Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season

Genre: Fantasy, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: August 2013

From the jacket: 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.

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When I first started hearing about Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season I confess my curiosity was piqued. But I was skeptical. Bloomsbury has been promoting the heck out of it but reviews have been devisive. Shannon has been heralded as the next J.K. Rowling. ANDY SERKIS has already purchased the film option. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. My reservations initially stemmed from the fact that Samantha Shannon is TWENTY ONE YEARS OLD. Not to say that no young writer can accomplish a great work but that the accolades feel a bit premature based upon the merits of one novel. However, I found that I couldn't put The Bone Season down.
The Bone Season is the first of a proposed seven book series. With that in mind I began to read the novel. A parallel version of London and Oxford is shown, being created by a rift in Victorian times - a son of Queen Victoria is revealed to have been Jack the Ripper and a user of black magic, allowing for a schism to occur and clairvoyance to flood the world. I don't want to fall prey to summary as I have provided the book jacket summary for the novel above. But It is definitely front-loaded with a lot of info dump. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. I found myself referring time and time again to the appendices that provide the reader with a glossary as well as a dichotomy and hierarchy of the seven orders of clairvoyance. The world-building that is present in the novel is more than impressive. It is multidimensional and layered and pulled me in almost instantaneously.
That being said, the only area of the world-building which fell a little flat for me was the fact that Paige and her fellow "voyants" as they are referred to in the novel, are in hiding. With the powers that they possessed I was surprised that they were the underdogs of society resorting to a life of crime in organized syndicates rather than being top-dog. As I progressed through the novel, some of the reasoning behind this became clear, so at least the areas in which the world-building is weak can be tweaked or revealed at a later time.

The Bone Season is a great debut in the fantasy and speculative fiction genres. To continue to compare it to Harry Potter and The Hunger Games does Shannon and The Bone Season a disservice. It is a compelling work of imagination and I look forward to the rest of the series (and the movie!).