Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season created some waves and garnered some positive reviews when it originally came out last year. But for some reason, everything about the book felt like déjà vu and I was reticent to give it a shot. In addition, a lot of the rave reviews came from sources that don't often cover speculative fiction, which is always sort of a red flag for me.
Still, I remained intrigued. So when I received the paperback edition, I decided to bring it with me on my trip to the Middle East. Sadly, as expected, it wasn't anything special. To kill time on the bus, the book was all right. But it's nowhere near as original as some of those reviews make it out to be. The Bone Season is just another dystopian near-future novel featuring numerous plotlines that we've seen many times before.
Here's the blurb:
The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing. It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die. The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine and also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.
The worldbuilding is the most interesting aspect of this work. These days, dystopian SFF novels are a dime a dozen, but Samantha Shannon came up with a new concept. Clairvoyants have now been outlawed in Scion London and elsewhere around the world. Forced to become part of the criminal underworld, many clairvoyants now comprise a number of syndicates, all headed by an Underlord who keeps them safe from the authorities. There are various orders of clairvoyance, and that's where Shannon's imagination really shines through. The secret event behind the creation of Scion is also quite interesting (can't say more without spoiling the plot), although its execution leaves a little to be desired. As a dreamwalker, an extremely rare kind of clairvoyant, Paige doesn't yet know just how far her powers will take her, and the reader learns as she does just how powerful she can ultimately become.
The characterization is the weakest link of this book. Paige Mahoney is 19 years old, with all the adolescent angst that comes with that period of one's life. I'm not saying Paige isn't a well-drawn character. It's just that like any girl of that age, she can be decidedly dumbass stupid when her emotions get the better of her and she can get so annoying at times that you just want to bitch-slap her. And since The Bone Season features the first-person narrative of Paige alone, it does make it awfully difficult to root for this girl. Following her POV will often make you grit your teeth and grumble in frustration.
Although there is some violence and a brief pseudo sex scene, Samantha Shannon's writing style is definitely YA. The novel is quite accessible and I have a feeling that her publishers are hoping to ride the wave of new genre readers that Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games created. I'm persuaded that a teenage public, one not familiar with urban fantasy powerhouses, would devour The Bone Seasons and the six promised sequels. As far as an older, more well-read, and more discerning audience is concerned, I'm afraid that Shannon's debut doesn't offer as much.
The pace is crisp for the most part, though there are a number of chapters where the rhythm slows to a bit of a crawl. Also, the author has a very hard time weaving all the important worldbuilding elements into the narrative, which forces her to rely on occasionally massive info-dumps that I truly found off-putting. Past the midway point of the novel, as the story is headed toward the finale, a lot of storylines unfortunately also become quite predictable.
In the end, Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season is a light read that could be a nice vacation novel. If you are looking for something pretty straightforward but with a few unexpected surprises here and there, The Bone Season could be a wonderful beach book. Not dense or multilayered by any stretch of the imagination, yet at times original and entertaining, it would also work rather well for the daily commute. Just don't expect anything truly dark and inventive and fascinating.