The Bone Season: More formula than feeling

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Bone Season by Samantha Shannon YA science fiction book reviewsThe Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

I was looking for nothing in particular when I found The Bone Season on the Science Fiction shelf of my local library. This was the saving grace of my reading experience of Samantha Shannon’s debut novel. It was not until after finishing the novel that I discovered the hype surrounding the first in Shannon’s planned seven-part series (of which Bloomsbury has already signed her up for three novels).

The novel centres around Paige Mahoney, a clairvoyant who can move in and out of the minds of other people. The slight spanner in the works is that the government (of futuristic 2059) don’t like clairvoyants. In fact, they pretty much capture and get rid of them on contact. So when Paige is caught doing her psychic thing, she is carted off to Oxford, where the Bone Season is occurring. Here she has to fight a bunch of monsters whilst under the control of more powerful supernatural folk than her: the Rephaites.

Like so many fantasy novels before it, The Bone Season has been compared to the Harry Potter series. Shannon is being heralded as the new J K Rowling. Not only must this comparison be a source of crippling angst for the 21-year-old debut novelist, but it also sets readers up with false expectations of the book. The Bone Season is a supernatural dystopian novel with more similarities to the formulaic plots of juggernaut phenomena like The Hunger Games, Twilight and Divergent. Oppressive government forcing all to conform? Check. Gutsy heroine who will rebel against said oppression? Check. Opposing groups based on supernatural traits? Check. Unlikely love triangle? Check.The Bone Season (3 Book Series) by Samantha Shannon

So, the formula is not entirely original and it often feels that Shannon is trying too hard to follow the fail-safe recipe that has brought fame and success to those who have gone before her. My overriding impression was more formula than feeling. It was hard to feel particularly compassionate towards a protagonist that felt as though she was just a hybrid of Kat-Triss-ella or whatever they’re calling her these days.

What’s more, the novel is overly complicated in its division of different supernatural types. There is a nine page glossary at the back. Before you even start the novel, you have to get through a double-page spread explaining the seven orders of clairvoyance. Then there’s a map. Half way through the novel, Shannon gives up on names and half the characters are simply numbered, making it almost impossible to keep track of who’s doing what.

However, there’s no denying Shannon has achieved a pretty incredible feat here. The novel is a compulsive read, most probably due to the tried and tested formula Shannon is following. This could go towards explaining why Bloomsbury was so quick to sign Shannon up for three more books. She’s also a British female trying to break the ranks of the American writers that are currently dominating this genre, and I wholeheartedly back that. If you liked The Hunger Games, Delirium, Divergent etc etc etc etc, you will probably enjoy The Bone Season, but be warned that you know exactly what you’re getting and how you’ll be getting it.

August 20, 2013. Enter the world of Paige Mahoney, a gifted clairvoyant, a “dreamwalker,” in the year 2059. Her natural talents are considered treasonous under the current regime. Snatched away to a secret prison, she encounters another race, the Rephaim, creatures who wish to control the powers of Paige and those like her. One in particular will be assigned as her keeper, her trainer. But his motives are mysterious. To regain her freedom, Paige must learn to trust, in the prison where she is meant to die.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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2 comments

  1. This is such a helpful review, Rachael. I know exactly what to expect. An exciting, but not unique, story.

    Is the book Young Adult? It sounds like it, but it doesn’t seem to be marketed as such, at least not in the US on Amazon.

    • Thanks – would be great to hear what you think if you read it! It’s been marketed as adult (this will presumably reach a wider readership) but falls into the ‘crossover’ genre that so many of these formulaic dystopias seem to these days. You can understand why it would have such a broad appeal, but no ground breaking new concepts unfortunately. I read a great review that described the book as being written more with the head than the heart – a very fitting description, I felt.

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