#Brunch Book Club Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

17199504The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.

It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine and 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.

There was a lot of hoopla when it was announced that Samantha Shannon had been signed for a six-figured and seven-book deal, with the first three contracted by Bloomsbury and the first book optioned by Andy Serkis’ production company. Being signed by JK Rowling’s publisher was one thing, but being called the next JK Rowling was quite another. Some wondered if she could pull it off, especially considering her young age. While the jury may be out on that claim, I was nevertheless very eager to read this, and even started it at one point. Unfortunately, the daunting size kept me from going past the first thirty pages or so. In true Brunch Book Club fashion, we have once again chosen the biggest book for the shortest month!

Set in 2059, The Bone Season tells the story of Paige, a clairvoyant with a special talent who, like everyone else, lives under a repressive regime called Scion in central London.She is part of a secret crime syndicate, centred around the Seven Dials area of the city and part of one ruled by a complicated and somewhat mysterious figure named Jaxon Hall. Scion is actively and aggressively hunting those with any kind of clairvoyant talent, and Paige is particularly vulnerable because she is a dreamwalker. When she is suddenly and violently captured one day, she is taken to a secret location away from the city where the true force behind Scion is revealed: the Rephaim. Now bound in servitude to Warden, Paige must adjust to the new world order she now inhabits.

“There was no normal. There never had been. “Normal” and “natural” were the biggest lies we’d ever created.”

Part dystopian, part fantasy, Shannon blends them together with a splash of Atwood and Wyndham for good measure in order to create a vivid – and scary – world for her characters. There’s a LOTof world building that goes on in this first novel, with a lot of very specific detail. I found myself imagining the scenery and the feel of London and Oxford, and the characters therein. Does it help if you have been to those locations, and that you can draw upon that knowledge for your imagery? Of course, as Shannon’s view is just a little bit skewed from reality.

With a tremendous amount of world building comes new language and characters, and at times I found it a little overwhelming to keep track of everything. There is angel and demon imagery, vampires, stages of clairvoyance and a whole race of individuals to try to understand, never mind a whole new style of vocabulary.The Rephaim could be completely brutal, and I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat as I read about their treatment of the humans. There were clear shades of oppressive regimes present in the writing, with influences from Pol Pot and Hitler’s Nazis evident in their actions. That’s the point of course, because the Rephaim exhibit a terrible beauty that is to be admired and feared. The Warden and his compatriots are the exception – brutal strength and power, but choosing (to paraphrase a superhero) to recognize that with great power comes great responsibility. I found that the Warden was a little heavy-handed in his description, as I could tell pretty early on that he would be the avenging angel, fighting against the oppressive regime from the inside. The secondary characters are plentiful and thick on the ground – Nick and Jax in particular are developing into central figures for future story lines, and I love that they straddle that line between tarnished good and unsettling evil. I did appreciate that Shannon was not afraid of death in book one, recognizing that some characters must die in order for the story to proceed. Because of the nature of the

Many refer to the love story between Paige and the Warden, and I have to say that I don’t buy it. Too much like Stockholm Syndrome for me at this point, but I may change my mind in future books when the two are on a more even footing. As it stood, Paige was completely owned by the Warden, right down to the blood to heal him, so any so-called relationship is based on a power imbalance. The hint of romance at this stage was unnecessary in my mind, as the building and grudging respect that Paige was developing for the Warden was far more important in my view.

The Bone Season is dark and uncomfortable and beautiful and terrifying all at once. The raft of new characters can be overwhelming and the multiple storylines confusing, but I’m intrigued to see where Shannon takes them in future books. While some have compared this to the Hunger Games, I found it more in the vein of Margaret Atwood and John Wyndham, with a reality that is just that tiny degree off of our own to leave you unsettled. This isn’t the easiest of reads, especially at the start, but I’ll stick with it and will pick up book #2 for sure.

The Bone Season and its sequel, The Mime Order are available now from Penguin Random House. The first book may be purchased from your favourite Indie bookstore, or from other fine print and digital retailers. ISBN: 9781620401392, 452 pages.