Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Pros: intricate world-building, strong female protagonist, glossary of terms

Cons: lots of characters to remember (no character list)

Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, able to send her spirit into the aether.  She works for the criminal underworld of Scion London because clairvoyant powers like hers are illegal.  Unnatural.  A series of unfortunate events leaves her hunted by the Night Vigilance Division, voyants who work for the state against their own kind.  But it's a different group that finds her.  Instead of being executed or brought to the tower, she's drugged and woken up in a different city.  She finds herself a prisoner of a race of beings called Rephaite.  Beings who helped bring Scion to power.  Beings who are now her masters.

The world building in this novel is incredible.  Shannon has created 1) an alternate history from 1859, when clairvoyance became widespread, 2) a kind of caste system for clairvoyants, including numerous ways to access the aether, 3) a complex crime syndicate based in London, 4) a dystopian government that's extending its powers, 5) the Rephaite and Emim, and 6) the penal city of Sheol I.

While there are a few info dump style scenes, they're quick and intigrated into the story.  And you really need them.  So much is going on that the faster you're grounded in the background of each section, the more interesting the story is.  The information is explained in different ways, the branches of clairvoyance are delivered via an infographic at the start of the novel, there's an orientation meeting for Shoel I, and Paige learns more about the city from other inmates.  I really appreciated that Paige's flashbacks not only allowed you to learn more about her character but were used as a point of intrigue later on in the narrative.   

Paige is a flawed but still kick-ass protagonist.  She makes mistakes in the book and pays for them, but comes back fighting.  Her progression through the book feels realistic.  She's trying not to give in to hopelessness like so many others around her, while at the same time understanding that she has something to return to should she escape, unlike many of the others. 

The Rephaite are fantastic bad guys.  The more Paige learns about them, the more evil they become.  And yet, she's drawn to her keeper, who isn't quite like the others.  Their relationship is complicated and rather fun to read.

One of the few complaints I had about the novel was the large number of characters.  There are Paige's syndicate members (by name and codename), people in government, people from history, numerous Rephaite, and the people in Shoel I, who you have to remember by both name and number.  The numbers could confuse you too, as Paige was sometimes her full number, XX-59-40, sometimes XX-40 and sometimes just 40.  A list of characters, with their numbers/aliases, would have been a helpful addition alongside the included glossary of terms (which I had to refer to several times towards the end of the book).  

Another complaint was that amaranth became too powerful towards the end of the novel, which reduced tension in some otherwise tense scenes.

This is the first of a planned 7 book series.  Given everything introduced in this book, I can't wait to see what the author does next.  There's so much left unexplored, especially with regards to the Rephaite.  And while this book is definitely open ended, there is a sense of completion to this volume, which I appreciated.

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