The title of the novel refers to the once a decade ritual whereby all of the captured psychics from Scion are sent to serve in Oxford, generally as fodder for the Emim but also as a general servants for the Rephaim with the added bonus that their psychic auras provide nourishment. The Rephaim are sinister and cruel masters and Paige finds herself reserved as servant to Arcturus, the Warden and blood-consort to the blood-sovereign Suzerain Nashira. There is a heavy weight of jargon to this world, so much so that I found it hard to believe that Shannon planned to tie everything up within a trilogy. A universe this detailed would surely need a saga more the length of A Song of Ice and Fire but we shall have to see what the future holds. Much of the vocabulary has been derived from cockney slang of the Victorian era and Shannon is obviously trying to evoke that kind of aesthetic but it is elegantly done although I did worry initially that it was going to be a little too Doctor Who. In fact, it has been a very long time since I read a fantasy universe that was so vividly drawn.
Paige Mahoney is a classic Katniss Everdeen-esque heroine and even Katniss herself was not exactly ground-breaking. She is grungy and grumpy and rebellious against authority, she’s an outsider yet somehow she still possesses incredible talent that amazes all those who meet her. Through flashbacks we see her as a scrappy school-girl, discriminated against for her Irish roots (shadows of Shannon’s own experiences?), we see her recruited by the syndicate and witness the key moments of her life. The Warden takes her on as his pupil, putting her through gruelling training sessions to help her to succeed in her ‘tests’ which will decide her ultimate fate. At this point it starts to turn a little bit Fifty Shades of Grey. More pertinently however, in many ways this novel is a homage to Jane Eyre. Scenes such as the occasion when Paige tends to the Warden’s wounds are very familiar and some of the dialogue closely echoes it – this is science fiction for fans of Victorian literature. There is naturally a danger for novels such as these that they can come to seem derivative more than an homage but the aether was a rich and fascinating concept for me. Meditation is part of my wind-down routine before sleep and I realised one evening that I was attempting to reach the aether – this world definitely reached my subconscious.
There have been so many spooky stories such as this one – for a long while I actually had it confused with Mortal Instruments – but although there are clear parallels I feel that Bone Season is head and shoulders above its peers. The threnody spoken to set spirits free was simple and beautiful, reading it during the week that my grandmother died was surprisingly poignant. It made me realise what the real difference was – Samantha Shannon is a confident and accomplished author with a real gift for description. The parallels to Harry Potter are obvious but for myself it recalled more His Dark Materials. I loved the idea of a crime syndicate assisted by the spirit of a dead Dutch artist, of a crumbling and decayed Oxford surrounded by deadly spirits. The Bone Season is a novel richly textured offering excitement, escapism and Gothic adventure. Inspired by grander forbears, this is a series with a great deal of promise.
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Published by A&C Black on August 20th 2013
Genres: Fiction, General
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