Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Release Date: August 20, 2013
Thank you to the publisher & Netgalley!
Published by: Bloomsbury USA

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

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.


This book has received a lot of hype, including a six-figure deal for only three books out of a projected seven book series, a seven-figure movie option deal, and an editorial letter at the front of the e-galley (which also emphasizes the aforementioned items). Samantha Shannon has also been called the next J.K. Rowling.

Hype makes me wary, and quite honestly, I think calling anyone the next J.K. Rowling is setting the bars too high. I went into this novel already knowing of these claims--which turns on my critical side--and though I think some of hype is a bit much, this was a highly-detailed and cinematic novel written by a promising author.

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Paige, the protagonist - Paige is the kind of strong, smart, confident, sassy & sarcastic heroine that you want to root for as she learns more about herself and her power. She defends the weak, which is an interesting contrast to her being from a syndicate and being highly mistrustful and cynical. It's always interesting to see who she will pair with, choose to trust, and who she cast off (she's highly judgmental of people's intentions). She's fire, fierce and bitter, but also achingly vulnerable, with the usual desire to be seen as a sum of all her parts. Her government tells her that she's unnatural, she hides what she is from her father, her mime-lord (syndicate leader) prizes her for her ability, and now she's been subjugated to another race--who will see Paige for who she is?
2. (+/-) The beginning - The weakest part of this novel, I would say, is the beginning. I really loved the voice, but with the info-dumps and the somewhat clunky writing, I honestly considered putting down the book at several points. I'm glad I didn't obviously--and it's not hugely bad. It's on/off, engrossing at turns, then back to info-dumping. I felt this way for maybe the first 80 or so pages.
3. (+) World-building - Although I loved the world, there are a lot of English slang words and terms which are not always properly explained as they're introduced, such as the link between the aether and the dreamscape. Of course there is an extensive glossary at the back and a map at the front to refer to, but whenever I read e-galleys, I find it hard to switch back and forth between the text--obviously, this is not going to be an issue when you have the physical copy of the book, and the world-building pays off in the end. This is a highly detailed and developed world. There are many different classes of powers across a spiritualist world that are differentiated by their relationship to the aether. This is reminiscent of the nineteenth century when there were followers of the occult who believed that the aether was a fluid-like substance that flowed through everyone, except that the aether in this world is a way of sensing others and messing with other people's lives, dreams, and minds (also reminiscent of Inception in a way). People who have powers based in the aether are called (clair)voyants; those who don't: amaurotics, and their government is Scion. The politics of this world as Scion clashes with the way the syndicates operate and the way Oxford and the Rephaites work is fascinating. It's also quite a treat to see how those powers work as the voyants are trained for the Rephaite army, and as you learn more of the Rephaite world and how they managed to twist the voyants into submission. Another thing that was particularly fun to explore was Paige's power, and her ability to access dreamscapes, the place in the mind where memories are stored and people feel safest. Basically, even though I'm not sure I have a handle on all the different terms, this world was just plain wonderful and easy to slip into the further you read.
4. (+) Romance - Wow, this relationship may be one of my all-time-favorites. It is slow-burning, and may be one of the better developed hate-turned-something else relationships (I know the summary says he's her captor, but he never acts like her master, so I never saw him that way, though Paige does treat him hostilely). It takes a long time for both Paige and Warden to learn to trust (and be open with) each other, and to overcome their racial prejudices of the other. All the while they are completely and wholly themselves. They have separate lives (somewhat--since Paige lives with him), separate motives, separate attitudes, but you root for them together as you see that they fit well as a team. The tension is perfectly executed, their relationship complex and satisfying.
5. (+) Themes - This book is ultimately about empowerment. It asks: how much is your freedom worth to you? What do you think you're worth? If everything were taken away from you and you were branded a number, treated like filth, what parts of you would be left? What is the price of your survival? Your humanity? How many trials can your relationships go through before they dissolve?
6. (+) The Plot - There aren't a whole lot of major twists, but those that are there are wonderfully developed and surprising, and the rest of twists shine in the action-filled plot, battle and training scenes alike. The story is always moving forward, whether the characters are being developed (Paige's memories), the world is being developed (daily life at Oxford), or the actual story is being developed (one girl fighting for her freedom and belonging). Since the world is insulated with so many details and there is a large character cast, the plot is quite exciting, tension-filled, and unpredictable.
7. (+/-) The Characters - The main difference I see from the Harry Potter comparison is that J.K. Rowling had a way with getting at the heart of a character, all the characters, no matter how pivotal a role they played. While there is some hint at what motivates some of these characters, I wasn't very attached to a lot of the side cast. They're not as developed as I would have hoped (such as her Oxford friends, Julian, and even some of the syndicate). I think my main objection would be that too many characters were introduced in this first book--at least, that some of them could have been taken out in favor of developing the others more fully. BUT note: this wasn't badly done. I just thought, in light of the highly detailed world and other complex relationships, that the character cast as a whole could have used a bit more work.
8. (+) The Writing - There were definitely parts that needed more polishing. Sometimes it was a bit repetitive. But the further I read, the more engrossed I became in the world, because the writing became much, much smoother and had huge cinematic potential. Samantha Shannon is talented, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.
9. (+) Pacing - It's really hard to ensure that a 480-page book remains well-paced and engaging, but Shannon does her job well. The pace never relents, the action always continuing and building to a stunning conclusion.
10. (+/-) The Cover - While the cover is highly symbolic and representative of the book, I can't help but think that I would pass right by this book in a store, especially if I had heard nothing about it.

