Creative Dystopian Fantasy Falls Flat in Debut Novel ‘The Bone Season’
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 19:01
Out this past August, 22-year-old British author Samantha Shannon’s debut novel “The Bone Season” rides the wave of ever-popular dystopian novels in modern literature. The first in a projected seven part series, this new book explores a futuristic dystopian England beset by a sort of paranormal plague. Echoing other popular novels, “The Bone Season” brings a promising world into view, yet in the end succumbs to common pitfalls of the genre.
Set in the year 2059, in London, England, the story follows 19-year-old Paige Mahoney, a rare type of clairvoyant called a Dreamwalker. This ability allows her to affect the “æther”— the world of spirits—meaning she can slip into other people’s minds and control them. Because of this, she is constantly hunted by the officials of the totalitarian government Scion, whose laws she breaks daily simply by being alive and also because she works for the London crime syndicate as a part of the notorious ring known as The Seven Dials. Headed by her eccentric, brilliant, and terrifying mime lord Jaxon Hall, she uses her powers to participate in “mime-crime,” or using the spirit world for monetary gain.
But wait—just when readers think it could not get any more complex, Paige is abducted by Scion and given to the mysterious Rephaim, chilling beings from beyond the Netherworld who have secretly been in control since the early days of Scion. Trapped in a new and terrible prison, her relationship to her master, the betrothed to the murderous blood-sovereign, becomes increasingly complicated. Eventually Paige is faced with a choice: stay in captivity there, or escape to London, where she was also oppressed.
While the novel has received a fair amount critical praise—with some dubbing Shannon the “new J.K. Rowling”—as the author herself admits, it is not the height of literature. Heavy in fantasy jargon and obscure London slang, with several complicated settings, this book hardly reads smoothly and is difficult to follow. Paige, the main character, can be frustrating as she erratically lashes out at the world over and over, like an angry child. The idea of sorting people into groups (in this case over 100 types of clairvoyants) has also been compared to other popular books in the genre, including “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series. In the end, everything just seems like a massively complicated cover for an over-used genre, a promising world dampened by flat characters and clichés.
With six more books ahead of her, Shannon can expect to spend the rest of her twenties continuing the series. However, there is hope: she has already sold the film rights to producer Andy Serkis, and this first installment reached number seven on the New York Times’ bestseller list—despite its flaws, with a little improvement, this could go far. One only hopes that during this time she and her characters can mature enough to transform the series into something truly original.