Thursday, 2 October 2014

On my reading level

On Twitter yesterday, I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about the latest article that implies that adults shouldn’t be reading YA books. On this occasion it wasn’t an entire article devoted to that cause, but part of an author’s interview with MinnPost. The author was asked what she thought of Ruth Graham’s famous article “Against YA,” which suggested, like so many articles, that adults should be embarrassed to read books written for people younger than they are. Her response was this:
I don’t understand why adults like to read books written for children. I said that on the air the other day. That’s going to upset people… you’re missing out on some really great stuff written for you as an adult. People come back and say, “But at least you’re reading something.” Well, I don’t think that’s justification enough. I think you ought to be reading at your level.
This author is entitled to her opinion and entitled to state it in response to a question. She’s also right to note that her opinion may upset people, as opinions so often do.

I’m not upset. I am, however, more than a little puzzled.

How can I identify my “reading level”?

Is there a test I can do to work it out? I’m turning twenty-three this November. Am I still all right to read Young Adult fiction, or am I now considered far too old for it? (If so, you can pry The Hunger Games and Throne of Glassfrom my cold, too-old hands, thank you very much.) The ALA defines Young Adult as being aimed at readers of twelve to eighteen years of age. This means I am now half a decade too old for these books.

When I turned nineteen, did an entire genre really get boxed off for ever? Did I lose the ability to comprehend all the wonderful stories that had kept me company through the tumultuous years of becoming an adult? Did I forget the emotions, the experiences, the memories of a whole decade of my life?

At twenty-three, will I still be considered too young for books about people in their thirties and forties, or written by people in their thirties and forties?

Where do I, at twenty-three, fit in to this spectrum?

Can I only read books within the New Adult genre, which are aimed at eighteen to twenty-five year-olds?

Perhaps it isn’t about age. Perhaps that isn’t what the quote is saying. Surely it wouldn’t make sense for me to restrict myself to that one genre, which was only created in 2009. (What did we do before that?) Is your reading level based on your education? Your upbringing? How many books your parents had in the house as you grew up?


Perhaps I’ve misunderstood. Perhaps your ability to enjoy a book is based on life experience. I’ve never been married or divorced or had children. I’ve never had cancer or held a sword or solved a crime or lived in a city other than London. Will I fail to understand or connect with books that present me with characters who have led very different lives to mine?


Will I fail to understand a story about a teenager  even though I was one once?

Did I lose the ability to recognise a stage of life I’ve left behind?


Everyone has the right to read the books they enjoy. If adults would prefer not to read books about teenagers, power to them. There are piles of brilliant books out there that are written for adults, waiting to be discovered. But to suggest that adults should no longer connect with stories written by, or about young people  can’t read them, as if doing so would trigger an allergic reaction is to dismiss the experience of young people. To cut them off. To suggest that adults must justify reading these books, that they must be embarrassed by it, is to suggest that there is something fundamentally embarrassing about being a teenager. (Which sometimes there is, as all teenagers know  but trust me, the possibility that you might do or say embarrassing things doesn’t go away when you turn twenty.)

We are a society obsessed with retaining and reclaiming our youth the dying of our grey hairs, the editing of our bodies, the petrification of our faces but when it comes to books, that veneration disappears in a puff of smoke. It is one of many contradictions at the heart of modern life. We praise the idea of youth, but invalidate the internal experience of it. Try to look like a young adult, yes, but for God’s sake don’t listen to one. 

Some adults are still listening.

The world can be a dark and daunting place. Now more than ever, it’s tough to get up and turn on the news in the morning, knowing you’ll be hit with a barrage of horror and not much light at the end of the tunnel. And now, after you’ve tried to process all the darkness, you’re more than likely to see an article informing you that, in the midst of all this, you shouldn’t be reading the books you love. These are the books that help you block out all that horror and despair, that help you to make sense of it. These are the books that you read late into the night, the ones you can’t stop reading until the very last page is turned. These are the books that make you love reading. 

Is that justification enough?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Crash Course III

 A brief history of the republic

Welcome back to Crash Course, where I summarise the parts of The Bone Season's world and history to help you get back into the swing of it before The Mime Order. This week I'm taking you on a little tour through Scion's history by means of a handy timeline.

Note: Bear in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive history of the series. It only covers what has already been discussed in The Bone Season, with some extra detail given where necessary. More history will be covered in the next six books. 

