I wasn’t sure what to expect from Samantha Shannon’s debut novel “The Bone Season.” Before reading it, I knew the following information:
- Samantha Shannon, only 21, wrote the book when she was a student at Oxford University
- The dude who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis, owns the film rights for the book.
- Shannon plans to write six more books in the series which leads many critics to call her the next J.K. Rowling.
- “The Bone Season” was selected as The Today Show’s first Book Club book.
- Shannon does not consider her book “literary.”
- The book is set in 2059 in an authoritarian ruled London where clairvoyants are outlaws. The main character in the book, Paige Mahoney, just happens to be a “voyant” (slang for clairvoyant) and one of the rarest kinds, a Dream Walker.
- The reviews of the promise and worth of this book are way mixed.
As soon as I saw the complex web of clairvoyant hierarchy before the map of Sheol, I again didn’t know what to expect. Most books that contain maps and character webs bore me and thrill my husband, who loves intricate sci-fi/fantasy books. I, however, tried to suspend my judgement and give the book a chance.
The first-person narration begins in London, where Paige is a member of The Seven Dials Voyant gang under the leadership (or wrath) of mime-lord, Jaxon Hall. In the first few chapters she is captured because she accidentally murders two Underguards.
After significant punishment, she is thrust into a secret clairvoyant penal colony called Sheol 1, run by the Rephaim, an ancient society with many secrets. This society enslaves voyants and trains them to fend off the Emim, fearsome creatures who skulk around the perimeter of the city. The blood consort, “Warden,” selects Paige from this Bone Season’s voyants to be his slave.
This comes with many mysteries as well. Why does he want her? What role does Nashira, the blood sovereign play in this selection? Will Paige ever find a way out from this voyant prison?
First, I must admit that I love the whole ESP/clairvoyant storyline. When I was in fifth grade I read Lois Duncan’s “A Gift of Magic,” in which the main character, Nancy, struggles with her ESP gift. I wanted to be Nancy and even though she had ESP I could relate to her trials in the book.
Something about Shannon’s book made Paige, who is scrappy and vulnerable, but determined and quick to learn violence and leadership, unreachable. Shannon developed Paige way more extensively than any of the other characters and when I wasn’t able to relate to her, it was hard for me to get a sense of the overwhelming amount of secondary characters in this book.
I also couldn’t decide which society she presented was worse — the 1984-esque world of 2059 London, or the Rephiam-controlled Sheol 1. Both seemed terrible, so the need to return to one or leave the other seemed odd to me. Not to mention Shannon’s writing style, which induced a few eye-rolling moments because of the writing cliches and descriptions, lack of momentum or the watery love stories in the book that seem forced and a little creepy for various reasons.
After I read “The Bone Season” and set it aside for a day, I kept thinking about the events of the book, and the limitless possibilities Shannon has for the other six books she plans to write (which will take her entire 20s to complete). Rather than any sort of annoyance or focus placed on the fact that she is only 21, I felt in awe of the imaginative landscape that she conceived.
I thought of how cool the movie will be, and I thought of the scores of young adults and adults alike who will read this book and be impressed, baffled, possibly put off and in awe of the worlds Shannon created at such a young age. Anyone who has the power to get people reading seven fantasy books, talking about their worth and comparing them to some of the greatest dystopias or fantasy literature ever written is truly a magician in my mind, and when that one person is only 21, well, the word that comes to mind is genius.
If you are not seeking a literary masterpiece, but want to be transported to a terrifying dystopia that is reminiscent of “The Hunger Games,” “1984,” “A Clockwork Orange” (because of the new language Shannon created, this book comes complete with a voyant slang dictionary in the back) and possibly even a little dash of “Divergent,” this is the book for you.