The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Release date: August 20 2013
Source: e-ARC via NetGalley
In a word: A strange and drug-fueled story, an unfamiliar and dream-like landscape, filled with cruelty and danger, but ultimately too confusing to be truly enjoyable.
Oh, my citadel. I traced the glass. The blue lights glowed into my eyes. The car was rolling through White City in II-3, past the mammoth shopping complex. I never thought I’d miss the dirty gunmetal streets, but I did. I missed bidding on spirits and playing tarocchi and climbing up buildings with Nick to watch the sun sink. I wanted to get out of the car and throw myself into London’s poisoned heart.
If you’re going to read The Bone Season, the first thing you should do is forget about all the comparisons to J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter that you may have heard. I’m not sure where these came from, but this story is about as different from Harry Potter as it is possible to be. It belongs not only on a different shelf in the bookstore, but on a shelf in a bookstore on a different planet altogether. The Bone Season was quite possibly the strangest and most bewildering book I’ve ever read, and even now, as I’m trying to write this review, I’m having a hard time solidifying my reactions into words. On one hand, there were some magical moments in the story that actually brought me to tears. Shannon’s writing at times was luminescent and lovely and emotional. (Notice that I said at times.) And there was a point in the story when I finally began to like the characters. But there were also times when I felt the plot was too confusing, the writing was simply pedestrian and the characters merely frustrating. I guess what I’m trying to say is that for me, this book was inconsistent. It had the potential to be spectacular but it just didn’t quite get there. Samantha Shannon has a very bright future ahead of her, but let’s be real: she’s only twenty-one! The craft of writing takes years to develop, and although she clearly has oodles of natural talent, nothing can replace life experience and time. The fact that the reviews for The Bone Season are literally all over the place (from 0 stars to 5 stars) tells me that this is one story that will be hard for some people to connect to.
Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant who can detach her spirit and jump into other people’s minds. But clairvoyance has been outlawed in 2059 London by a group called the Scion, so Paige hides from the authorities in London’s criminal underworld and works for a man named Jax, making a living by stealing infomation from people’s minds. But when she is captured and taken to a secret city called Sheol I where voyants are little more than slaves for a race of creatures known as the Rephaim, Paige will do anything to escape the terrifying rule of the Rephaim and get back to her friends in London. Unfortunately, several things stand in her way, including the cruel leader of the Rephaim, a woman named Nashira; and Warden, the man who has been charged with taking care of and training Paige.
Here’s what really worked for me: The world-building is truly epic, but understanding it requires that you refer to the glossary of terms at the end of the book. Shannon’s imagination soars and some of her ideas are diabolically evil. For example, a group of clairvoyants called the Night Vigilance Division are guaranteed thirty years of comfort while they serve the Scion, after which they are euthanized. I also loved the role that ghosts and spirits play in The Bone Season. In this world, when a person dies his spirit doesn’t necessarily leave our plane. Thus London is riddled with spirits, spirits that can be used by voyants as weapons. There are lots of drugs in this story, too. A nasty hallucinogen called Flux keeps the user in a terminal state of panic-fueled hallucinations, and oxygen is one of the only legal mind-altering substances available.
Several of the characters needled their way into my heart, especially a street performer named Liss, a girl who Paige meets and befriends on the streets of Sheol I. I also loved Seb, an amaurotic (someone without psychic abilities) who does not fare as well as Paige and becomes a slave to the Rephaim. Their situations were heartbreaking, and I wanted to spend more time with them.
Warden, Paige’s Rephaim Keeper, really grew on me. He seems cruel and cold like all the Rephaim in the beginning, but eventually thaws out and becomes a likable character. As for Paige, I loved her spunk and determination, her loyalty and resourcefulness, and her utter refusal to perish in the harsh environment of Sheol I. If indeed this series turns out to be seven books (as planned), I see great things in store for her character.
There is no lack of inventiveness here. Shannon’s imagination seems boundless. But here’s where things started to fall apart for me. There is just too much to this story. Too many characters, too many foreign words that must either be looked up or skipped over. Too much exposition in order to explain the vast back-story of this world. Too many types of psychics to keep straight. Too many inconsistencies. And ultimately for me, too many unanswered questions.
No matter how fantastical your world, readers must be able to find something relatable in the world building, or they will never accept the author’s premise. In The Bone Season, so much is foreign that for me, at least, it was hard to grasp onto something even just a little familiar. Despite these issues, however, I am looking forward to Shannon’s next book. I want to see how she grows as a writer, because I know she’s going to be brilliant some day.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote is taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.
Here’s the book trailer, which gives you a taste of the confusion I talked about in my review: (Honestly, I find most book trailers to be odd and confusing, don’t you?)
Here’s where you can find The Bone Season: