Chances are you’ve already heard about this debut novel. Signed while still a student at Oxford University, Samantha Shannon’s debut – the first of a seven part series – arrives with a hefty marketing and publicity budget. Film rights have already been sold to Andy Serkis’ film company. So does it live up to the hype?
I like to imagine there were more of us in the beginning. Not many, I suppose. But more than there are now.
We are the minority the world does not accept.
Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, one of the race of clairvoyants which Scion, ‘a republic built to destroy the sickness’, is determined to wipe out. Groups of clairvoyants have banded together though, living in London under mime-lords and queens who’ve formed the Unnatural Assembly and make their living through criminal activity.
Paige works for a mime-lord named Jaxon Hall, based under Seven Dials, Covent Garden. As we meet her, she’s being pushed to see just what her particular brand of clairvoyance allows her to do. By the end of the first chapter, it’s enabled her to accidentally kill an underguard from the Night Vigilance Division. And then we’re off.
A visit to Paige’s father – who, to add to the tension, is not only unaware that Paige is clairvoyant but also works in the scientific research division of Scion – ends with her being captured by the NVD. However, she wakes up, not in the Tower, where she expects to be put to death, but in what used to be Oxford.
Everyone had heard about the lost city of Oxford. It was part of the Scion school curriculum. Fires had destroyed the university in the autumn of 1859. What remained was classified as Type A Restricted Sector. No one was allowed to set foot in their for fear of some indefinable contamination. Scion had just wiped it from the maps.
But not only has someone been allowed to set foot in the former city of Oxford, an entire race has gained permission to create Sheol I.
The race is the Rephaim.
‘When the corporeal world becomes overpopulated with drifting spirits, they cause deep rifts in the æther. When these rifts become too wide, the ethereal threshold breaks.
‘When Earth broke its threshold, it became exposed to a higher dimension called Netherworld, where we reside. Now we have come here…You humans have made many mistakes. You packed your fertile earth with corpses, burdened it with drifting spirits. Now it belongs to the Rephaim.’
However, the Rephaim might be good news for the clairvoyants; they keep them in their employ to destroy ‘the Emin’, creatures who live in the woods surrounding Oxford. This is offered as an alternative to spending their lives in fear of being caught and killed by Scion.
Paige finds herself under the keeper Arcturus, Warden of the Mesarthim and blood-consort. It is highly unusual for him to keep a human and it focuses attention on Paige and her power.
A lot of questions are posed in the opening four chapters of The Bone Season: what do the Rephaim actually want? What does Arcturus want with Paige? Will Paige escape? Are Jaxon and the gang looking for her? What’s happened to Paige’s father? The unraveling of these questions makes this a page-turner of a book. It’s definitely plot driven and there are twists and turns in every chapter. However, on occasion, the twists weren’t as smooth as they might be, the writing not quite keeping pace with the ideas, sometimes meaning there was too much going on and at least one thread from the opening of the novel wasn’t returned to before the end.
It can be difficult to judge the first book in a series without the rest available to see where the plot goes. It could be argued that each individual book should also work as a stand alone but then what makes you desperate to read the next book in the series? It’s a difficult balance to get, particularly for a debut novelist.
So does The Bone Season live up to the hype? At this point, I have to say no. However, the first book shows a promising debut novelist, who is aware of the elements that make a gripping read and will no doubt produce a great book in the future.
As for the follow-up to The Bone Season – will I be reading it? Definitely, there’s a fair few loose ends whose outcome I have to know.
Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy.