Likening new novels to ones with a loyal fan base is one tool publishers use to ensure that someone at least turns to look at their new literary offering. There are “Hunger Games meets this” and “for fans of Twilight” and there’s definitely a “like Stephen King” out there, but in all of my years of reading, I haven’t come across as a book being marketed as “the next Harry Potter” or an author being called “the next J.K. Rowling” with that much certainty – until now.
Awarding a book that status definitely calls attention to it – which has been the case with The Bone Season, the debut paranormal/sci-fi/dystopian novel of 21-year-old Samantha Shannon. The hype surrounding this novel has been building for over a year now and people’s expectations have gone through the roof. The problem with marketing techniques such as this is that despite grabbing everyone’s attention, a lot of strain is placed on the work of a new author, a double-edged knife that is as likely to help her as hurt her. That is the case with Shannon’s work: as impressive as it might be, it doesn’t measure up.
Paige’s world is parallel to our own, but far more advanced and based on alternate history that starts with the appearance of humans with supernatural abilities, all of which are considered a threat to society. Paige has one of the rarest and most dangerous abilities of all: she is a dreamwalker, which makes her a great commodity for the crime lord that employs her. But she is kidnapped by the Rephaim, powerful and otherworldly creatures that control the world from the shadows, and is to be trained to be a slave, a soldier or their entertainment. The second most powerful Rephaim, Warden, takes her under his wing, but there might be more to him than Paige can see, as well as with the seeming perfection of Scion and the society they have created. Now Paige must learn to control her power and fight if she wants to survive and be free again, and maybe even help save her fellow “voyants.”
The Bone Season is a really ambitious novel. It is a cocktail of paranormal, sci-fi, dystopian, post-apocalyptic and even a little bit of horror that right from the start is really hard to fully comprehend. The world-building of The Bone Season is undeniably impressive and heralds a powerful imagination on Shannon’s part, but its execution depended often on overwhelming info-dumps that begin on the first page and a vocabulary that forces the reader to shift back and forth between the reading and the glossary at the back of the book.
Shannon’s clean prose doesn’t make it difficult to visualize the world of London Scion in 2059, but the name-dropping, slangs and info-dumping hindered the experience of discovering this new world. It does get easier as readers get familiarized with the terms, but for much of the novel, the reader is bombarded with strange terminology and hierarchical orders that only settle past the half-way mark in the novel. Strangely enough, in spite of all the work it takes to understand it, Shannon’s world is satisfyingly complex and engaging. Still, though the book is aimed at adults, the novel reads more like a Young Adult offering and people familiar with the YA dystopian trend will be able to see it.
Paige was a satisfying lead: smart, competent, strong and realistic. It was easy to empathize with her, and the best thing about her was that, in spite of some flaws, she was a genuinely good person all the way through, which was something the reader could find out without the book overemphasizing it. She is followed by an interesting cast of characters, particularly those belonging to the crime syndicate – which ironically we only get to meet through flashbacks and at the end of the novel.
The same cannot be said for the ones that are present throughout the novel. The majority of them were underdeveloped and existed to serve as foils or to suit Paige’s plans or development. I can’t help the feeling that, for such an important character in the story, Warden didn’t actually feel that pivotal to the development of the novel, nor did I feel like much was done with his character. His aura of mystery is key to his character, but I feel like it completely took over his character and didn’t allow for much else to be seen from him. Admittedly, I did like his relationship with Paige and their slow but steady development, even when, strictly speaking, the novel didn’t really need even this small bit of romance.
The pace in this novel is an eclectic mix of impressive action scenes sandwiched between slow and admittedly boring passages that make the reading experience alternate between absolutely engrossing and a struggle. That’s not to say the plot is all over the place, but I believe it could’ve been a bit tighter. Despite everything else, the latter half of The Bone Season is surprisingly entertaining.
There’s certainly material in the world of The Bone Season to expand, but I can’t see how Paige’s story can fill seven books. I wouldn’t say I’m eager to see how her journey unfolds, but I wouldn’t discard the idea of getting book two. There are plot-holes and a lot of suspension of disbelief required to accept The Bone Season, but the novel is a promising start to the series. She’s no J.K. Rowling and The Bone Season is no Harry Potter, but that definitely doesn’t mean is not worth anything on its own.
3.5 stars out of 5
Lorraine Acevedo Franqui writes for Girl In Capes from Puerto Rico and holds degrees in English Literature and Psychology. Her main interests are young adult lit, anything related to The Legend of Zelda and Kingdom Hearts, assorted shounen mangas and cats.