The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon

Review of: The Bone Season
Book by:
Samantha Shannon

Reviewed by:
On August 15, 2014
Last modified:January 2, 2016


"When the fancy terminology and the overcomplicated setting are stripped away, The Bone Season is exposed as a rather simple cookie-cutter Young Adult Novel."

Hype is difficult to manage in the world of literature. It’s something of a circus act to navigate the thread-thin tightrope. If done successfully, the audience will yield to your great accomplishments and shower you with praise. If not, well, it’s a long way down.

When Samantha Shannon graced headlines with plans for a seven-book series published by Bloomsbury, people immediately started drawing parallels. There was another author who, a little over a decade ago, found herself in a similar situation. She proceeded to enchant the world with tales of a boy wizard which propelled her to become one of the best-selling authors of all time. The bar was set extremely high for Shannon, who was being touted as “the next J. K. Rowling”; however, The Bone Season simply failed to live up to the hype.

Set in London during the year 2059, the city is governed by Scion, an organization that has taken control of several major cities around the world and largely deals in the oppression and execution of the clairvoyant population. The narrative follows Paige Mahoney, a rare type of clairvoyant called a dreamwalker who is capable of entering other people’s dreamscapes. After she accidentally kills a security guard, she is captured and shipped off to Sheol I, a penal colony located in the city of Oxford and controlled by a supernatural species called the Rephaim who are battling another supernatural species, the Emim.

Upon opening the book, readers are greeted with a two-page flow chart detailing the various orders of clairvoyance. Following that is a map of Sheol I. If readers are to flip to the back of the book, they will find a nine-page-long glossary. If it isn’t inferable from the previous information, Shannon has created a very complex world and an even more complicated world within this world. An author should always be applauded for drawing up a rich and intricate setting, but it takes a certain artistry to immerse readers without inundating them with information. The Bone Season suffers pages upon pages of info-dumping, so much so that much of the novel reads like a textbook capable of inducing a soporific effect. It is unreasonable to demand a constant shuffle between the glossary and the narrative to understand what is happening. However, when the fancy terminology and the overcomplicated setting are stripped away, The Bone Season is exposed as a rather simple cookie-cutter Young Adult Novel about a special girl taken away to a special school to enhance her special abilities.

In addition to copious info-dumping, the novel is also laden with flashbacks that serve little to no purpose for the plot. Whenever an author decides to displace readers from the narrative, the reward for diverging their attention should always be presented in the form of relevant information that will aid the progression of the narrative. With a novel as dense as The Bone Season, meaningless analepsis, whether internal or external, burdens readers with text that delays compelling action and believable character development.

The characters, to be generous, are awfully unremarkable. Paige’s characterization is simultaneously inconsistent and cliché with just the right amount of verve and bravado to form the perfect Young Adult Heroine. The male protagonist, Arcturus Mesarthim, a Rephaim who is Paige’s keeper, packages together a delicate blend of mystery, allure and danger (not to mention he’s over 200 years old) to create the perfect male counterpart to Paige. Throw in Nicklas Nygård, the charming and refined other man, and you’ve unlocked the most prestigious item in the game of Young Adult Literature: the sparkling love triangle!

Overall, the novel is nearly 500 pages of stagnancy. Sure, things are happening, but development is at a standstill. The cast is large and none of them serve very poignant roles; they’re almost indistinguishable from one other. The characters didn’t really grow throughout the course of the novel, and any character development that did occur is inconsistently paced which makes for unconvincing growth. Shannon is too dependent on flashbacks to flesh out Paige’s character. While they do provide more substance, it would have been more effective for the progression of the story to delve into how the present is shaping her rather than how her past has already shaped her. As a result, what remains is a protagonist whose personality is at a standstill. Shannon also has a habit of inserting deaths and sentimental backstory, especially near the end, to try to evoke emotional reactions about the characters that she didn’t take the time to flesh out. What little romance there is pops out of thin air and is afforded very little convincing development, although the relationship can be easily predicted within the opening chapters given the formulaic structure of the Young Adult Novel that Shannon follows.

Despite the myriad of flaws, I do believe Shannon’s world has the potential to make for interesting novels. The groundwork is all there—she has created a very intricate environment that should yield compelling narratives—but the problem is in the execution. If someone disassembles this novel and puts the pieces into “literary element” jars, the “setting” jar will be overflowing, but every other jar will remain quite empty. It is understandable that she is simply trying to communicate the scope of the world that she has created, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of plot, characters and style. If this is to be a seven-book series, there is absolutely no need to overwhelm readers with information in the first installment. With more planning, a more engaging writing style and a lot more editing, her idea should get the novels that it deserves.

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