About a month or so ago, when the Mysterious Mr. C and I finally got cards for our local library, the first thing I checked out was Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season. I remembered hearing about the novel nearly two years ago when NBC’s Today Show selected it to kick-off their 2013 book club (I know, I’m behind the times!), but I was working through a number of other reads at the time and never quite got around to checking it out. When I heard that the sequel, The Mime Order, was coming out in early January, I figured I should finally delve into the story!
Now, before I get into my review of Shannon’s debut novel, I must admit that I am partial to anything that is set in Oxford, England. I had the privilege of spending my junior year studying at St. Catherine’s College and I have had a soft spot for the city ever since. To be sure, Shannon’s Oxford is very different from the one I know and love, but still, I’m a sucker for the setting!
For those of you who haven’t read the book or aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a quick recap. In the year 2059, London is ruled by Scion, an authoritarian regime terrified of clairvoyance or “unnaturalness.” Due to the government’s persecution of those with auras, most clairvoyants work underground as part of a large criminal syndicate. Paige Mahoney, the protagonist, is a “dreamwalker,” a rare type of clairvoyant. One night she is captured and transferred to the penal colony of Sheol I (Oxford), which is ruled by a powerful supernatural race known as the Rephaim. These creatures wish to control clairvoyant powers for their own aims, but Paige is determined to regain her freedom and find her way back to the syndicate in London.
I’ll give Shannon credit, she’s written a really inventive story, but it’s also quite complicated. Instead of just writing about some future dystopian society, she has created a world that exists on a completely different timeline. By the time we are introduced to Paige, for example, Scion’s been around for 200 years and has set up satellite governments around Europe. While this messing about with history is perfectly fine, I wish Shannon had provided a few more introductory guideposts.
For instance, at the beginning of the book, Shannon details the seven orders of clairvoyance and the layout of Sheol I, but I would have liked having a map of Scion London as well. There are also a lot of characters and it was hard to keep them all straight so some sort of guide would have been helpful there too. Or even just a family tree for the Sargas family, the leaders of the Rephaim. Sometimes I could keep up with who was related to who, and other times I just gave into the confusion.
I would have also appreciated a table of contents that let me know there was a glossary at the end of the book. Shannon includes a variety of fictional, historical, and slang British terms in her story and not having an explanatory guide was a major criticism I had of the book… until I realized there was one buried in the back. To be fair, that’s typically where glossaries go, but as there was no table of contents, I didn’t realize it was there until I was about 27 pages from the end of the story!
Overall, The Bone Season is a fun read and I enjoyed diving into something that had a supernatural slant instead of a post-apocalyptic one. But there were also moments that I could tell it was a first novel, from the way the narrative swung from the present day to the past to the over-abundance of characters to the way Shannon’s world wasn’t as developed as it could have been. As a reader, it was clear that she understood how everything tied together, but as the series grows (to a projected seven novels), hopefully she brings her readers more fully up to speed as well.