March 8, 2018

The good, the bad, and the unclear | The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season
The Bone Season #1
The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)
By Samantha Shannon
Published August 20th, 2013
466 Pages

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 introduces a compelling heroine and also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.


If I said that The Bone Season is like a roller-coaster, I would be lying. Most people would think this is a bad since roller-coasters are the most exciting rides at amusement parks. Well, most people are wrong. I am of the opinion that roller-coasters are just metal death traps with a deceiving name. We should not tempt fate by flinging ourselves in the air at unnaturally high speeds just for the sake of an adrenaline rush.

Anyway, The Bone Season is more like bumper cars. You are shoved into a small, mostly dark arena and told to smash into other people. There is no real structure to the madness. Due to conservation of momentum and other principles of physics that I vaguely remember from high school, as soon you crash into each other, both of you are repelled from each other. In The Bone Season, as soon as you touched something interesting, you are immediately pushed away. You bump into a lot of other people (or a lot of people bump into you if you are a rookie) but in the end you don't really accomplish anything. 

When I was sucked into the action and uniqueness of The Bone Season, I enjoyed myself. I could nod along as the magic system was "explained" and smile as Paige used her sass as a weapon. 

However, when I took a step back and asked "What do I really know about this world?" all I could come up with were some half-baked answers. I still have no idea who half of the characters are and I could not even name a quarter of the types of voyants. Even though it was exciting to be in the new world, it is still dark and only temporarily satisfying like a round of bumper cars. 

From the very beginning, the reader is thrown into an unfamiliar world of clairvoyants and their underground magical system. The story takes place in an alternate future, mostly in England but with a global perspective. In Paige's world, magic is outlawed and anyone with "unnatural" abilities are basically hunted. The magical system involves ghosts (which I was excited to see since they are underrepresented) and mental manipulation (as opposed to physical magic like elemental systems). Honestly, that is where my understanding of the world ends.

There is a highly complex hierarchy to the magical system that the plot depends on, but I could not figure out the nuances. I appreciate that the magical system distinguishes itself from other common tropes, but the originality came at the cost of easy comprehension. There was a chart in the beginning that was somewhat helpful, but the countless categories and slang words prevented my full understanding. In addition, I didn't figure out that there was a glossary in the back until I was already halfway through the book. Even when I did use the glossary, the constant flipping back and forth and back and forth and back and forth countered the faster pace that the novel was trying to set. 

I know that this book was a series starter. It was obviously building the foundation for a large series to come (seven books in fact). That being said, a large portion of the novel was spent on world-building and character building (mostly through flashbacks). Unfortunately, the story tried to include so many characters, complications, and circumstances that the abundance of background information was still not enough. At the end of the novel, I felt like I read a textbook and still had no idea how to pass the upcoming test. There was a lot of information, but it was not the information I wanted to know. 

Despite the holes in my understanding of the world and the plot, there were still quite a few aspects that I highly enjoyed of the plot. For starters, Paige is a highly developed character with an amazingly sassy voice. Her backstory was thoroughly developed and led me to really connect with her character, despite the fact that we live in completely different worlds. 

The counterweight to Negative Tessa's complaints is the fact that The Bone Season is only a series starter. I do not believe that the first book of a series has to be the best (and often it isn't). I am hoping that the story and its world adds on to itself as the series continues. Now that I have the framework of Paige's world, the rest of the books *should* be easier to get into since I at least a little bit familiar with the jargon and complex magical system.

Despite my complaints, I don't want to judge The Bone Season too harshly yet. Even though the story and characters would have fallen short of my expectations for a standalone fantasy, The Bone Season is not a standalone. Therefore, I am willing to be more lenient on some aspects of the book in hopes that the rest of the series will develop on the foundation. As a series starter, it managed to lay down the groundwork of a world (albeit with jargon-hurling and info-dumping) and created an interest in the main character. My dedication to the rest of the characters is yet to be established (with the exception of Warden who is still a major wild card, as I believe he is supposed to be). At the very least, the world intrigued me and set itself apart from the typical fantasy. Negative Tessa may have overtaken the review with her complaints, but her pessimistic views will not stop me from continuing with the series.

In Review...

I would recommend The Bone Season if you are looking for a unique fantasy with a complex magical system and and an equally complex main character. If you are not patient with jargon, unanswered questions, and using a glossary, I would approach The Bone Season with caution. Despite its flaws, and my recent aversion to longer series, I am willing to give the rest of the series a chance to build on this foundation.

Are you forgiving with series starters? Do you give books a second chance after a less than stellar start? How do you feel about glossaries in books? Are they helpful or should they not be necessary if the world-building works? Have you read The Bone Season series? If so, do the later books get better? 

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