Alert: if you haven't read the first book, watch out for spoilers below. 


Scion is the official name for a system of government that has been implemented throughout nine European countries. Its policies revolve around the control and punishment of so-called "unnatural" individuals. Its symbol is the anchor. Countries under Scion rule are said to be under the anchor, while countries threatened by it are in the shadow of the anchor. It was first used in 1901, when the Republic of England was founded after the fall of the monarchy, but was not named Scion until 1929. 

All Scion countries have at least one citadel, which is styled as "the Scion Citadel of [Name]". The ruling citadel of Scion's empire is the Scion Citadel of London, England. Some countries which do not use the Scion system, mostly those which were part of the British Empire, have a small Scion presence via outposts and are considered part of its wider empire. Countries outside Scion's influence are known on the streets as the "free world". The anthem of Scion England is Anchored to Thee, O Scion.

While it professes to be a republic, Scion is, unbeknownst to the rest of the globe, a puppet government for the Rephaim, who rule from the penal colony of Oxford. The secret relationship between Scion and the Rephaim is formally called a suzerainty. Countries are allowed some self-rule, but always report to the dominant entity, the Suzerain (Nashira Sargas). 

Scion governments are headed by a Grand Inquisitor. Each citadel's security is looked after by a Chief of Vigilance, while news is given to the population via ScionEye by the Grand Racounteur and his or her reporters, known as "little raconteurs". Its military arm, ScionIDE, is controlled by the Grand Commander.


1859: The Rephaim arrive in the corporeal world when the ethereal threshold reaches its highest ever point. They persuade Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister, that he needs to hand control of the country to them in order to prevent an invasion by the Emim. Palmerston does, but the rest of the country has no idea that this has happened. Life appears to continue as normal. The Rephaim reach an agreement with Palmerston that they will occupy the city of Oxford. A secret military unit is deployed to clear the city. The first Bone Season begins.

1888: Jack the Ripper's reign of terror begins in August and ends in November, leaving chaos in its wake. Whitechapel's H Division is unable to identify the murderer.

1901: Queen Victoria dies. This is the beginning of the end for the monarchy. At his coronation, her son, Edward, is accused of being Jack the Ripper after "evidence" of his involvement is found in his quarters. Within days, the hysteria and rage on the streets forces Edward and the rest of the monarchy (and many members of the aristocracy) to flee for their lives. Edward will for ever be known as the Bloody King, or "fallen prince". A Republic of England is founded, led by the Marquess of Salisbury, who declares an overriding mission for his new government: the destruction of "unnaturals" like Edward. This mission is justified by the fact that Edward supposedly summoned evil spirits to perform the murders.

1929: After decades of preparation, the Scion Citadel of London is declared open on 29th November by the first Grand Inquisitor, Ramsay MacDonald. This is the first time the word "Scion" has been used in public. The republic is renamed the Republic of Scion England. This day continues to be marked with the annual celebration of Novembertide. Bone Season VII begins.

2039: Bone Season XVIII begins. Arcturus Mesarthim and his followers launch their first rebellion against the Sargas family. They are betrayed by XVIII-39-7. All humans involved in the rebellion are killed, while several of the Rephaim involved are tortured.

2040: Paige Mahoney is born in January.

2045: Ethereal batteries are invented. Scion turns its attention to creating Radiesthesic Detection Technology (RDT), a more efficient means by which clairvoyance can be detected. 

2046: The Molly Riots begin in Ireland. Its epicentre is Dublin, where an enormous protest, organised by students and staff at Trinity College, meets the first Scion soldiers on the banks of the Liffey. The protest swiftly turns violent when Scion turns its weapons on the crowd. This day becomes known as "the Incursion". The student leaders, including Paige's beloved cousin Finn McCarthy, are sentenced to hang at Carrickfergus.

2047: After a long, bloody struggle, the north of Ireland surrenders to Scion, and it is agreed that Scion Belfast will be established at the end of the year. The south continues to fight for some time, and its people face brutal suppression. 

2048: In Ireland, Colin Mahoney is conscripted by Scion under "special circumstances". He and his daughter relocate to London.

2049: Bone Season XIX begins. A large number of humans are gathered to replace those lost in the rebellion. Among the captives is Liss Rymore.

