By: Samantha Shannon
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The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.
It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.
THE BONE SEASON is my first book for the 2016 British Books Challenge, and I’m so glad that this challenge finally gave me the drive to read it! A few years ago, just a month or two after this book came out, I actually managed to get an almost-pristine new copy of this book (hardback) in Tesco for only £1.99 in their clearance section. There were copies of it in the normal book section for the standard £15 (or however much it was at the time), but because this one copy had a tiny tear in the bottom corner, and an almost un-noticeable dent in the hardback, its price was reduced! Now that I’ve finally got around to reading it, I’m certain that I’d pay the full price for it.
There’s a lot to be admired in this book, the first of a seven-book series. It’s definitely an experimental book, one that Samantha Shannon (who was only nineteen when she wrote it!) has taken a lot of risks with, blending genres together and exploring some very interesting storylines and characters. When I was reading it, there wasn’t much that I really didn’t like. It was a bit of a struggle to get to grips with what was happening at first, trying to decode the world of Scion London and the different types of clairvoyants that exist. But through some really great writing and very entertaining characters, things begin to smooth themselves out and weave into a really masterful story in the second half, with an ending leaving me eager for more!
I went into this book having no idea what it was about, and spent about half of it still not really having any idea what it was about. But, like, in a really good way? I got the general concept, that Paige is clairvoyant, and that’s a bad thing in Scion London where she lives. But then she gets whisked away to Oxford, a city that was thought to have been destroyed but is now infested by Rephaim, creatures from another dimension who act — and, worryingly, are treated — as deities. The Rephaim take voyants from SciLondon every twenty years in what is known as the ‘Bone Season’, and have been doing so for 200 years. Paige’s ‘keeper’ is a Rephaite called Warder, and he’s a bit of a meanie at first, but is really a nice guy at heart. Okay, I got all that. It’s just all the rest I couldn’t understand. Dreamscapes, and aura’s, and spirits. But Samantha Shannon created it all, and made the story around it all in such a beautiful way that even though I wasn’t completely sure of what was going on, I was constantly interested and never felt like not knowing what was going on was in any way hindering the book. I recently watched an interview with Shannon from a few years ago, around when the book was coming out, where she mentioned that at one point during writing she felt like she was really ‘onto something good’, and that’s kind of exactly how I felt reading it. Things were happening, and it was all a bit crazy and sometimes muddled up, but I felt like it was really onto something special and I knew that it was going to click in my mind. And then it did. Everything fit together perfectly, and the world that Shannon had been building eventually fell into perfect place, and it all became exactly what I was hoping for.
One of the main aspects of the book, and possibly the aspect that I liked the most, is the setting. The main setting, where the majority of the book takes place, is Oxford. There’s a neat, handy map at the front showing where the main houses of residence are, as well as a few other places important in the story. But through the text, Oxford is built in such a detailed and interesting way that my main thought was that I really want to go there and see the places that Paige goes! (Google Maps tells me that it would only take me 5 hours and 43 minutes to get there from my house.) It’s such an old place with such a rich history, which Samantha Shannon respects and builds upon to engineer such a great setting for the book. The other place where the book takes place is Scion London, in the year 2059. Honestly, I loved the feeling of SciLondon. It’s got this really cool Victorian-era vibe, while still being futuristic, and the way that Shannon describes the characters in bowler hats and cravats and the like was honestly just a lot of fun.
One of the few problems I had with the book was the characters. For the main part, they were great and I loved reading them, but there were times when I felt myself getting frustrated with them. I think with a lot of books, a first person narrative can often fall into a place where the writer connects with the character so much that they can sort of disconnect them from the reader. It’s a problem that I’ve had myself when writing, and I don’t think there’s any way to avoid it, but in this book there were times where I felt that Paige was too distant from me. And I’ll be honest, she was kind of annoying to read at times. There’s a massive cast of side-characters, too, and they’re all fairly enjoyable to read — if maybe a little under-developed at times. Due to the scope of the novel, the side-characters often disappear from the narrative for a while, so for characters like Liss, she’s in it for a while when Paige first arrives in Oxford, then she’s not, and then she’s suddenly in Spirit Shock. Characters like Jaxon and Nick aren’t in the text a whole lot because they stay in London when Paige goes to Oxford, but because she’s constantly thinking of them and applying her life with them to her new life without them, they feel much more important and like they have a much bigger role in the text. (Plus, Jaxon has this awesome vibe around him. He’s not the nicest person, but he’s definitely one of my favourites to read!) In Oxford, Paige’s Raphaite keeper Warden is another character who I wasn’t entirely hooked on at first, never really trusting him. Throughout the book, his role grows more and more important, and there’s a side-story going on underneath the main story concerning his revolution against Nashira, the leader of the Rephaim.
Overall, this book was very enjoyable. There’s a lot that I loved, and more than a few things that I didn’t. The things I liked are definitely more prominent and important than the things I didn’t, and I’m very interested in picking up the sequel, THE MIME ORDER as soon as I can to see how Paige’s life differs now that she’s heading back to London with all her new knowledge of Scion and of the Rephaim. Knowing that THE BONE SEASON is only the first of seven books gives me a lot of hope that the foundations laid by Samantha Shannon in this opener is going to be able to grow into a stand-out series.