Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

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Disclaimer #1: I don’t generally read or like fiction that classifies itself as fantasy.

Disclaimer #2: I don’t care what genre of fiction a book is, there are still universals when it comes to good and bad writing, plot, characters and style.

Going into reading this book (as a non-fan of fantasy), I at least hoped I would be able to appreciate it on an objective level. But there wasn’t that much to appreciate. Regardless of the fact that I knew I wouldn’t especially like the genre, there was nothing particularly original about the underlying story. A girl with a unique talent is forced to hide it from general society and is then captured and tortured by those who want to use that talent for their own purposes. There’s an insider who’s secretly on her side (what a stroke of luck, because she never would have gotten through it all in the end without him). There’s a hidden community of people just like her (although she can never really tell who’s on her side or not). And there’s a large group of people who are evil and duplicitous for no real reason that is ever explained.

Paige Mahoney is the main character and she’s a dreamwalker – a very uncommon type of clairvoyant. She works for a mime-lord with a number of other very talented clairvoyants (although not as talented as she is) and together they commit mime-crime, illegal acts using their clairvoyant talents. Clairvoyance is illegal in this dystopian version of London.

One night, Paige is captured by the Night Vigilance Division after killing one guard and making another permanently insane by driving her spirit into theirs and forcing them from their bodies. (This was the point at which I thought, “Oh, no.”) But instead of receiving the expected punishment, she is instead handed over to the Rephaim, a group of humanoid netherworld beings whose clairvoyant skills exceed anything ever seen in a human.

The Rephaim arrived two hundred years ago when the barrier between the corporeal world and the netherworld was broken down. Now they run a secret prison for clairvoyants, who are handed over by the “normal” humans because they are afraid of supernatural abilities. The Rephaim feed on the auras or the supernatural power of the clairvoyants and treat them appallingly – it is a prison after all.

There was an attempted rebellion forty years ago and no prizes for guessing that it’s just about time for another one with Paige as their reluctant leader.

I’m not sure why authors need to imbue their main characters with unique talents – it’s very reminiscent of this era in which all children are being brought up and told they are special and can do and have anything they want in this world. Honestly, I’d like to start reading more books about people who have reasonable talents and have to compete with many others who have the same talents. I’d like to read more books about people who achieve something but fail just as often, having to watch others succeed ahead of them without it being the end of the world (literally).

There are several times in the book when characters are threatened with losing their powers and being reduced to amaurotic status, which means just being a normal, everyday human. Oh, no! How could this be tolerated? Well, the rest of us manage it okay. The “special” people should try it some time and realise it’s easily tolerated. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with actually having to work hard to have a skill instead of just being born special.

This is Samantha Shannon’s first book and supposedly the first of seven in the series. It reads very much like a first novel. There is something amateurish about it, probably because of the lack of complex and original stories, characters and themes. (Keep an eye out for the inappropriate inter-species romance – you’ll see it coming a long way off – it’s a little bit Buffy and Angel but lacking in any real feeling.) I see an unrealised potential and by book seven, she will probably have gotten there. But she’s a long way off in this book.

There’s a glossary at the end of the book that would have really helped me out had it been at the front of the book because a lot of the time, the characters were using words that I had no idea of what they meant (made up words, Bone Season-specific slang, etc). I was able to get the gist but is that really what an author wants their readers to be saying? “I got the gist of it.”

And I’m sure this head scratcher will reveal itself over the course of the seven books, but there are shadowy creatures, enemies of both humans and the Rephaim, who feed on human flesh called Emim. Is it just a great big coincidence that Emim is mime spelled backwards? Hmmm.

It’s just an okay first effort, a little lazy and not destined to be a great of the genre. I won’t be reading the next six books.

2 stars

*First published on Goodreads 17 July 2015

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