WELCOME TO SCION.
NO SAFER PLACE.
In this review post you’ll find:
A ‘things you need to know’ section
It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.
But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.
Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.
The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine—a young woman learning to harness her powers in a world where everything has been taken from her. It 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.
Doesn’t that sound incredible?? Yeah, I thought so too. By the end of the book, I felt it was a tad misleading…
But anyway, before I get into my review, there are two things that need to be addressed in regard to The Bone Season:
1) I want to put the Harry-Potter-level hype surrounding this book in its proper context by expressing that The Bone Season is not, in any way, shape, or form, a true rival of Harry Potter (except, perhaps, the hype).
You may be wondering why I bothered to mention HP in the first place. Well, Samantha Shannon is from the UK, The Bone Season is the first in a 7 book series, it deals with fantastical elements, it has a HUGE marketing campaign, and the book (or at least the idea behind it) seemed so impressive to certain people they decided, 'We're going to make this into a movie' AND 'We're going to translate this into 17 different languages.'
So, you see, mentioning HP was kind of necessary, really...because many believe that she is or is going to become the next J.K. Rowling.
But as I said, The Bone Season is not comparable. If you begin reading this novel with the notion that you're about to be sucked into a world of genius remotely as epic as Harry Potter (and I define epic, in part, by its ability to reach across generations), you will be disappointed.
You will be. Trust me. (And if you aren’t…my condolences on many levels.)
So don't do that. Begin reading The Bone Season like you would any other first novel of a series.
2) The Bone Season is a lot like Shadow and Bone.
WHAT? I cannot believe you just made such a ludicrous claim! Take it back.
Ok, I admit that I had about the same reaction when I read a review that mentioned the similarity(ies). Of course I *had* noted some similarities, but I hadn't realized just how many there are.
Bottom line: If you liked Shadow and Bone, you'll probably like The Bone Season. If you didn't...well, there are still loads of things that *aren't* similar to Shadow and Bone...so you may still like it.
Personally, I generally don't care if a book is similar/uncannily similar to a previous one, especially if factors like geographic distance are part of the equation (Hunger Games and Battle Royale, anyone?).
Every author borrows. Every single one. I don't think that Samantha Shannon even knew about Shadow and Bone when she wrote The Bone Season. And again, I don't much care because she still made her own story out of it; it isn’t a rip-off copy.
And because this needs Axel snark...Kioku shita ka?
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me also express that The Bone Season is more of a mature read--not really because of the themes it deals with, but because of the grittiness of the content. I was genuinely concerned that the protagonist was going to tear the lining of her esophagus because she threw up so many times.
That said, it might have a wider audience range than most YA novels because it has a lighter version of the grittiness of a novel like Game of Thrones for adults, and the age/dilemmas/themes it contains are typically presented to young adults.
*I was given an ARC copy to read in exchange for an honest review.*
AND NOW, what you've been patiently (or impatiently) waiting for: my review :3!
Overall concept and Worldbuilding
From the very first page, I was immersed into an alternate universe that held the potential creative power of an atom bomb. The concept of voyants (clairvoyants, that is) is brilliant, and the lockdown on all things ‘supernatural’ has a rich dystopian flavor to it.
Here’s a peek: The Bone Season has an intricate alternate geo-political history, mafia-like crime syndicates, a secret organization in underground London very few people know about, an invasion (of sorts) behind the organization known as Scion that very few people know about, and it’s full of the paranormal.
The world-building took a lot of effort, and for creating something on such a colossal scale I shove handfuls of kudos into Shannon's arms. I was particularly impressed by the complexity of the Orders of Clairvoyance and her delivery of details about it.
In order to understand the world that Shannon has created, you will be required to do a lot of page flipping--to the chart of the orders, back to the story...to the glossary (yes, there's a glossary! Nerd on), and back to the story...to the chart...
You get the idea.
And although that's a bit tedious, I can't deny I had fun page-flipping and putting the pieces of the story and the world together on my own.
I do have mixed feelings about Shannon's creativity, though, because she combines several ideas that have already been featured in stories--such as aether, paranormal powers, various species/creatures, invasions--and twists them enough to make a new story, which is an epic feat when you think about it, but the results aren't quite so epic.
The result is good, but it isn't *great*; it's clever, but it isn't *genius* because the ideas aren't quite stretched enough.