While I do think that there were a few areas that could have been polished more, the beginning in particular with the various info-dumps, this novel was extraordinary, compelling, utterly absorbing. It's like Inception meets Divergent meets Days of Blood and Starlight meets a futuristic, nineteenth century London (aka if you're a fan of any of those: read this!) Mental and spiritual battles (and training) abound in a dystopian setting with a highly detailed fantasy hierarchy that challenges you to think about the price of freedom. Definitely recommended.

30 comments:

  1. This is really interesting, I've seen all the hype for this book (and the comparison for JKR) and I honestly wasn't that interested, but the reviews are making it sound more appealing! Esp. the romance element, I love those type of relationships in books, I agree about the cover, not a fan though I do like the blue colour

    Cait

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  2. I cannot wait to read this book. I'm trying to dial down my expectations given the hype (no book could live up to this hype), and your review definitely has me excited. I think I had heard about the info-dump from somewhere, I can't remember, but other than that, it sounds great. And the way you described the romance, I love that type of romance too (slow-burning, hate turning to something else, hopefully love?). And I love your description of the main character. I was planning to get this on my Kindle, but with the map and the glossary, I'm thinking maybe I'll have to buy a physical copy. Great review! ~Pam

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  3. Jenny @ Supernatural SnarkAugust 13, 2013 at 7:54 AM

    I'm so very, very excited for this one Christina! I've heard several people mention the info dump at the beginning, so I'm glad to know about that upfront and now it won't bother me as much. I can't even tell you how much I'm looking forward to the Paige/Warden relationship and it's seemingly infinite complexities, that and the world building probably have me the most excited. I agree comparing her to J.K. Rowling is setting the bar impossibly high for her, but I'm glad you loved this one overall, I can't wait to get my hands on it!

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  4. I am about to start this book in a few days so I'm going to scan, scan and come back to comment after. But it looks like it's MOSTLY +'s so that makes me feel much better:)

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  5. Sounds like Paige is similar to Rose Hathaway--my all time favorite heroine of all heroines :D haha. She's just so kick-a that you can't help but love that sassy, wicked fierce girl. You and your beginnings, tsk tsk tsk :D Have you read If You Leave by Courtney Cole? I don't think you have since it's NA and you don't have that grea track record with it. Anyhow, that book starts off with a BANG!!! One of the most original beginnings I have ever read. I laughed so hard and my mouth was this throughout the entire time: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. It was su unexpected and mad props for Ms. Cole for pulling it off. Oh, yeah! I have trouble as well with switching back-n-forth when reading ebooks. It's so.. time consuming :D I think the world itself sounds awesome, but my being a not-native-english-speaker, I think I would have difficulty concentrating and consuming everything when it's not explained correctly. The romance reminds me of Perry and Aria (I think I've said it in a recent comment somewhere, otherwise it sounds too déja vu)--what with hostility and learning to accept, appreciate and trust. I love slow-burn romances--they feel so real and good. Plus, them being a team at the end of the day while still having individual goals intrigues me just as Aria and Perry's quests and love did. I love when a book surprises me, it doesn't have to be much, but predictability usually loses points in my eyes. Anyhow, about the cover, I agree. I knew nothing about this one. I wouldn't have given it a second glance if it wasn't for your gorgeous review. I actually want to read this now. TBR pile, I'm sorry, you're gaining weight yet again ;-) Thanks for sharing, lovely!

