I would like to start by saying Samantha Shannon is a fantastically talented author who, should she continue to write (which is likely, with six more books in this series and a confirmed movie deal), will have a great body of work ahead of her.
Okay, this sounds bad doesn’t it? It sounds as if I’m apologising in advance for how much I disliked this book.
I read The Bone Season in one weekend cover to cover and found the world-building skills of Shannon to be an enthralling mixture of some of my favourite imagined worlds. I couldn’t decide if it was like Harry Potter meets X-Men or Hunger Games…or no, no, Twilight and Oliver Twist! So yes, I did enjoy this book – there are, however, a few big BUTS…
The story follows Paige Mahoney, a 19 year-old old living in central London of 2059. Her cover story is that she works as a server in a flavoured ‘oxygen bar’. The truth is, Paige is a clairvoyant, employed as surveillance for Jaxon, a mime-lord, leader of the Seven Seals gang and crime boss of the psychic underworld (think Fagan with paranormal abilities). This future London is controlled by Scion however, a despotic, fascist government intent on cracking down on ‘unnaturals’ and it would seem, eradicating them.
Captured by Scion and expecting torture and execution, Paige is instead taken to old Oxford, a town, apparently destroyed by fire and left abandoned for the last 200 years. Here we meet the ominous Rephaim (imagine Elven vampires) and the boogy-men monsters, the Enim. This is where a complicated story becomes increasingly hard to follow. I love a good plot-twist as much as the next bibliophile but with the introduction of numbers instead of names and an unbelievable gothic non-starter romance thrown in, there is just no seamless flow.
When I discovered this was a debut novel by a 21 yr old author, my frustration and irritation with an otherwise great read made perfect sense. To be clear, I don’t blame the author. What Samantha Shannon may lack in writing experience could have easily been made up for by a stronger editorial team.
I found myself wanting to rip pages out and rearrange them. The world built up by this author is complex and our introduction to the mechanics of it all is unnecessarily haphazard and disjointed. Also, Shannon ignored the cardinal Rule of Whedon, “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” The Bone Season is unrelentingly depressing. Don’t expect any lighter moments to get you through the harsh reality of life as a psychic ‘unnatural’. As I see it, this is an important aspect of world-building because it determines whether or not you want to inhabit or re-visit the universe created by the author. With seven books in the series dedicated to this dire, dystopian landscape, I think Ms Shannon should have been a little more mindful of this. To be fair, franchises like The Hunger Games haven’t done too badly in spite of their bleak subject matter.
The ending was another issue. That’s to say – there wasn’t one. Speaking as a rabid consumer of trilogies and part-works – a book should still have some kind of satisfying, intriguing conclusion, even if it is the first in a series.
All this said, The Bone Season has already found a popular audience and as mentioned, there is still a lot to like about it. Shannon writes good prose that can only get better with time and the premise behind series is a good one. Where this books fails is execution, something that could resolve itself with some care and attention as the series progresses. There is real potential here and I would still be interested to see where it all goes.