I am going to start this review by saying that I am very lucky I have friends and family that have similiar reading taste to me. A lot of the books that I read and review on this website were at some point recommended to me by other people and The Bone Season is no expection. In fact, this is the second time I finished reading Samantha Shannon’s novel as the first time I read it in high school, just a couple of months after it was originally published. I do not remember much about my impressions at the time, but I think it was overall positive. After finishing my master thesis and because I still craved a good dystopian fantasy novel, I decided to purchase a copy of The Bone Season and re-read it. I did not regret that decision at all. While I can find many flaws with this novel, I did quite enjoy reading it.
The story is set in 2059 in London, that is now under Scion. Scion is a dictatorical republic set to root out clairvoyants, those with connection to the spirit world. Essentially, the powerful propaganda of the Scion deemed them the main culprit for all the crime and wrong doings. The fact that Scion was established two hundred years before influences the overall feeling of the book as there are many elements of Victorian culture inserted into the futuristic setting of dystopian London. As somebody who is very interested in history and speculations about what the future may be like, I found this perspective very interesting. As the story progresses, some of the actions moves to Oxford and through flashbacks of our main character to Ireland. I found these changes of scenery to be quite interesting as well. At times, though, it felt like Shannon relied on all her readers to know the exact layout of London, which made visualizing the fighting scenes quite difficult for me. Still, Shannon’s descriptions of the surrondings were very well written and significantly added to the story and the overall mood of the novel.
The narrator of the story is Paige Mahoney, a dreamwalker, an extremely rare type of clairvoyant, which makes her very sought after and valuable for different sides. This allows her to make money but also puts her in danger that will propel the story. She is an interesting character as she is quite flawed and does escape a lot of YA female protagonists stereotypes. As Shannon herself put in an interview, Paige is quite proud and stubborn to the point where she behaves recklessly, putting herself and others in danger. She is also brave and extremely loyal to her friends, to the point where she uses leverage she has to help others, not herself. I really liked the fact that she values her freedoom and constantly puts emphrasis on gaining it back. She is also not given the role of damsel in distress, but rather an active one. Overall, Paige’s stubborness and recklessness did annoy me at times but I truly enjoyed reading such as fleshed out and realistic character.
This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but I did not enjoy reading about her relationship with Warden nor did I think it was necessary. In fact, although there were not-so-subtle hints of the romance between Warden and Paige, when it finally happened, it felt very sudden and undeveloped. While before that, Paige escaped YA female character tropes, falling in love with her captor, no matter how much a good guy he is, threw her straight into them for me. That said, the description of their kiss from a technical point of view was extremely well written, taking away some of my feelings of frustration Shannon went there with their relationship. I hope that in the future novels they will have had the chance to meet again and develop their relationship futher.
When talking about world bulding in The Bone Season, I must say that it is a lot to unravel. Shannon does not spare the reader and throws us in the world, slowly working backwards to introduce the history of Scion and the protagonist. For me, the success of this approach is mixed. On one hand, the in media-res beginning of the novel immediately caught my interest and kept me going. However, at times, flashbacks from Paige’s past in Ireland and her time with the Syndicate distrupted the flow of the narrative. Overall, I do not mind the flashbacks if they are properly used and add signficant information that help us understand the story. Unfortunately, in many cases in The Bone Season, it felt like they were placed in completely unnatural positions and felt quite out of place.
The book opens with a guide containing classification of clairvoyancy, showing that there are numerous different types. While I can appreciate the work and creativity that went in creating all of these types, I cannot help but wonder were they all really necessary. Some of these types are mentioned either in passing, adding nothing to the story, or not mentioned at all. The only reason for inclusion of so many types I can think of is that they will be explored further in the sequels. Just like with the Paige’s and Warden’s relationship, I feel like these are not explored enough in the book. Did you read The Mime Order? If so, are these two aspects explored further?
Still, the biggest flaw with this novel are the side characters. Besides Paige and Warden, I felt like all the others fell very unispired and quite one-dimensional. The actions of those around Paige felt quite predictable. Another problem is that there was a lot of side characters without any real distinct feature that after a while I struggled to keep up with them, often having to return to the previous pages to understand who they are. This may not have been an issue were we not invited to care for all these characters and to suffer for them with Paige. To be honest, their decline caused what is probably the worst feeling any form of art can cause-indifference. Most of them felt simply like props to raise stakes for our protagonist, not like real people. Will she manage to save them? How will she feel about losing them? Unfortunately, there were just too many characters with a brief description that do not influence the story for me to attach to.
With all of that being said, I did enjoy reading The Bone Season. I though that despite what many have named info-dumping at the start of the novel, Shannon created a very interesting and engaging world of Scion. Given that most of the criticism I have of The Bone Season is related to its parts being underdeveloped, I hope that author had paid attention to them in the sequels. My order of The Mime Order is already on its way, so be sure to keep your eye out for my review in the next couple of weeks. I would also love to know your opinions about The Bone Order. Is there something that I missed?