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  6. Man I really need to get my hands on this one. Too bad the beginning had a lot of info dumping but it's great to see that ironed itself out pretty quickly.

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  7. I'm happy that this book delivers. With all the extreme hype around it and being called the next 'J.K Rowling' this book had a very high expectation. It seems like it excels in many areas. It surprises me that I'm especially excited about the romance: that is most of the time my least favorite aspect in a book. I think this is THE romance I always want to read about. Add the fantastic sounding Paige and I think I will like it.

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  8. Uh, oh...I'm a fan of ALL of those! :) Glad to know that it's at least worthy of SOME of the hype. A great protagonist is always a good start, so at least there's that. I didn't receive this for review, so I'll probably be purchasing the audio next week when it releases. Depends on my mood, though. I've been very finicky lately. :P

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  9. Oooh great review! I'm definitely wary of hype, but also almost always find myself somewhat drawn to it because I feel the need to have my own opinion. This is just one of those books that I see positive review after positive review. At least now if I pick it up (which I hope to do in the future) I know to keep reading even if the slow is beginning or info-dumpy at times. And the fact that some of the side characters aren't fully developed is a little disappointing, especially since when I think of JK Rowling that is one of the things I loved about her writing, but still! For as much as this author has to live up to, things are looking promising! Definitely on my wish list :)

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  10. well you got me on the slow brewing hate to love romance! that sounds absolutely entertaining, and it being one of your favorites? i'm in.

    great review!

    - Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

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  11. Ooh! Great review! I cannot wait to pick this title up. :)

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  12. I've been seeing so much hype on this one and you know what? I didn't pick up a copy at BEA bc I didn't think it would be my thing *sobs* I'm just not that big on Fantasy novels and this cover reminded me of another book I disliked but can't remember the name for the life of me lol. Anyways, I will definitely give this one a try especially if she's being compared to JK Rowling. I agree though JK was a master at character building - I loved some of the smallest characters in HP just as much as the main cast! That takes talent!! But it's often what happens when there's such a large cast - you don't really get to feel a lot of them with any sort of depth.




    Def. agree on the cover! I did pass by it. It also kind of looks like an adult book - think Game of Thrones style.

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  13. My review goes up tomorrow, and I definitely agree with you on several points. I also found the beginning to be really tough going, and then enjoyed the last half of the book much more. It took me a while to connect with Paige. And I did like the relationship between Paige and Warden, though it felt a little predictable to me somehow….

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  14. Cait, I think you will like this one once you get past the beginning. It's got a really absorbing world and plot - think the Fever series. You don't know the characters that well in the beginning, but it's captivating and has a lot of potential, especially in the romance department. :) I hope you give it a chance.

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  15. I don't think it's quite at love by the end, but the potential is great. Paige is a wonderful MC, and I would definitely recommend getting a physical copy. Having the map and glossary and being able to flip between them and your current spot during the info dump sections will be helpful. I hope you enjoy it :)

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  16. Jenny!! I think you will LOVE the Paige/Warden relationship. And the world-building. It sort of reminds me of the beginning of the Fever series--and we know how much we both love that series :). I hope you enjoy it when you get the chance to read it!

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  17. Yay!! Would love to discuss with you when you're finished. I hope you enjoy the book :).

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  18. Yep, and I'm hoping the second book has less of the info dumps. I hope you enjoy this one when you get the chance to read it :).