2059: The first RDT Senshield, which can detect aura at up to twenty feet, is trialled at the Paddington Terminal complex. Bone Season XX begins. Paige Mahoney is captured in March, and the events of The Bone Season begin.

Thoughts on dystopia

I’m often asked why I think young people read dystopian fiction. I’ve seen many brilliant answers to the ‘dystopian question’, but the answer that keeps playing on my mind is this: fear.

This is a generation steeped in all breeds of fear – most of all, fear of the future. In real life, the fear we experience is nebulous. It lives in the media and in the backs of our minds. It’s everywhere and nowhere at once. It’s the silent, creeping threat that the promises made by the world might be broken. That it might not be as easy as we thought out there.

In fiction, this fear is given a more tangible form. Fear becomes a monster, a Gamemaker, a morally bankrupt government. Fear incarnate is easier to fight.

Millennials are often seen as a ‘lost’ generation. Within these stories, the lost generation finds itself. It fights. It shouts. It forges its own path. It doesn’t always save the world, but it changes it. In real life, you can’t duel with debt. You can’t bring down the tyranny of unemployment, or overthrow a housing crisis. In real life, you can’t fire an arrow into the heart of fear.

Dystopian fiction allows us to play out scenarios in which we grapple with the vast, faceless issues that we’re often powerless to amend. In real life, we rely upon our elders to solve these problems. In books, the characters decide themselves what the future will look like. I don’t know if that makes it a coping mechanism, or pure escapism – but I do think that’s what gives the genre its staying power. And will for many years to come.

Monday, 8 September 2014


Voyants and amaurotics, the time has come! I've finally received my box of full ARCs of The Mime Order from Bloomsbury. Enter to win one of them below. 

Note: This prize is a full advanced reading copy of The Mime Order in the English language. If you win this prize, you agree to have it personalised with a name. This competition is international. One winner will be selected at random. All prizes are sent by standard post. Although I will do my best to ensure prizes reach participants, I can't take any responsibility if they are misplaced or delayed by the postal service.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A note on ARCs

So I just got word from my publisher that ARCs of The Mime Order should be available in early September, which is exciting. But what is an ARC, and how do you get one? 

An ARC (Advance Reading Copy), also known as a proof or a galley, is an early, uncorrected version of a book that goes out before publication to spread the word about it. This version of the book has generally been seen by a copy editor, but not by a proofreader, so there may still be continuity or typographical errors, which you are politely asked to overlook.

It is illegal to buy or sell an ARC before the book’s official publication date you won’t see them in bookshops, and you shouldn’t see them online and publishers request that reviewers don’t quote directly from it, as the book may still change before the finished version goes to press. I get three weeks to make any last tweaks to the book after the proof pages are made up. 

You may receive a physical or digital ARC.

ARCs are sent out at the discretion of the publishing house. I’m not responsible for deciding who gets them the author receives a very small number of copies. They usually go out to press, booksellers, book bloggers, fan sites, and so on. Sometimes there will be a requirement set by the publisher, e.g. a certain number of page views on a blog, which will be looked at before a decision is made.

ARCs won’t always be available in foreign territories, as the publishing date for translations tends to be later and not all publishing houses make proofs. Bloomsbury publishes me in the UK, USA, Australia and India, so you’re most likely to get one in one of those territories.

You should be able to request an ARC on NetGalley or Edelweiss (I’ll post links as soon as they’re up). Depending on the number of ARCs I get, I’ll also be hosting a giveaway on this blog. Samplers are currently available to request here, but due to territory rights, you’ll probably be declined if you’re outside the USA.

I hope that’s helpful!


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Crash Course II

Thanks for your great response to the first Crash Course entry!

This week's entry, requested by Julie, focuses on the visual world of The Bone Season – namely the spirit sight, auras and the sixth sense. There's a splash of history and On the Merits of Unnaturalness, too. Remember, if there's anything you'd like me to cover in future blog posts, give me a shout in the comments section. I stress that I can't give away anything that hasn't already been revealed in the books; this is just to clarify anything that we've already encountered in The Bone Season that you'd like me to expand on.


"Any Person who possesses an Aura has the Right to be called Clairvoyant, even if they are entirely Unsighted. Aura is our direct Link to the æther . . . [it] attracts and compels most Spirits, endearing them to us, and allows us to sense their Presence"

— Excerpt from On the Merits of Unnaturalness

Art (c) The Bone Season – die deutsche Seite
In the world of The Bone Season, aura is what identifies you as clairvoyant, understood to be a biological phenomenon. Aura is a clairvoyant individual's personal link to the æther, the means by which they tune in to the spirit world. 

