I have finally finished The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. I’ve been reading it since I went to “A conversation with V.E.Schwab and Samantha Shannon” back in August. It’s signed and personalised which is a shame because now I have to keep it. I did read most of it and then I left it for ages. It turns out I only had about 50 pages to the end because the final four chapters are a prequel short story. And it’s good, just not really to my tastes.
The Bone Season is the first in a series set in an alternate reality London. In this reality, Clairvoyance in any form (soothsaying, ghost binding, angels ect) are a criminal offense, considered to be a plague. Those with clairvoyance have an aura, the colour depending on their gift. Most clairvoyants work in the criminal gangs of the Seven dDals, using their gifts for profit, rather than risk getting caught. Paige Mahoney is a powerful dreamwalker, the highest order of Clairvoyance, and an incredibly rare gift. She leads a double life, with her father who is a government official, and her secret life using her skills for the criminal underworld of her gang in the Seven Dials district of London. But when she is captured, everything she knows about her society is thrown into disarray, and she is pitched into a long term war with Clairvoyants being used as the cannon fodder, and under the orders of the mysterious and aloof and apparently immortal creatures that invaded earth. Paige wants to get free, get out of what used to be Oxford, and get back to her gang, back to her old life, but she may inadvertently start a revolution in the process.
I kind of trudged along with this book, not really devouring it and getting more and more frustrated with Paige. The world building is intricate and complicated, reflecting decades of social history where clairvoyance is seen as an endemic and those with the illness are persecuted. The criminal underworld is the only place where clairvoyance can be practiced, and as such they are protected in the dials (to an extent). However, Paige risks catching the bus home, and gets caught by clairvoyants who work for the government. She gets captured, and shipped off to Oxford where she is forced into effective servitude as the cannon fodder to the Rephiem against some weird darkness creatures that I can’t remember the name of.
Paige, being a Dreamwalker, draws the attention of the queen Rephiem (and a rather cruel cow) Nashira, who wants her powers basically. But Paige is given to the Warden, Nashira’s blood-consort so kind of prince consort or something like that. He’s strict, doesn’t say much and informs Paige that she has freedom during the day but has a curfew. If she breaks the curfew, he will kill her. He also seems to get himself hurt a lot and Paige patches him up a few times.
I quite liked how Paige interrupts her own narrative in the present to switch back to when she was a kid first discovering her clairvoyance and her link to the aether (the power source for clairvoyants) and it dips into the history which was supposed to have led to this anti-clairvoyant presence. Actually sometimes it can be really confusing about which type of clairvoyant does which and what colour they are- but never fear! There is a handy sheet in the front of the book that tells you.
The romance sub-plot feels a little like it is entirely vested in power – who has power over who and I’m not sure I like that. It can probably be summed up by and so, the lion fell in love with the lamb except the lamb is actually a whiney, powerful dreamwalker who seems to be succeeding in this awful situation despite herself. I wasn’t a fan of this romance, it felt forced and awkward and like it was just being overpowered by situation and actually, Paige is technically a prisoner and he her captor. It’s all a bit weird and I was not a fan.
I’m glad I got to the end of the book, however painful the journey and I have no strong emotions towards reading the next, or ever picking this series up again. I can see why some people like it – apparently its a fairly popular fantasy series but it just doesn’t sit with me. The characters are too annoying and feel a little basic and like they were written. To me, the mark of the best storytelling is feeling as if the characters can step off the page and into your life, but personally, I didn’t get that sense with Paige. To a small extent I did with a minor character Nick, but he’s a friend of Paige’s from the gang and the main characters felt like they were made of words. I think that’s why I didn’t really enjoy this book. It’s hard to define – I mean, there isn’t one huge glaringly obvious thing that I hated, like with The Name of the Wind, I really did not like Kvothe and had to give up three quarters of the way through (I assume he got kicked out of the university because he was impatient and broke into the library when he promised his teacher he wouldn’t – I don’t really care enough to find out though).
No, for The Bone Season, I can acknowledge that I can see why people like it, but I’ve never really been into the paranormal side of fantasy fiction and I didn’t really feel the main character and I had problems with the “romantic” sub-plot. All in all, not a fan.