Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (Science Fiction Sunday no 4)

 ***SBR's Best Book reviewed in 2013***

Publication date: 20th August 2013
Published by: Bloomsbury
Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy (Young adult)
This is a review of the audio version

The Bone Season is one of those novels with an intricate and complex plot - the kind that I find challenging.  At first I thought it was because I lacked knowledge of the fantasy sub-genre that deals with clairvoyants and spirits (although this is true).  However, as the plot unraveled, I realised that some of the terminology was not explained until later on and things became clearer as the story developed.  Some readers have a problem with this, but not me. (I actually get enjoyment from that point of clarity I experience once things start to fall into place in my head). Also, because I listened to the audio version I didn't have access to the organogram, map and glossary available in the text version. So, if my summary is about as clear as mud, that could be why.  

The book is set in 2059 in an alternate reality, a world where there are 7 orders of clairvoyance.  There is a hierarchy within the order, based on the voyants' abilities. The more common the ability, the lower down the food chain and the rarer the ability the higher up. Some have the 'sight', i.e., they are able to see spirits, while others can only sense them.  It is illegal for voyants to practice - which is almost the same as saying it is illegal for them to exist.  They are generally marginalised and forced underground.  Their only means of survival is to commit mime crime, i.e., to practice in exchange for cash .  Life is hard and, inevitably, the strongest ones resort to organised (mime) crime, forming a syndicate.  Many clairvoyants end up working for the syndicate.  The weaker ones that don't struggle to survive alone and are at constant risk of being arrested and sent to 'The Tower' (what eveyone knows to be a prison for voyants).  

Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is part of a faction of the syndicate based in central London run by Jaxon Hall; a group known as the Seven Seals.  Each of them have different abilities that are extremely rare and highly sought after.  She is somewhat protected in this group.  Paige does not have the 'sight' but her ability allows her greater access to the aether than most voyants and she is in tune with its workings.  The aether I understand to be the plain where spirits reside (sort of like purgatory). She can pick up anything irregular in someone's dreamscape.  A dreamscape, I understand, is how voyants perceive the spirits they have access to. There are many different types of spirits, e.g. the poltergeist, which is powerful enough to inflict harm on a voyant.  Voyants engage with spirits and seek to influence and, in some cases, have control over them.  In doing so the spirits help them in mime crime and protect them when they are in danger.  The factions within the syndicate are jostling for rogue spirits to bring on side.  Most voyants have limited access to the aether caused by a force that holds them back once they get to a certain point.  It is described as a silver cord attached to their being. Paige's silver cord extends further than most so she can go deeper than others can. She does however need to be put to sleep and administered oxygen to be able to do so for long periods.  She is employed by Jaxon to act as a sort of spy in the aether, a surveillance tool is how she describes it.  Her ability gives the Seven Seals an advantage and some power in the syndicate. 

One night, Paige takes what seemed to me to be a foolish risk, which results in her unintentionally killing someone using her ability (this happens fairly early on so it is not a plot spoiler).  The plot thickens when she is captured and taken to the Sheol I penal colony, located in Oxford but unknown to most people outside.  Sheol I is occupied by the Raphaite a powerful race who came from another dimension and have an invested interest in ruling clairvoyants.  To Paige's horror, she discovers that the voyants are not only prisoners in Sheol I but also slaves to the Raphaite who regard them as inferior.  She is selected by the consort to the Blood Sovereign (who asks to be referred to as Warden) to be his personal slave and, as such, she is expected to obey him.  She struggles to conceal just how unpalatable it is to her and she does not do 'obey' very well.

This is the first of a 7 part series and this one is essentially about two things (1) the dynamic of Paige and Warden's relationship - a relationship that left me uneasy in the beginning - an observation rather than a criticism (on account of the whole master/slave thing), and (2) the Blood Sovereign's desire to capture the rarest clairvoyants and collect them like precious jewels. Paige meets a number of characters in Sheol I and they aren't expendables*. 

I found The Bone Season fascinating and intriguing.  Paige and Warden's story is told with dramatic irony as we, the readers, witness the evolution of their relationship.  This is extremely well done, in my opinion.  It seemed to me that only the surface was scratched in this first installment, and there is plenty of potential for development, so no wonder there are 6 more to come. 

I found myself drawing parallels with the Hunger Games and White Cat of the Curse Workers series
by Holly Black, although I would say the writing of this book is superior to the former and, in contrast, I had to use the grey matter to get to grips with it. (I confess I had to listen to it twice.) I liked the complexity and found it very imaginative.  I would also say it has an enchanting quality about it - similar to the type of novels that go viral.  Many are comparing it to the Harry Potter series, but I've not read those. A book has to be really good for me to take the time to read/listen twice but, not only was I happy to do so, I want to read the text version before the next installment. I think some books are better read than listened to, and this is one of those.

*expendables are what I call characters who have a minor role and aren't important enough for the reader to care about.

Thursday, 2nd January 2014
Update: I am beginning to wonder whether The Bone Season is (among other things) an homage to well-known and loved young adult fantasy fiction novels.  I have just finished Shadow and Bone and have discovered that Shannon's novel bears a striking resemblance to the central plot of that book, also.  It is so similar I do not believe this could be a case of coincidental commonalities.

My appeal to readers

No comments:

Post a Comment