Aura does not manifest in any one way. An aura can be bright or dim, fast-moving or slow, small or large. Danica has a bright aura that looks like an electrical storm around her; Warden's is much calmer, dark and soft, like smoke; Nashira's, on the other hand, is badly corrupted by the multiple gifts she has. A person's dreamscape tends to have the same dominant colour as their aura.

In 2031, Jaxon Hall, author of On the Merits of Unnaturalness, observed in his pamphlet that there were roughly seven colours of aura and that people within one of these groups generally exhibited similar abilities. He proposed that these seven groups should be grouped as follows:


Summary of the Seven Orders of Clairvoyance

I. Soothsayers Purple Require ritual objects called numa to connect with the æther
II. Augurs Blue – Use organic matter, or elements, to connect with the æther
III. Mediums Green – Connect with the æther through spiritual possession
IV. Sensors Yellow – Privy to the æther on a sensory and linguistic level
V.  Guardians  Orange Have a higher degree of control over spirits
VI.  Furies Orange-red Subject to internal change when connecting with the aether
VII. Jumpers Red Able to affect the aether outside their own physical limits   

On the Merits of Unnaturalness was a controversial and groundbreaking document, the first proper attempt to categorise clairvoyance. The controversy stemmed from the fact that it it suggested that the highest three orders guardians, furies and jumpers were superior to the other four. This caused a spate of gang wars and resulted in the permanent imprisonment of one sub-type of augurs, the supposedly violent "vile augurs", in the putrid slum of Jacob's Island. By the time Paige enters the syndicate, the Seven Orders system is widely accepted throughout the voyant world in London and elsewhere. 

Spirit sight

"For the Sighted, Aura is perceived as a Spectrum . . . The Unsighted report that instead of perceiving Colour, they receive a unique Indicator from each Aura, allowing them to make an Estimation of what Type of Clairvoyance is being displayed"

— Excerpt from On the Merits of Unnaturalness

All voyants can sense the æther to some degree. Their sixth sense allows them to pick up on nearby spirits and to exert some control over them by making spools, something that all voyants can do with a little practice. However, not all voyants can perceive the spirit world visually. 

Around 85% of voyants in London are described as being sighted, or having the spirit sight or third eye. Sighted voyants display a keyhole-shaped defect in one or both eyes, which is similar to, and named after, the real-life coloboma (a gap in the iris). People with only one coloboma, like Nick, are described as half-sighted. This means that they can switch their spirit sight on and off whenever they please. People with two colobomata, like Jaxon, are full-sighted and forced to see spirits constantly. The sighted report spirits manifesting in a number of ways: threads of glowing colour, floating sparkles, pulsing zigzags, or flurries of bright spots.1 Colobomata are a recognised "symptom of unnaturalness" in Scion citadels; consequently, voyants working in ordinary jobs wear dark contact lenses to conceal them from the authorities.

The other 15% of London voyants have no colobomata at all, and are known as the unsighted or spirit-blind. This is different from the kind of "blindness" exhibited by amaurotics, who have absolutely no sense of the spirit world at all.2 Spirit-blindness tends to be exhibited by the higher orders, particularly jumpers and furies. Paige has never been able to see spirits visually.   

It had always been my dream to be at least half-sighted, but 
I remained spirit-blind. I couldn't see the æther's 
little lights; I could only ever sense them. 

Unsighted voyants sometimes report very small disturbances when they see an aura or spirit a slight ripple, or a dark spot in their field of vision. When voyants are unsighted, they generally develop a greater sensitivity to the æther and can learn to identify auras and spirits from the way they feel. 

As a jumper, Paige's sixth sense is extremely sensitive. Having honed her skills with Jaxon Hall, she is able to categorise auras even better than some of her sighted companions in the Seven Seals can, as she can detect subtle nuances that they can't. While Eliza could see a blue aura and know that the voyant is an augur, Paige might be able to identify the particular type of aura, e.g. tasseographer or haematomancer.  

This was inspired by the kinds of visual phenomena experienced by people who suffer from migraine with aura.

The word amaurotic comes from the Greek amauros, "dim", referring to a kind of blindness that occurs without damage to the eye.