Review: The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

 I never really see myself as a fantasy fan yet somehow I do have a sneaking affection for it.  I enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire and anticipate the next instalment with some impatience.  I was mildly diverted by The Hunger Games (more or less because it confirmed everything that I thought about love triangles).  However.  At least once a day I receive submissions from very nice authors who submit their books to me for review, something which the age of the e-reader has made much easier.  Unfortunately there are not enough hours physically in the day for me to say yes to them all but more to the point, there are several keywords in a synopsis which immediately alert me that this is not the book for me and ‘paranormal’, ‘dystopian’ and ‘urban’ are three of the biggies.  Nevertheless, I found myself absolutely captivated by The Bone Season.

There is very little pre-amble with this novel, we are plunged straight into the murky and confusing world of Paige Mahoney, dream-walker.  Living in an alternate London in 2059, Paige’s simple existence is treason in a land run by Scion where psychic abilities are banned.  To make matters worse, she’s working in a criminal psychic syndicate The Seven Seals where her job is to find information by tracking other people’s minds – she’s the surveillance girl.  Now all of this is just Paige’s normal routine until one difficult day she finds herself in a railway carriage with two guards attempting to arrest her.  Expecting nothing less than torture and public execution, Paige is surprised to find herself shipped off to Oxford, a city which has been strictly off-limits for the past two hundred years since around the time of the emergence of Scion.  Upon arrival Paige discovers that her entire world is a lie, that Scion are merely the puppets of the far more sinister Rephaim, beings from another dimension who battle against an even darker threat, the Emim.  We know that Emim are the ultimate baddies because they eat people alive.  Complicated?  Oh yes.
Samantha Shannon

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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The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
Published by A&C Black on August 20th 2013
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9781408836446

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6 thoughts on “Review: The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

  1. Oddly enough, my experience was the exact opposite; this seems like exactly the sort of book I love, but I couldn’t get into it at all. It absolutely had its moments – I loved the threnody, too – but I eventually gave up on reading it, flipped through to the end, and took it to the charity shop. So I guess there’s something about it that transcends the genre, with opposite results in our two cases. I liked reading this review of it, though.

    1. Oh – it’s so long ago since I read this! I’ve read the two other books in the series since though and I still do pretty much enjoy it. I definitely enjoyed it more on the reread though as I subsequently moved to Oxford and then sooo much more of the rituals make sense. Really interesting how the undergrad traditions get sent up in this. She’s definitely an intriguing writer. It is really interesting though how people can different responses to the same book – thank you so much for coming and sharing your thoughts 🙂

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