Harry Potter: The Magical Brainchild of JK Rowling
J.K. Rowling used seven volumes to build the infamous wizarding world of Harry Potter and introduce, train, shape, tempt, stupify, and mature the main characters living within it. But before introducing Hogwarts, Hufflepuff, hippogriffs, or Hungarian horntails, Rowling decided to ground Harry’s story in reality.
The world famous heptalogy opens at number four Privet Drive, an unassuming home in a nondescript British suburb. Here we’re introduced to a slightly smaller than average preteen boy with glasses and uncombed hair. The bleak neighborhood, boyish disregard for personal grooming, brutish cousin, and bothersome Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon described in the first few chapters feel real.
And because the beginning of Harry Potter feels real, we allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking the rest of it is (or could possibly, maybe, kind of, hopefully be) too.
The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon’s Mystical Literary World
Samantha Shannon took a different route when writing the first four installments of her seven part series The Bone Season. The very first page launches readers into a futuristic, dystopian version of our world. Several places and ideas sound familiar: London, private school for girls, desk jobs. But it doesn’t take long (two paragraphs) to realize this isn’t the world as we know it...
Allow me to explain. Or watch this.
The story begins in 2056. That’s right, thirty-five years in the future. But not really our future, as the ‘retro-futuristic’ world depicted in The Bone Season splintered off from ours in the late 1920’s when a fictitious ruling government called the Scion took charge. Under their leadership, many things have changed, creating settings which are only half familiar to readers.
(Quick example of Samantha Shannon’s recreation of the familiar: The city of Oxford has maintained its English Gothic architecture and bricked sidewalks, but it’s been converted into a horrid prison colony.)
Paige Mahoney is our narrator and protagonist throughout the series. Unbeknownst to her father, Paige is part of a covert minority population called voyants. These individuals have varying degrees of special powers and almost all work in a large criminal syndicate beneath the streets of ScionLondon (or, as most voyants call it, SciLo).
The voyants’ illegal dealings and power to control the ether intimidates the near Totalitarian government, and so it hates, hunts, imprisons and kills any voyants it can discover and apprehend. Did we mention Paige’s father works for the government...? Moving on!
Although she’s only sixteen, Paige is one of the most powerful voyants because she’s able to secretly retract information from others’ by walking through their dreamscapes. Her unique capabilities as a ‘clairvoyant’ have forced her into living a double-life, yet they’ve also secured her a place among the Seven Seals, a gang of clairvoyants who work beneath Seven Dials in London. (The number seven is thematic throughout The Bone Season, so it’s only fitting that the series will consist of seven installments.)
Paige’s life as a clairvoyant is difficult. But it may have been the perfect training to face the unpredictable and twisting dangers that come with being discovered, kidnapped, and taken away from the life she knows in SciLo.
Harry Potter and The Bone Season Comparison
Samantha Shannon has been called “the next J.K. Rowling”, a phrase which makes her cringe. Not that it’s not a compliment, she explains in an interview with Bibliostar, it’s just very big shoes to fill.
The two authors do have some things in common: female British fiction-writers who wrote/are writing a heptalogy—for Bloomsbury publishing house—about a teenage protagonist with astounding powers who undergoes the hero’s journey within a complex mystical world where magic is present, but not unlimited.
Yet each is her own person with her own story to tell.
The Bone Season is wonderfully paced and intricately built. Paige’s world is complex, yet Shannon avoids the temptation to sloppily dump bulks of information on the reader. Rather, she chooses to cleverly weave details and explanations within the story. Paige’s world is foreign, yet Shannon makes it feel familiar and...real.
Though Rowling and Shannon chose to start their series in different ways—Rowling eases us into the magic while Shannon plunges us directly into Paige’s weird and wonderful world—both universes have limits which ground them in reality.
In Harry Potter, not all wizards can teleport; most use portkeys or floo powder, and even apparition has its limits. Likewise, in The Bone Season not all voyants can visually perceive the spirit world. For some reason, these limits make fictitious worlds feel real. And all of the best fiction books (at least in our opinion) are ones where the threat of fighting dragons and the nuanced practice of identifying specific auras can actually feel real!
If you’re looking for books like Harry Potter, The Bone Season series is an excellent choice. Make sure you get caught up on the first four books of the series, The Pale Dreamer (2016), The Bone Season (2013), The Mime Order (2015), and The Song Rising (2017), because the fifth comes out this year!