Thursday, 24 July 2014

'The Bone Season' by Samantha Shannon (2013)

Synopsis: The Bone Season is the first book in an urban fantasy/dystopian sci-fi series. The book takes place in an alternate version of our world in the year 2059 - a version where our world is connected to a spiritual dimension known as the aether. Britain and several major European cities are being run by a dystopian government called the Scion. People with psychic powers ("clairvoyants") are being persecuted by the Scion and this has forced them to turn to organised crime for protection. Paige Mahoney is a 19 year old Irish girl who is living in Scion London. She's a dreamwalker, the rarest kind of clairvoyant, and is working for a crime lord called Jaxon Hall. But after a disastrous incident on a train, Paige is kidnapped and drugged. When she wakes up she finds herself in the lost city of Oxford. The city was supposedly destroyed 200 years ago but Paige discovers that it's now being controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race called the Rephaim. The Rephaim are waging a war against deadly creatures and are enslaving clairvoyants for their army. Paige is assigned to a mysterious Rephaite called Arcturus Warden who will be her master and trainer. But Paige is determined to escape and regain her freedom.

The Bone Season is the much-hyped debut novel by Samantha Shannon. She was still studying at Oxford University when she first began this book and was still only 21 by the time she finished it. Shannon has been called the "new J.K. Rowling" and critics have compared her book to both the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games. Andy Serkis is set to direct this book's film adaptation. I'm a huge fan of both the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games, especially the former, so I didn't think for one minute that this book was going to match the quality of those works. But the premise for The Bone Season sounded so intriguing that I knew I'd have to give it a read at some point. Overall my feelings about this book are mixed. For every positive thing that I can say about this book I can think of a negative.

I'll start with the positives. For me the very best thing about The Bone Season was its setting and atmosphere. Shannon's world is rich and elaborate and absolutely fascinating. I was very impressed by her imagination and ideas. I've never come across a book that combines fantasy, dystopia and organised crime/the Mafia before! Of course there were certain aspects of this book that felt familiar to me: the idea of people with special powers being hunted down reminded me quite a bit of The X-Men. But because of the way that Shannon combined all of these various elements together the story still felt fresh and interesting to me. Shannon's writing is vivid and atmospheric. The book has some interesting secondary characters: Jaxon, Warden and Paige's best friend Nick.

And now for the negatives. Sadly The Bone Season has some fairly major flaws. Although I admire how detailed and rich Shannon's world is the book did leave me feeling confused at times. I still wasn't entirely sure what Paige could actually do as a dreamwalker even by the end of the book, and I wouldn't know what the gifts of the different levels/types of clairvoyants are without looking at the book's flowchart. The pacing of the book isn't even either. There were times when I found this book exciting and gripping but then there were other times when I found it too slow-paced and a bit of a struggle. I liked Warden as a character but I don't think his romance with Paige was built up very well. There should have really been a few more pleasant scenes between them before their kiss. And finally, I couldn't quite make up my mind how I felt about Paige. She is determined, independent, compassionate and loyal but there were also times when I found her overly-aggressive and I struggled to understand some of her decisions. Why does Paige make things more difficult for herself? Why does she pick arguments/fights with people that she can only lose and will only put herself in danger? I'm not saying I want a perfect heroine who never makes mistakes but at the very least I want to understand why a heroine says and does things.

For all its faults The Bone Season is a hugely imaginative book and I see a lot of potential in this new series. I can't say that the book completely won me over but I will be reading its sequel The Mime Order.

Rating: 3/5

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