Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone SeasonTitle: The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon

Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Alternate History

Publication Date: August 20, 2013

Source: print ARC from the publisher

Synopsis: 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.

☆: 3/5 stars – Enjoyable, but it needs stronger writing and a bit more forward momentum

This may be one of the most hyped-up books of the year and until I got it, I honestly thought it was a YA novel. If only that were a joke. Only upon getting it did I learn better, but that’s okay because of the strong crossover appeal The Bone Season has going for it. It’s best to leave behind any thoughts of her being the next JK Rowling at the door because if you come in expecting that, you’re gonna have a bad time. If you come in as blind as you possible can in the midst of all the hype, you’ll find a pretty fun book after you get through the worst bits.

The first chapter might lose you due to the massive amounts of inelegant infodump about the world Paige lives in. So much gets thrown at us not just in the first chapter but throughout the novel that some information fails to stick. If the levels of clairvoyance and what gifts certain levels/certain types of clairvoyants have were clearly explained at some point, I can’t remember half of it. It would have helped to have some chart at the beginning of the book to explain them in addition to the maps of Scion London.

Shannon’s style could also use some work. Her prose is a little simplistic, there are some rookie mistakes like having Paige list off her appearance while looking at her ID card, and “I” is what starts a sentence so often that the lack of sentence variety is noticeable when I normally don’t notice such things. It happened so often that I’ve got bookmarks of entire paragraphs where every sentence or almost every sentence starts with that one word. Despite the novel being in first-person, it can be hard to get into her head and really understand her. She’s a tough girl who takes everything that’s thrown at her with relative ease compared to her fellow clairvoyants, but that’s her most outstanding trait.

All those problems? They’re a pretty good summary of the first half of the novel. It’s the second half of the novel that really shows off Shannon’s strengths as a writer and will pull readers in. It’s a shame they’ll have to wade through the worst parts to get to the fun!

If there’s anything the author can write with skill and aplomb, it’s fight scenes. Oh wow, is it fight scenes! The face-off between Paige and her former gang was hands-down one of my favorite scenes of the novel and it’s been bookmarked for future rereads, along with pretty much the entire climactic scene. If she can write actiony novels for the rest of her career, call me a fan and pre-order the rest of her books for me and I will be a happy kitten.

Her worldbuilding is likely what draws all the JK Rowling comparisons. Though not necessarily on that level (yet; it took multiple books for Rowling’s worldbuilding to come back together in its brilliant way and it might do the same here), this alternate world in which Prince Edward VII was Jack the Ripper and also clairvoyant according to the official line has a deep well of potential ready to be drawn from. Had it all been given to the reader in a manner less like dumping a hundred books on their head, it would be one of the most memorable fictional worlds I’ve explored this year!

Then there’s the slow-burn romance between Paige and her keeper Warden. Though Warden’s character and past is unraveled bit by bit throughout the novel and he shows a more human side uncommon among the often-vicious Rephaim, the romance between them still makes me a little uncomfortable. It’s almost like Stockholm Syndrome to me, which is a deal-breaker to me. Keeping it platonic might have been a better idea, but I’m the reviewer, not the author. Oh well!

The Bone Season leaves things on a pretty decent cliffhanger, though not as murderous as some I’ve come across before. There’s so much uncertainty about where they’ll go from here and who will be okay that– You know what? Better stop there. Don’t want to give too much away! If you’re one to let weak writing slide when the worldbuilding is strong enough, this is going to be a very good book for you. Like tough female leads who can take pretty much everything hurled at them with ease? Enjoy! If you don’t fall in either, it’s a little more complicated.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

  1. I’m scanning this review because I just got an ARC and am SUPER excited to start it. I have also heard that their is a fair amount of info-dumping, but I do love good world building so I’m willing to overlook that most of the time. And I opened up the book to find not one but TWO maps plus a a chart thingy which is AWESOME because ALL fantasy/ urban fantasy books should have maps, imo:)

    Sorry, rambling. I’ll be back to check out your review after I’ve read the book:)

  2. Okay, finally, I’m feeling better about my choice to pass on this ARC. The reviews have been so positive, but I read the first few pages and was like “no thanks” because of the simple sentences. Plus, at BEA, I picked up an ARC and flipped closer to the end and the writing still seemed horrible (for me anyway), so I passed it on to someone else. Sounds like it never gets any better. The story may be worth it, but I don’t know that I can see past that. I find simple sentences grating.

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