Title: The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)
Author: Samantha Shannon
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Release Date: August 20th, 2013
When it comes to The Bone Season, I hardly know where to begin. For one, this book has received an innumerable amount of mixed reviews, many of which I find misleading, and for another, this debut is so impressive in its scope that I feel unprepared to truly discuss it. Nevertheless, if one thing is certain concerning Samantha Shannon's novel, it is this: I loved it.
The Bone Season is set deep in the heart of the criminal underworld of London. In 2059, Scion, the current ruling system of government, is charged with the task of rounding up and capturing clairvoyants, a group of individuals who possess abilities to see into the aether, or spiritworld, that other humans are blind to. Paige, our nineteen-year-old protagonist, is a dreamswalker working for The Seven Seals, an elite group of voyants and especially known for her rare abilities. Within pages of starting The Bone Season, however, Paige is taken by Scion to - what she thinks is - prison. In reality, though, Paige is a slave to the Rephaim, an unknown group of beings who protect Scion from deadly creatures and hold voyants against their will. And now, within seconds, Paige is one of them. Unless, of course, she can regain her freedom...
From the first few pages of The Bone Season, it is easy to see why so many readers claim this book is full of info-dumping. Even I won't deny it - the first two dozen pages of The Bone Season immediately lay down the foundation for this world, hurling information at the reader at a breakneck speed. Is all of it necessary? No. And yet, it's easy to forgive these first few chapters of an overwhelming nature as the story soon kicks off and this world slowly, but surely, materializes before your eyes. Samantha Shannon is a creative storyteller, building her universe very thoroughly and soon, the world-building is threaded through the narration. Even those first few pages, despite their initial confusion, begin to make sense as the story progresses - which it does - very quickly. In my eyes, this small rough patch shouldn't be a deterrent to the book at all. If you were able to get through the beginning of, say, Stormdancer, another debut fantasy I adored, then The Bone Season is not a problem at all.
Now, that myth laid to rest, it should be noted that the rest of Samantha Shannon's debut is very nearly perfect. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the fact that it straddles the line between fantasy, dystopian, and paranormal. Although it may seem as if elements of The Bone Season are familiar - dystopian government controlling its citizens, fantasy protagonist with unique abilities - it is still wholly new as well. In some ways, these classic tropes are finally done right and after so many disappointments from these three genres, it was refreshing to see them in a new and improved light.
Moreover, Paige, our heroine, is a character whose complexity astounded me. As the story progresses, a new layer is peeled back, exposing us more and more to the vulnerable and insecure Paige who lies within the tough and courageous dreamwalker. One of my favorite aspects of Paige's character is that she is, at her core, a good person. Although she can be rude and sarcastic, lashing out at those who hurt her, she's also always there for those who need her. Furthermore, Paige, unlike most heroines in this genre, already knows how to fight and use her powers. Thus, seeing her hone those skills and overcome her mental barriers to improve was a far more rewarding journey.
Paige aside, The Bone Season presents Warden, a.k.a. Mr. Mysterious. What I love about Warden's character is that it's impossible not to hate him. Impossible. As Paige's Keeper, Warden essentially holds power over Paige and is expected to use it. Yet, as the plot wears on, it is obvious that there is more to Warden than what meets the eye. Despite being one of the enemy, Warden helps Paige in small ways that slowly begin to make us doubt his initial motives. Warden and Paige share a strange and complicated relationship, one that evolves into one of trust by the end of the novel. I wouldn't claim that their story arc contains much romance, because it doesn't. It isn't wrought with sexual tension and any glimpses of romantic interest are only gleaned by the end. Thus, the focus of this book on character development, plot, and world-building was gratifying. I have no doubt at all, though, that in the future, this is a swoon-worthy couple to look out for.
I must admit, though, that The Bone Season is not a perfect novel. Even past those initial pages, there still remain flaws. Most notably, the secondary characters never come alive on the page. If anything, most of them are seen as expendables for a rebellion and the handful of important secondary characters, who will certainly be playing a big role as the series progresses, are only lightly touched upon. On one hand, this book doesn't really need them to have that added layer of depth. Samantha Shannon gives us just enough information to be satisfied and I suspect that these characters will be elaborated on in the sequels where they play a larger role. Nevertheless, it was a small qualm I reflected upon, long after having finished this book.
Ultimately, The Bone Season is not to be missed. With its large marketing campaign, it likely won't be, but it is truly worth the attention it's been receiving. I fell into this book completely, heart and soul, utterly invested in this world and its characters. It's hard to form such tight connections and bonds with just a debut, but Samantha Shannon manages to do it. Granted, her beginnings need a little improvement, and she's certainly not the next J. K. Rowling (no one is!), but all in all, I have to say that this start is quite a remarkable one.
A Quick Note on the Glossary: I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Bone Season which came with a printed version of the glossary, which can also be found in the back of the book. Shannon has many different meanings for some terms we take for granted, so during the first hundred pages of the novel, I found myself using the glossary very frequently. It's definitely helpful to have a copy beside you as you read, so that would be my recommendation, especially for those who feel as if they'll struggle with the world-building.
A huge thank you to Bloomsbury USA for sending me an ARC of this one! I loved it! :)