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‘The Song Rising’ a fine fantasy offering

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Series continues with strong third installment

Embracing a literary series can be a tricky thing.

Sure, some authors appear capable of turning books out on a fixed schedule, adding to their rich fictional worlds with a comforting degree of consistency. It might not be as fast as a fan might like, but at least it’s coming. However, there are others (*coughcoughGeorgeRRMartincough*) who, well … aren’t.

Thankfully, Samantha Shannon appears to be in the former category. Her latest novel “The Song Rising” (Bloomsbury, $26) – the third in her “Bone Season” series - has arrived. It continues the story of clairvoyant (or “voyant”) Paige Mahoney as she battles against the oppressive government forces that control her home and threaten to wipe her kind out.

Paige, much to her chagrin, has risen to the top of the heap of the voyant underworld in the Scion-controlled London of 2059. She is the new Underqueen, the ruler of the various and sundry gangs of the paranormally powered who strive to stay underground in order to survive. She achieved this post – however reluctantly – by defeating her former superior Jaxon Hall in the arena.

Not all are pleased with Paige’s ascendance, though. That displeasure is compounded by outside factors – namely Paige’s alliance with a faction of the immortal Rephaim in an effort to maintain the Mime Order, a group dedicated to the overthrow of Scion in order to defend reality itself against monstrous creatures from another dimension.

But when word gets out that the Scion Senshield technology – the technology that allows government agents to detect voyants – has evolved from large, clumsy, easily avoided machines into devices that are concealable and potentially portable, Paige knows that it is only a matter of time before Scion has the capability to completely and utterly eradicate the voyant community.

And so, she undertakes a nigh-hopeless mission to track this new technology to the source and – somehow – find a way to destroy it before it destroys her and everything that she cares about. She may have to compromise who she is to achieve that goal, but in a world filled with powers of the spirit, it’s especially dangerous to put one’s soul at risk.

Samantha Shannon has settled into an impressive groove here. She’s playing a long game with regards to the world-building that she’s been doing – and it’s paying dividends. Bits of information are scattered throughout, brief moments that exist amidst the story’s basic structure and offer flashes of insight with regards to the larger universe. Those flashes provide a lovely context and add pieces to the puzzle.

There’s a rich and complex hierarchy at work here, one whose depths are revealed as layer after layer is peeled back. The juxtaposition of the ethereal swirl of spiritual powers amongst the voyants against the militarized quasi-Puritanism of Scion creates a fascinating dynamic – one that has grown more engaging with each installment.

There’s an intensity of focus on Paige, but Shannon utilizes the relatively little developmental space given to the supporting characters quite well. Paige’s compatriots tend to be a bit broadly drawn (with the notable exception of her idiosyncratic and somewhat sad relationship with Warden, the Rephaite who was once her trainer/captor and is now her friend), but they fit nicely into the overall narrative.

Still, it’s Paige’s story – a truth that the author embraces wholeheartedly. Her journey – her growth – is a large part of what separates these books from standard genre fare. There are plenty of young heroines striding through scores of magical realms out there; the fantasy fiction landscape is littered with them. Paige is … more. Shannon has created a compelling character and set her loose in a fascinating world, and really, what more can you ask from a fantasy series?

“The Song Rising” is a strong continuation of an excellent series. The blend of dystopian future and paranormal power is an intriguing one; I think of it as fantasy fiction with sci-fi elements, but if you called it science fiction with fantasy elements, I wouldn’t argue. Either way, it’s two great tastes that taste great together – another sterling effort from the pen of a gifted young writer.

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