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  19. A little like Rose. She's less extroverted though, but definitely kickass and fierce. Hahaha, very true. Lately I have marked the beginning as being negative in a lot of books. I have not read If You Leave yet - maybe I should check it out to combat the negative openings :).


    You might have some difficulty with all the terms, but the glossary and map were very helpful, even if I realized that after the fact. Yes, this is a definite slow-burn romance and them being a team makes it rewarding. They're not quite like Perry and Aria just because that was more of an adventure story, the two of them journeying beyond. Paige and Warden have to fight the harsh society and the confines it places on them both - and how that affects their own mentor/trainee kind of relationship. If it reminds you of VA, you can think of it as a mesh between Dimitri/Rose and Perry/Aria.

    I hope you enjoy this one, Siiri :).

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  20. Yes. I love this type of romance, and you'll be pleased that though it's well developed, it's also a side plot and doesn't take up the entire book, so you'll have time to explore the world and enjoy other plots as well. I hope you like this! The hype is definitely extreme, but the book is also quite rewarding :).

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  21. Jen!!! I think you will really like this and its romance. If you're not sure about the book, the publisher has released a bunch of excerpts. You could read and see whether you're feeling up the audiobook. I confess: I'm very curious as to what this one would sound like being narrated. The voice-over in the book trailer was quite eerie, and it might make for a better medium than print.

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  22. Ha--all the traps and pitfalls but awesomeness of hype. If you want, Asti, I could lend you my pre-ordered copy when it arrives. All I'm going to do is reread or dog-ear certain passages, and that could wait if you're interested in the book :).

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  23. Definitely. A few days after I finished reading the book, and I was still returning to certain passages because of my love for the romance. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :).

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  24. Woot! Hope you enjoy it when you get the chance to read it :).

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  25. True, true. I think the character thing will get better with each book in the series, and as is, it's quite impressive for a debut novelist. It's like those times when you see so much potential in other areas and you raise your fist at the sky because you're like: if you had made this area as awesome, it would have been purrfect! Perfect! Sorry you didn't end up picking this one up at BEA :(, but if you do pick up a copy any time soon, I hope you enjoy it :). Don't think of that other book!

    And actually, it is an adult book, though it reads younger than GoT. Paige is a young kind of crossroads heroine, and the book has definitely got a lot, a lot of crossover appeal for that reason.

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  26. Yeah, the romance between Paige and Warden was definitely predictable (I think he touches her cheek after their third talk? It was something early on before they were on better terms). But the tension was always there, so it felt rewarding enough for me. I agree: Paige was a bit hard to connect to at first, but I hope that you did in the end :). I will stop by your review tomorrow so we can discuss more!

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  27. That is a lot of pluses, more than enough to make me want to read this. The hype scared me and I'm nervous about the info dumps that you mention. But there are a lot of positives to counter act that. On my need-asap list!
    And I agree the cover is bland. Until I heard the JK comparison I wouldn't have given this book a second glance.
    BTW I like your review style, I'm a big fan of lists.

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  28. Yes, get past the info dumps and you'll be good. I hope the next cover will stand out more. And thanks!

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  29. I feel so meh about this book. I don't know if it's the hype (I'm horribly contrary) or the cover (I hate it), or the awful J.K. Rowling comparisons (can we please ban any future comparisons? or "the next" commentary?), but I have so little interest in reading this book. I KNOW I should. Or, I feel like I should. But I just can't muster up enough care to even add it to my TBR. I figure I'll watch out for reviews of the later books in the series and see if it holds up.



    Though, you're seriously pushing me toward legit curiosity with your comments about the romance. ;)

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  30. The cover is so very meh and the next commentaries - I do feel bad for her about that. I think a small press started with it and everyone picked it up, but she's been so gracious about it, denying the comparison at every turn. Anyway, it might be a good thing to wait. I'm kind of doing that with 5th Wave - I feel like what you've written exactly describes my feelings for that book & the hype.


    I do think you'd like the romance, Small. It sort of reminds me of a mix of the romance in Grave Mercy and Angelfall. They're kind of rough with each other and don't know whether to trust one another in he beginning, but then that hatred slowly dissolves as they work together... yet their romance is still forbidden.

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