Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Adult Project: The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon

Goodreads summary:

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine—a young woman learning to harness her powers in a world where everything has been taken from her. It 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.


The Bone Season debuted with an onslaught of hype: Four book deal (out of a planned seven-book series), mid-six figure advance (from a British publisher, meaning close to a million in US dollars), movie rights optioned, a 21-year-old author who is supposed to be "the next J.K. Rowling." With all this hype, I couldn't not be curious. Even with my usual skepticism, I at least expected to get a few hours of entertainment out of the book.

That was too much to hope for.

I'll start by saying that I couldn't finish this book. I tried. I really did. I managed to slog through 150 pages before realizing that my life was just too short to justify any more of it.

I was bored. And more than that, I was insulted.

Let's start from the beginning: we have a totalitarian world, set in futuristic England, where the leaders intend to kill off all clairvoyants (aka people with powers). The magic system works through some combination of psychic powers and spirits, and it's confusing as hell. When it comes to the worldbuilding, the author does this weird combination of immersion and exposition, where the character explicitly narrates everything related to Scion (the government organization that hunts down voyants and somehow also rules the entire planet), but then when it comes to clairvoyants, you're basically on your own. As a result, I have no fucking clue what's the difference between, say, a soothsayer and an oracle. And now you're probably thinking that I'm a lazy reader or that I'm too dumb to figure stuff out on my own, but I'm actually pretty good with immersive narration--I made it through The Windup Girl, for Christ's sakes! (And if I found the narration confusing, imagine how much trouble an average reader will have with it. If you really want to publish 'the next Harry Potter,' try to find something a little more accessible to mainstream audiences.)

Anyway, the totalitarian government was shallowly-developed and kind of cliche, but the underground mafia of voyants was potentially interesting and the plot was starting to get good...

...and then, about fifty pages in, the book took a dive into the ridiculous. Because now our protagonist, Paige, finds herself among a superior race of beings (Rephaim) who want to use her and the other voyants to fight off evil alien monsters. (Not making this up.) Except the leader of the Rephaim is mua-ha-ha evil and treats humans like slaves. (Remember when I wrote this post?) And the author really beats the "evil" and "slavery" parts into your head. For one thing, all of the humans are assigned numbers instead of names, because nothing screams "oppression" like turning people into numbers. Look, I'm not saying that oppression itself is a bad element in stories, because it's not. Oppression is a terrifying, gut-wrenching phenomenon--and a writer who puts in the right amount of research and nuance can depict that. But the treatment of cruelty and slavery was so shallowly presented that I was insulted on behalf of anyone who had actually experienced that kind of trauma. 

I was also offended on an intellectual level, because it's very clear that the author knows absolutely nothing about, say, brainwashing. For instance, I'm pretty sure locking a boy in an isolated cell for nine years wouldn't make him the perfect minion--it would make him batshit insane, to the point where he'd be too unpredictable to do anything. There's also one human boy--the archetypical 'triator'-- who not only sucks up to the Rephaim, but proudly introduces himself by his numerical identity (after, like, a week or two). Last time I checked, brainwashing is supposed to turn you into a minion, not a caricature.

Now let's talk about the protagonist and the love interest (one of them anyway, because I smell a triangle). Of course, Paige's powers are super rare and powerful, so as a result, she's selected for training by a super hot Rephaite who never chooses humans. From there, their relationship is, well, inconsistent. In one chapter, she detests him (and for very good reason). A few chapters later, she's telling him intimate secrets about her dreamscape. Um...what? 

It's like the author couldn't even take ten minutes to think things out before she wrote them. Not to mention the sheer arbitrariness of certain plot elements. For instance, the Rephaim only collect voyants every ten years, and each collection is called a "Bone Season." Why every ten years? And why "bone"? I have no fucking clue. (Maybe if I finished the book...oh wait, not gonna do that.)

(And that's not even the entirety of everything that bothered me.)

So in short, The Bone Season left me bored, angry, and insulted...and I will be very shocked if that giant advance ever earns out.


The Bone Season is out now. I received my ARC from BEA.

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