Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Even a Dreamer Can Start a Revolution: Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season

The difficulty inherent in reading a hugely publicized debut novel, such as Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season is that the publicity is the loudest thing about the book. It was a major deal for a seven volume series, the first volume written and sold while the 22-year-old Shannon was a English student at Oxford. Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium Studios bought the film rights, and Shannon was immediately hailed as the next JK Rowling, a comparison that appears to be made more because the two are British women with seven book fantasy series, rather than because of any actual similarity in their writing.

The Bone Season is an entertaining book. It’s set in 2059. Paige Mahoney is a 19-year-old dreamwalker, a voyant, (Shannon’s name for clairvoyants), which in the world that she lives in, a London controlled by a security firm called Scion, is a status crime – her very existence is illegal. Only amaurotics, or non-voyants, are considered citizens. Paige is a powerful figure in the local underworld, but she is captured and taken to the prison city of Oxford, where she learns that things are even more complicated than she knew. Oxford is controlled by a powerful alien race, the Rephaim, who value the voyants, and one of the most powerful of these, Warden, claims Paige as his own.

[mild spoilers after the jump]
Shannon has built a very complex world in Scion, with a unique culture and geography. She included interesting real-world parallels, such as Paige’s Irishness, and what that signifies in Scion London. However, at times, particularly with the cant vocabulary, the book relies too much on the fact that a glossary of terms has been included, rather than actual in-text clarity.

Paige is a compelling character. Her voyance is a rare form, and very powerful. She has the fighting abilities and disregard for physical danger that are common in female leads in fantasy and science fiction. She’s the driving force in the story, and one easy to follow on the page. Jaxon, the head of the underworld of Scion London, is also very vividly drawn.

While I understand that Shannon doesn’t want to give everything away in the first book, there were places that could have used more clarity. There is a rift in the Rephaim that leads to a rebellion, which Paige becomes involved with, but no real indication of why this split has happened, or what the rebellion hopes to accomplish. The emotional connection between Paige and Warden does not seem strong enough to bear the weight the text asks it to, and Paige’s discovery about her friend and mentor Nick is presented in a nearly contextless fashion.

Shannon is clearly smart, and she’s created a big world, with a high-stakes story in it. The Bone Season has some beautiful details, some gorgeous set pieces, and it will be interesting to watch where Shannon takes the story next.

At the end, the thing that makes me happiest about Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season is that it exists. That Shannon was ambitious enough to conceive a story that she knew would take her seven books to tell, that Bloomsbury has given Shannon and her story the support it has, that Imaginarium Studios has already bought the film rights (more woman-led fantasy on the screen). I want people to take risks, to dream big, to believe in new things, and I am happy to see that The Bone Season  does that.

By Kat Howard