The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
|Book Name:||The Bone Season|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||YA Science Fiction / Dystopia|
|Release Date:||August 20, 2013|
Paige Mahoney is one of the rarest and most powerful clairvoyants in the known world. She is the infamous Pale Dreamer, known for her ability to control the minds of others.
In the futuristic landscape of Scion London, unnaturals like Paige are policed with Orwellian ferocity. Paige is the second-in-command of the Seven Dials syndicate, an outlawed group of psychics who work together in the secrecy of the underground crime scene. Her life is a dangerous one, but it’s the best she can possibly hope for when Scion could kill her simply for existing.
When she accidentally kills a member of the Scion police, Paige is and taken to The Tower.
Smash cut to Sheol I, where the rest of the book takes place. Forget the futuristic realm of Sci-Lo, we’ve just been catapulted into a vaudevillian underground world that was once known as the lost city of Oxford. Sheol I is run by the mysterious Rephaim, ancient beings that have been holding court in Sheol for centuries, and puppeteering the Scion government while they were at it. The Rephaim use Scion’s law enforcement agencies to capture powerful voyants for their army. Once captured, the voyants will be conscripted to protect their oppressors from supernatural beasts called Emim, who squeeze through inter-dimensional cracks and invade our realm.
Paige is taken in by one of Sheol’s elite, known to her as Warden. Initially frosty and cruel, Warden (predictably) warms up to Paige, and the beginnings of a romance are established. The development of Warden and Paige’s trust in one another was painfully slow. This messed with the timing of the novel, and the story becomes jerky and out-of-sync.
Sound confusing? That’s because it is.
The jumps between Scion and Sheol, between Oxford and Seven Dials, are frequent and difficult to follow. The murky caste system of the voyant society is imaginative, but seemingly arbitrary, so it’s quite difficult to remember which type of voyant does what, and where they might rank in terms of their value to Sheol society.
On top of this frenzied worldbuilding, The Bone Season is a non-linear narrative. So the reader not only has to contend with multiple worlds and complex social systems, but shifting times as well?
Before The Bone Season was published, Samantha Shannon was tentatively identified as “The Next J K Rowling”. Aside from the fact that both authors were picked up by Bloomsbury, I don’t really see any similarities between them. Shannon herself has identified that she finds this comparison stressful, and I don’t blame her. As a breakout author, being compared to the most successful fantasy author in the last fifty years sets some pretty damn high expectations.
I love reading female protagonists. I am a huge fan of dystopia. I am so intrigued by the concept of the post-apocalyptic world that I think I’d probably be excited if I found out there was an impending zombie plague. I’ve always been mystified by the concept of the supernatural, both in and out of the context of literature. I have a bizarre fixation with angels. And more than anything, perhaps, I love a good rebellion. So I was disappointed when I didn’t love The Bone Season the first time around.
Things changed when I read it again, in preparation for its sequel, The Mime Order. I still feel that the worldbuilding was choppy and shallow at first, and then unnecessarily detailed as the book progressed – a quality that I find difficult to overcome. Fantasy authors should show readers their world, not tell them about it. I can’t remember who said this, but I think that they were spot on.
For two thirds of The Bone Season, Shannon tells the reader in lengthy, sometimes clumsy paragraphs, all about Scion and Sheol I. The story grinds to a halt while the reader is, quite literally, lectured about the various caste systems of each society (different, but equally detailed), about the seemingly endless types of voyants, and the many translations of the terminology used by each level of each caste of each system.
Reading The Bone Season for a second time, I can feel Shannon’s relationship with her world. Her passion for it, her desire to bring her readers into Sheol I, is alive in the pages of her book. This is a wonderful thing, but for the first two thirds of the book, she falls into the same trap that Robert Jordan did toward the end of the Wheel of Time saga – both Shannon and Jordan created rich, detailed worlds, but in doing so, forgot about the stories that brought them there in the first place.
Like Jordan, I think Shannon could experience some issues with pacing, but hers will be in reverse. Robert Jordan forgot what was happening in WoT, and went rambling with his characters. He led us through his immersive landscape in the process, but his readers were left wondering about what was happening to their beloved protagonists.
Pacing in The Bone Season is quite different – it’s all very quick. In the space of one book, the author tells us about the establishment of a fascist government in London (Scion), Scion’s failure to take root in Ireland (the Molly Riots), the existence of an ancient and formidable race called the Rephaim, the troubling relationship that they have with Scion, the existence of an underground city under their control, the criminal world of the rebel voyants, the history of the rebellion against the Rephaim, when and where the language of Scion came from, and all of the many ways in which one can be clairvoyant. Fascinating stuff, but it feels irrelevant, because there is no accompanying story – at least, not for the first two thirds of the novel.
Now that I’ve finished The Bone Season for a second time, I’ve taken a step back. I’ve been reading it so closely this whole time that all I could see were its faults. But this is one part of Shannon’s writing, and I now realize that there is so, so much more to it.
In the final third of The Bone Season, Paige steps off the page. Her spirit unspools itself and slams into your dreamscape, and suddenly, you’re there with her. Warden, Paige’s brooding Reph keeper, is revealed to have a depth of character that I did not expect of him. A rebellion has broken, and its second wave is brewing. Paige is in a kind of triumphant state of shambles, and everything is up in the air. She’s got a million choices to make, and whichever way she turns are the tips of the many swords surrounding her.
Take a second chance on The Bone Season. I did, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.