Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review: The Bone Season

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
Book 1 of "The Bone Season"
It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

It's here!  The next Harry Potter!

Oh, wait.  No it's not.  I was hooked by the very first few pages of Harry Potter:  who were these wizards?  How did that one have a putter-outter?  What was going to happen to this kid?  The Bone Season?  Not so much.
It's not the book's fault.  Not really.  When publishers start crying "THIS IS THE BEST THING SINCE THAT OTHER REALLY GREAT THING," I start getting excited like any well-trained book-reading seal.  When I read rave reviews, I can't help but get a thrill when my copy arrives.

And then about 100 pages into this book I realized I wasn't really enjoying it.  I was reading it because I assumed there must be something coming that these other readers saw and enjoyed.  Perhaps I just wasn't memorizing the lingo quickly enough.  Perhaps my callused unfeeling heart just had no empathy for other human beings.

It's not the book's fault.  When publishers start hyping something as much as they can, there's essentially no way that the book can satisfy every reader.  I was unfortunately left unsatisfied. 

I appreciated the world building - the idea that England could become a totalitarian state that would lead other nations into a similar political climate: very interesting.  Clairvoyants running around?  Cool.  A strange race of creatures whose lifeblood and essence appear to be tied to the aether?  Alright. 

However, things that are not cool:
1. An eight-page glossary that you have to consult just about every page for the first half of the book.  Sometimes it feels like reading a prose version of "Jabberwocky."  You'll be reading a paragraph and everything is great and then the blorgsnafs started slipsnakking around with your greemer.  And then it's off to the glossary to make sense of what you just read.
2. A chart on the "order" of clairvoyants which should mean something but really doesn't help make the story make any more sense.
3. A huge cast of characters that are largely interchangeable, from physical description to job to personalitiesSeriously.  I could have used a "Cast of Characters" and I usually don't have problems keeping fictional people distinct in my mind.
4. A concentrated effort to make the world dark and gothic which only succeeds in jarring the reader out of the story.  Constant references to sad, depressing songs or gothic novels.  The first song Paige hears ("Gloomy Sunday") has an urban legend around it that says it makes people commit suicide. 

I couldn't relate to any of the characters, except one, and even that one wasn't exactly my BFF.  When one "important" character dies, I just shrugged and turned the page.  There are so many Rephaim and "voyants" and with few exceptions they are not really memorable.  I don't even know much about the protagonist and would be hard-pressed to describe her beyond "occasionally self-destructive" and "a rebellious when the plot calls for it." 
And of course, because this is being marketed as Young Adult, there is the requisite romance, shoe-horned late into the story which smacks strongly of Stockholm Syndrome. 

I guess here's a tip for publishers: 
I'm not looking for "the next Harry Potter."  Really, I'm not.  What I'm looking for are well-told books that capture my imagination or emotions.  If that is a book about goblins under a hill, I'm on board.  If it's about a sassy assassin fighting for her freedom, I'm cool with that.  And if it's just a teenager in the late 1940s trying to be more grown-up than she really knows how to be, I can be a good sport.  But if you start trying to sell me on something by telling me how frickin' amazing it's going to be and how it will leave a mark on my reader's soul to the extent that Harry Potter did, you are setting yourselves up for failure.  Just stop.  Please.  I don't like taking your crazy pills.

I commend the (young) author for her imagination and the effort required to tell a story of this scope.  For a first novel, this is a good book, even if it didn't work for me personally.  However, I have to shake my finger at the publishers who held her up as the new arrival of the Best Author Ever. 

2 out of 5 stars.  Probably won't look for the sequel.

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