Does that make sense?
Let me put it this way: The Bone Season honestly reminds me of Shadow and Bone, Divergent, Twilight, Game of Thrones, The Sword of Truth series, and Under the Never Sky all at the same time (and as a bonus, I'll throw in Prince of Persia because of the parkour skills).
It's incredible she managed to fit all that and a bit more into her story, but most of it doesn't feel unique enough to be her own in a gripping this-is-the-coolest-idea-ever kind of way.
The only thing (other than the alternate timeline, which I love) that really caught my attention was, in fact, the clairvoyance. That was just too brilliant to ignore.
There were a couple of holes in the world-building, but overall I found it to be solid, if only for its layered complexity.
Prose and Dialogue
Shannon’s dialogue is wonderful. It’s believable, fluid, and purposeful. People don’t get together and chat for no apparent reason; the dialogue always adds to the plot, the worldbuilding, and/or the characterization in some meaningful way.
So I really enjoyed the dialogue. The prose, touted by a two-time Booker Prize nominee and the publishing director that introduced The Bone Season to me via letter (I received an ARC copy) was disappointing, however, if only because my hopes of it being as incredible as those two made it out to be were not met.
The prose is not egregious in any way. It’s good, actually. But it certainly doesn’t reflect “innate storytelling ability,” and it didn’t show me who Paige was. I never got a strong sense of her character despite the fact that the novel is told from her perspective. Guys…that’s a problem.
When done well, prose told from the first person reveals the personality of the speaker. The smoldering intensity of that character’s personality is uncontainable. But I just couldn’t grasp Paige through the prose. I tried to, but she was like this wisp that tingled my fingers before fading away.
My other beef with the prose was the method of exploration. Some pieces were stunningly good, but for the most part, mum was not the word when it came to this--info-dumping was.
Readers have a lot ground to cover in the first chapter to even begin to understand what's going on in this alternate London history, but drowning them in information-filled paragraphs that explain everything from the origin of Scion and beyond is unnecessary.
It’s not uncommon to find a novel that has an exceptional plot and great worldbuilding…and mediocre characterization.
Mediocre is probably the fairest word I can use to describe the characterization in The Bone Season. It’s my one major critique of this novel because I found its characters to be almost completely unsympathetic.
I honestly didn't relate to a single one of them--NOT EVEN THE PROTAGONIST--despite clear, albeit ill-timed attempts to create such connections by the author.
Normally this sense of apathy overtakes me because of crappy dialogue; however, this isn't Shannon's problem. As I expressed before, her dialogue is fantastic: it's concise, realistic, well-flavored, and isn't loaded down with tags.
The problem is that she didn't reveal enough about characters soon enough for me to care...before they were thrown into "the ring of fire." She showed me afterward. Ok, like at the end of the book (if you think I’m kidding, I assure you I’m not). And even more tragically, some characters never even got that. But it really doesn't matter, because regardless, afterward is too late.
To be fair, there were still things about the characters that were intriguing; Warden is so enigmatic it would be difficult to remain entirely nonplussed.
Overall, I was disappointed with the characters because I couldn’t hold on to any of them. I didn’t know who they were, what they wanted, or why they cared.
I don't have much to say here because I don't want to spoil anything. Here's what you need to know:
The Bone Season has a strangely compelling plot. It will stay in your mind long after you read it, and will also nudge your thoughts several times a day before you finish it.
The structure doesn’t deliver anything too sparkly; lots of things were predictable. Shannon will surprise you with a gem or two of sheer brilliance along the way, however. Flower power! *ahem*
The ending was excellent. (The beginning of the book was definitely my favorite part, though. New worlds are irresistible!)
About the Author
Samantha Shannon was born and raised in West London. She recently finished her degree in English Language and Literature at St Anne's College, Oxford, where she specialised in Emily Dickinson and Principles of Film Criticism.
In 2012 she signed a book deal with Bloomsbury Publishing to publish the first three books in a seven-book series, beginning with 'The Bone Season'. Film rights to the novel were optioned by Andy Serkis's London-based production company, The Imaginarium Studios, in November 2012.
Connect with Shannon on...
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Literary Lushes provided the ARC for me to write and share this review. Visit their fantastically bookish site! You can see more tour reviews here.