Monday, July 15, 2013
The Bone Season (Samantha Shannon)
The concept of this book: Paige Mahoney is a girl gifted with clairvoyance. She is a dreamwalker; she can sense the dreamscapes of other people (in other words, their consciousnesses). The problem? She lives in alternate-reality 2059, where the U.K. is controlled by a group called Scion who have outlawed all forms of clairvoyance. She works for a crime syndicate under a man named Jaxon Hall, who has organized a group of clairvoyants called the Seven Seals.
Until one day, when she gets on the train and is captured by Scion. She gets transferred to Sheol I, a prison camp located in Oxford, a city allegedly destroyed 200 years ago. She falls under the care of creatures called the Rephaim, otherworldly beings who train clairvoyants (shortened slangily to "voyants") to fight off frightening creatures called the Emim. Paige the other forty or so voyants taken from London are the harvest of Bone Season XX, the decennial harvesting of "sighted" (i.e., clairvoyant) humans.
Paige's keeper is named Arcturus Mesarthim, but she refers to him as Warden. He is the consort to the queen (or, in the book's lingo, blood-sovereign). He begins to train her to better harness her ability to dreamwalk so that they can leave her body and enter the dreamscapes of others, eventually possessing them. Despite the hype surrounding the book, I tried to keep my expectations low--I tried not to read reviews of the book before I got to it, tried to ignore plot summaries. I went into reading Shannon's first book as neutrally as possible. And I was still disappointed.
I'll praise first. The idea that will drive this series, illegal clairvoyance in alternate-future-London, is fascinating and promising. The most interesting part of the whole world the author created was that Edward VII was actually Jack the Ripper and that he controlled spirits to do it. And that's not even an important part of the story, or at least it wasn't in this volume. The beginning of the book was certainly exciting and well-assembled; I was gripped by the descriptions of the workings of mime-crime (use of clairvoyance) London. Also praiseworthy is Warden, who is a compelling character for his complex mentality and motives and his simultaneous tenderness and violence. He reads like some of the great male characters of classic literature.
And that leaves just about everything else. Paige is an incredibly irritating character; I usually hate when a series changes its main character, but I hope for the sake of the Scion series that she dies or something. She is stupid and predictable, getting stuck in an emotional pattern of anger and realization/gratitude that is supposed to demonstrate the change in her relationship with Warden but is just aggravating to read over and over. She finally starts to get interesting toward the end of the book, but it's a classic case of too little, too late.
The slang is exhausting; Samantha Shannon throws a mixture of 19th-century-London slang and invented, clairvoyant-related slang at us that is difficult to figure out--it even made this review difficult to write. We're immersed into the world of Scion almost brutally fast, like being dunked into a bath of ice after a marathon run: there are sections where the author gracelessly dumps world-building information on us and expects us to sort it out. I handled it at first, finding myself actually interested in more background information about London (and if that isn't the mark of good worldcraft, I don't know what is).
But after Paige is taken to Sheol I, I spent almost the entire rest of the book in various levels of confusion. Apparently six months pass from her arrival to the prison and the end of the book, but I could have easily believed it was two weeks. The pace is breathtaking, certainly, but I never knew what as going on. To be honest, I was disappointed in the latter two thirds of the book. I wanted Paige to return to London because that's what interested me.
I felt like so many things in the Oxford camp were not explained properly, things that could have been straightforwardly explained in a few sentences (two paragraphs, max). It's as if Shannon intentionally keeps these helpful statements out of the book in order to have more to write about in the sequels. There's a dreaded moment toward the end when one character says that he knows a secret; Paige asks him what it is and he says "I can't tell". Then absolutely do not bother bringing it up. It's so frustrating.
I can't even say I liked the book because I was too busy rolling my eyes at Paige's behavior or making confused, mouth-agape faces trying to figure out what was going on. I'm sad about it because I wanted to like the novel, and did initially. It just took a direction that was boring and poorly explained. I'm not even sure I'll read the sequels--if it continues to be mainly about the confusing Rephaim (are they made out of the netherworld or what the heck) and Emim, I think I'll have to pass. I'd rather read an encyclopedia about the far-more-interesting Scion dystopia.
My rating: 2/5
The Bone Season on Goodreads
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