Author Q&A:
Samantha Shannon

The Mask Falling
(Bloomsbury, £14.99) 

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Protagonist Paige Mahoney has eluded death again and is consigned to a safe house in the Scion Citadel of Paris with Arcturus Mesarthim – her former nemesis – at her side. The mysterious Domino Programme has plans for Paige but she has ambitions of her own, which will lead her from the catacombs of Paris to the glittering hallways of Versailles.Fantasy writer Samantha Shannon delivers another large, complex supernatural thriller.

The Mask Falling is the fourth book in your Bone Season series but you have no doubt picked up a new cohort of readers with your 2019 standalone novel, The Priory of the Orange Tree. Can readers new to the series start here?
I suppose they could – I have seen reviews from people who jumped into the series at random points, and they seemed fine – but I wouldn’t recommend it. A lot happens in the first three Bone Season books, so it’s best to start at the beginning, unless you’re keen to escape specifically to Paris. There’s a character guide at the back of the book to help you to get to grips with who’s who and what’s happened so far. Alternatively, you could start with The Pale Dreamer, the standalone prequel novella, which will give you a taste of the series and introduce you to some of the main characters.

What goes into the detailed world building? Is it difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what you’ve invented?
As I’ve been writing these books since 2011, I can switch between Scion and the real world easily. It’s like I have Bone Season glasses. As I walk through London or Paris, I can transform them into Scion London and Scion Paris in my mind’s eye. Midway into a long series like this, I’m building on the foundations of the earlier books – this time I could just focus on exploring and reconstructing Paris – but the initial work, introducing a reader to a world, does take time and care. You’re trying to familiarise them with your setting and capture their interest while not overwhelming them. There are multiple layers involved in worldbuilding, from larger concepts like magic systems all the way down to the very fine details, like what the characters are eating and wearing. You’re spinning a lot of plates.

Does this book mark a change in Paige Mahoney?
Yes, though arguably it’s more a crystallisation of all the change she’s undergone in the first half of the story. The Mask Falling is the middle of the series, and by this point, Paige has been through a lot. In the space of a year, she’s been held prisoner twice, narrowly survived weeks of torture, a member of her family has been killed, and she’s turned a crime syndicate into an army. She’s taken an awful lot on her shoulders. In The Mask Falling, she’s trying her best to heal, mentally and physically, while navigating a new city and handling a host of fresh challenges. It’s also the first time she’s lived with Arcturus – her friend, bodyguard and former enemy – since the first book, and she’s wrestling with her feelings for him. Their relationship has changed a lot since The Bone Season.

How much of the politics and world events of the Bone Series are informed by the real world?
The books aren’t supposed to be a direct analogy for any single event. It’s very interesting to see how readers interpret them, as they each bring their own experiences to it, which I like. Having said that, I do draw from the real world in a few ways, like when I explore the relationships between England and the Celtic nations. Sometimes I purposely don’t bring things across from the real world – Scion isn’t a patriarchy, for example. There’s historically been an expectation of sexism in fantasy, but I wanted to go in a different direction.

You took part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. What was the experience like and can you tell us what the novel you wrote is about and whether you plan on publishing it?
I’m proud to report I won NaNoWriMo last year! Just over 50,000 words in November. I did the same in 2015 with The Priory of the Orange Tree. It was a surreal experience this time, especially because the US election happened during the first half – I lost two days of work to devouring the news. Strangely, I also found I could only get into the flow of writing after 10pm. I am a night owl by nature, but not to the extent as I was in November. I was working until about 2am and forcing myself back up again around 7am, and I had the neck ache from hell by the end from spending so long sitting in front of my computer every day – I still haven’t quite shaken it off – but it reminded me how much I can churn out if I put my mind to it. I have already sold the project in question, which is set in the same world to The Priory of the Orange Tree, and I’m hoping it will be published in 2022.

Has writing fantasy provided a welcome escape to the last 12 months?
To an extent. By incredible coincidence, the project I’m working on now, which I was writing before the arrival of Covid-19, involves an international pandemic, so it hasn’t always been an escape. I’m glad I was in the drafting stage as, for me, it’s the most demanding part of writing a book, requiring a lot of focus and attention. I’ve been able to really sink my teeth into the work and immerse myself in a long, dense story.

Arcturus tells Paige: “For every person there exists a book that will sing to them. I trust that you’ll find yours.” What’s yours?
I’ve always found it hard to choose just one, but some of the books that sang to me in 2020, a year when I found reading much harder than usual, were As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams by Lady Sarashina (as translated by Ivan Morris), Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab, and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo.

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