The next Rowling? 'Bone Season' author, 21, on surprise success

By Vidya Rao

Samantha Shannon’s “The Bone Season” is the first pick for the new TODAY Book Club. Read an exclusive excerpt and RSVP to join a Google Hangout with Shannon and Natalie Morales on September 16. Keep up with the TODAY Book Club by subscribing to our newsletter and follow @TODAYsBooks for book club conversation starters and special free giveaways. Tweet your insights and favorite quotes using the hashtag #TODAYBookClub.

Samantha Shannon isn’t a household name yet, but critics say the 21-year-old novelist and her protagonist are on the cusp of a meteoric rise.  

Shannon’s book “The Bone Season,” released Tuesday, is a story about a clairvoyant woman fighting for her freedom against a repressive future society. The novel, part of a seven-book deal with Bloomsbury, has garnered praise from critics, and film rights for the series have already been sold to Imaginarium Studios. Now “The Bone Season” is kicking off the TODAY Book Club.

“I’m just really overwhelmed and humbled by the reaction,” Shannon told “It’s been amazing, I didn’t expect my first novel to get this big, and I’m so grateful for the support from TODAY.”

Related: Early bloomers: Authors who blossomed to fame by 25

Shannon wrote the book at age 19, after turning a slew of rejections of her first manuscript into a short internship with literary agent David Godwin while she was a student at Oxford University. Though "The Bone Season" is an entirely different book, Shannon did salvage one character and some concepts from that first effort, she told

“I think it shows intelligence that she can actually address what was wrong with the book and learn from it and then turn it into something extraordinary,” Godwin told TODAY.

It was while Shannon was interning for Godwin that inspiration for “The Bone Season” struck her. "I got the idea when I was working at the Seven Dials [section of London] and there are all these tarot card readers and stuff there,” Shannon told “I had a daydream of a girl having the exact same day as I was, except she was clairvoyant. That’s where I got the seed.”

It’s 2059, and repressive government Scion hunts down clairvoyants — one of whom is the protagonist, Paige Mahoney. Paige commits a crime that lands her in a penal colony in Oxford, where she develops a relationship with her captor that could either lead her to freedom or be her downfall.

Shannon gave her story to Godwin, hoping he could pass it on to a smaller agency. But after reading it, he shared it with Alexandra Pringle, editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury Publishing.

“I literally had to read to the very, very end,” Pringle told TODAY. “And when that happens to you — which happens maybe once every 10 years — you know you have to run after it and do everything you can to get it.”

Bloomsbury immediately bought the book, as well as the next two in the series, for a six-figure sum. It's a "dream come true" for the young author, who has been writing since she was 13 and says she hopes fans focus on her books rather than her age.

Now, after recently graduating from college, Shannon faces a whole new level of pressure — particularly since some are calling her the next J.K. Rowling, whose mind-blowingly successful Harry Potter series was also published by Bloomsbury.

“I really admire J.K. Rowling,” said Shannon. “[But] I don't think we should be looking for next someone. I think I’d rather be the next Samantha Shannon.”

While exciting, the experience is also daunting for Shannon, who is currently working on the book’s sequel.

“With the first book, I was unknown, it was my first foray, I just didn’t know what people would think,” Shannon told “The second book is more pressure. I don’t want to let down fans of the first one, so I’ve been deliberating more on the manuscript — I want it to be absolutely perfect."

And to be “absolutely perfect,” Shannon said she had to delete her work 50,000 words in and start all over again.

“I deleted them all, because I wanted them to be the best I could do,” she said. “Now, I’m 30,000 words back into it.”

So will Shannon go back and perfect that first manuscript, a sci-fi “Twilight”-esque tale of alien-human love?

“No, definitely not,” she laughed. “It was really clichéd, boring and not well-developed.”