market town, full of strange and fascinating wares. However, this Camden is also a bustling hub of both voyant and amaurotic activity, where costermongers cry from the canal and kidsman send out gutterlings to sing and play their instruments for coin. The district is ruled over by the enigmatic Rag and Bone Man: a faceless, nameless mime-lord who gives orders to his people through his mollisher (second-in-command), La Chiffonnière.
5. Jacob’s Island, II-6
Like the Devil’s Acre and Grub Street, Jacob’s Island was once a fixture of nineteenth-century London. Used by Dickens as the site of Bill Sikes’s death, it was a notoriously foul-smelling, gloomy, and disease-ridden rookery in Bermondsey, perched on the edge of the Thames. In The Mime Order, Jacob’s Island is distantly controlled by the Wicked Lady, mime-queen of II-6. The slum has been used for almost thirty years to imprison the vile augurs, many of whom are rumoured to use the innards, blood, or tears of animals and humans to access the spirit world. Their arts are considered unnatural even by voyant standards; consequently, they are forbidden from participating in all syndicate activity.
Image credit – Emily Faccini