One can forgive publishing execs if all they saw was franchise potential in The Bone Season (the first in a projected seven-book series). After all, recent Oxford graduate Samantha Shannon’s debut features a young, resourceful female protagonist—19-year-old Paige Mahoney—who lives in a dystopian future rife with supernatural elements. And for much of the book, Paige is enslaved to an imposing non-human male, yielding a relationship that is both conflict-laden and conflicted. Evaluated just for its echoes of other successful book and movie franchises, The Bone Season looks like a melting pot of moneymaking ingredients.
But it wouldn’t be fair to judge The Bone Season just because it’s pitch-friendly. Shannon’s novel is an impressive feat of world-building, which rests on her inventive supernatural beings. These creatures’ complexity is more reminiscent of Sheri S. Tepper’s classic True Game series than of any contemporary teen-focused fantasy.
The Bone Season is set in a dystopian future that itself is the result of an alternate history that diverged dramatically from our own with an explosion of clairvoyant abilities in the Victorian era. The subsequent reaction against those exhibiting such “unnatural” traits has resulted in London (and several other cities) being controlled by a security force called Scion. As a result, life in 2059 London is a pretty dark place for most clairvoyants, though Paige Mahoney counts herself as an exception. A dreamwalker who works for one of the bosses of Scion London’s criminal underworld, Paige rejoices in her relative freedom and flouting of the authorities, who deem her tainted by her ability. Then she gets caught.
The rest of the book deals with Paige’s efforts to escape her captors, the powerful Rephaim. To do so, she must learn more about them, in particular her keeper, Warden. For readers, the challenge lies in ingesting a complex, multi-sourced flow of information—navigating the details of taxonomy, setting and plot with enough attention left over to bond with the characters and simply enjoy the story.
The most exciting thing about Shannon’s ambitious debut lies not in how closely it aligns with the works—and thus earning potential—of Collins, Meyer, Clare, et al., but in the near certainty that the author’s command over her world will only improve. And with that mastery, the series has the potential to become one that inspires others. The Bone Season is a delicious appetizer. Now we wait for the main course.