The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
Series: The Bone Season, #1
Published: 2013, Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Source: LibraryGoodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble
Knowledge is dangerous. Once you know something, you can't get rid of it. You have to carry it. Always.
Samantha Shannon is no J.K. Rowling. As with Rowling, despite her authorial inexperience the British Shannon has famously received a publishing contract for a seven-book fantasy series. There all comparisons between Shannon and Rowling end, though, as they should. Shannon is not Rowling, but acknowledging Shannon for herself is not a bad thing.
In an alternate not-too-distant future, many of the world’s inhabitants find themselves under the rule of a harsh ruling body known as Scion. Scion is ostensibly there to protect so-called natural people from those unnaturals (clairvoyants) who possess the ability to communicate with the spirit world. Paige Mahoney is not only one of those clairvoyants, but she’s also a rare type called a dreamwalker, able to sense the presence of other clairvoyants (called voyants) by allowing her spirit to leave her body. For her own protection against a government that wishes her dead, Paige has spent the past few years working for the voyant criminal underworld.
The dangerous but carefully constructed life that she has made for herself disappears in an instant when Paige finds herself cornered by the NVD (voyants under the employ of Scion who seek out all the clairvoyants in hiding) and displays her very powerful skills. Shortly thereafter, Paige is captured and taken away from her London home to a prison in Oxford called Sheol I. She learns that the persecution and harm done to clairvoyants by Scion is only a fraction of all the dangers facing voyants. For in Sheol I, immortal beings called Rephaim have the power to not only drain the voyants’ auras, but also command them to fight against an even more sinister otherworldly enemy.
There is simply no way that any brief synopsis I’d write would truly encompass all this story is about — there’s far too much going on here in Shannon’s debut. And I loved that. I love how ambitious this story is. In under 500 pages Shannon has introduced readers not merely to a fantasy world, but to an alternate reality of our world. Certain things have remained the same, certain progress has proceeded as normal, but they’re juxtaposed with magical events that have become fact, such as the existence of a type of person who has the ability to affect the aether (spirit world). It’s all very complex and fascinating and I found myself curious to try to spot the differences and similarities between this world and ours.
Shannon does have a tendency to overload readers with worldbuilding from time to time (the beginning one hundred pages in particular read really slowly), but I’ll always be of the opinion that it’s better to have too much information than too little. If anything, I wanted even more information on this world that Shannon has built. I wanted to know about this world’s foundations, and Scion’s claim that Edward VII’s reign is to blame for the appearance of clairvoyants. I wanted to better understand the history the Scion and the Rephiam have. I wanted to know more about the different types of voyants themselves. Shannon provides her readers with enough information to make sense of The Bone Season, perhaps, but I still expected more.
Not only is Shannon’s work rooted in history (what was and what could have been), but it seems to contain Biblical undertones. Although the Rephaim are never described as being Biblical or angels, it was all too easy for me to make associations to the vengeful angel warriors. The otherworldly enemies that the Rephaim force the voyants to fight are called Emim, another word with Biblical roots. It will be interesting to see how Shannon continues to describe these beings and their histories as the series continues.
I classify Shannon’s story as a fantasy, but it does have dystopian elements throughout. Paige’s world as a whole seems pretty bleak for clairvoyants, who either are forced to work for Scion as NVDs (a guaranteed life of 30 years, if they help the government track down other voyants), imprisoned, killed, or sent to the penal colony of Sheol I. Sheol I is not an option known to most voyants, but it is perhaps the worst of them all. Shannon does not forgo describing any of the horrors that voyants captured there have, nor the hierarchy and tests that make up their very existence. It’s frankly a pretty terrifying world for Paige and her fellow captive clairvoyants.
I quite liked Paige’s character. Through her, Shannon has skillfully mediated the line between another cliched fighter and the non-fighter too weak to stand on her own two feet. Paige knows how to protect herself on a basic level after living outside the law with her criminal voyant syndicate. She knows how to make her spirit leave her body so that she make seek out other voyant auras. But she’s still naive at the beginning of the story. She starts seeing the bigger picture of life for voyants in Scion, in Sheol I, and beyond, instead of focusing solely on her own needs. She learns how to take full advantage of her powers. She comes to see her Rephaim captor, Warden, not solely as an enemy, but as a captive himself of the system. And Paige finds that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to right some of these wrongs. Of course, there’s still much for Paige to learn as the first book reaches its conclusion.
Outside of Paige’s character, however, the other characters all felt a bit flat. I had trouble remembering who Paige’s friends were in Sheol I, and also the exact members of Paige’s voyant syndicate back in London. Shannon tried to make them distinct, but the focus of this story is really on Paige herself and her personal growth, and it seems that Shannon may need a bit more experience (and books) to convincingly focus on both characters and plot.
Debut or not, this series shows potential. The worldbuilding is fascinating (if not fully fleshed-out just yet), the conflicts surrounding clairvoyants, the Scion governmental system, the Rephaim, and the Emim have all been set up and I’m curious to see where Shannon takes them. Time will only tell if Shannon’s series will live up to the same standards set by the Harry Potter series, but for now I just know that I was entertained enough to see what happens to Paige and her world next.
Rating: 4 stars