Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Let me be clear from the start of this review: there are no words I can write that will do this book justice. It is just perfect.

review

The Bone Season is the first in an epic seven book series telling the story of Paige Mahoney and her life in Scion, a place so sure of itself it broadcasts the message no safer place. Safe, that is, so long as you aren’t a Clairvoyant. Scion’s Clairvoyants are a criminal underclass, hunted and executed by the government and hated by their fellow citizens:

 “We are the minority the world does not accept. Not outside of fantasy, and even that’s blacklisted.”

Paige is part of the Clairvoyant underclass: she works for Jaxon Hall (aka The White Binder), leader of the Seven Dials. She is a Dreamwalker (The Pale Dreamer), who scouts for information by searching people’s minds (hello, yes, I would like this superpower, thank you). She is Jaxon’s Mollisher, his second in command, his protegee. She is relatively new to the gang compared to some, but she has earned her way into her position, and the (sometimes begrudging) respect of her colleagues in the process. Jaxon is a harsh leader, he does not suffer failure. He claims to like Paige, even to love her in a familial way, but ultimately, she is a commodity to him: “He would kill me if I left his service”. Jaxon only adores Paige for as long as she does what he wants her to do.

For someone so heavily tied into the criminal underworld, Paige has a really strong sense of morality. She is frequently concerned with doing the right thing; she agonises over killing people and will question Jaxon if she thinks he is doing something wrong. Later, she finds herself having to do things she doesn’t want to in order to survive the Bone Season, and this causes her deep inner conflict: does she do what she believes to be the right thing, or what she needs to do to save herself? Paige was so relatable in these moments, but also possessed a strength I would never have in her position (for all of my feisty talk, when the dark powers rise I will be hiding wherever the gin is).

Paige is going about her normal, everyday business, when she finds herself on a train that is being searched for Clairvoyants. She must use her skills to escape, killing people in the process, and leaving behind a trace that could identify her. In her efforts to escape, she is caught, drugged, and finds herself in Oxford, with an alternative to execution for Clairvoyance: taking part in Bone Season XX. Oxford has been kept a secret from the citizens of Scion for 200 years, and is controlled by the Rephaim (celestial beings). The ruler here is Nashira, and she is desperate to find a Walker. Paige is assigned to Warden to train for the Bone Season, which is odd because Warden is engaged to Nashira, and he has never taken on a trainee before.

20180324_111454
so good they put it on a cake.

However, this world may not be as innocent as it first appears. Those who fail are consigned to the slum areas and forced to make a living entertaining the Rephaim and allowing them to feed on their aura. Paige makes friends with some of these people, but she determines that she will not become one of them: she will survive the Bone Season, and she will find a way to escape.

Warden is an enigmatic character. He is initially a man of few words and strange actions. He is very serious. I liked him immediately, but had a strong sense that maybe I shouldn’t. One of Samantha’s greatest writing skills is making you love and doubt her characters in equal measure. Paige hates Warden at the start: he embodies the whole Bone Season experience for her. He is her captor and her guard. But her hatred of him doesn’t stop her from saving his life when she needs to, and this choice binds them inextricably:

“You and I have saved each other from the first death. We are beholden to one another, bound by a life debt. Such a debt carries consequences”

and in those words is both a warning and a promise. Warden trains her, and he is kinder to her than most others are to their trainees. He wants her to push her powers further, to achieve more, but it isn’t clear why he wants this or how he feels about Paige. Her feelings become more conflicted the longer she is around him, as did my own. So, so many feelings.

Everyone wants Paige; to do more, to be  more, to become the Dreamwalker that they want her to be. Paige has two men pushing her: Jaxon (who wants her to be his perfect Mollisher), and Warden (who wants her to be a better Dreamwalker). But why? And does anyone care what Paige wants? Being part of the Bone Season reduces Paige to being nothing more than a number and a skill. It strips her of her identity, and makes her start to question herself and to face her biggest fear: that she is nothing without her gift. She wants nothing more than to return home:

“I wanted my old life back. Yes, I’d been a criminal, but I had also been among friends.”

It is this that gives her the courage to keep going when she might otherwise give up.

There is a strong Feminist theme to this novel: Paige is a young woman in a position of power that (as far as she knows) she has earned through her own skill and hard work. She may be strong and skilled in combat (traditionally masculine traits), but she is also kind, loyal, thinks of others (often before herself) and passionate, and it is her feminine attributes that give her the strength to survive the Bone Season with her sense of self intact. Nashira might be completely awful as a being, but she is also a woman in a powerful position. There is also mention of male contraception being the norm in Paige’s world, which…hello, yes, it’s about time that was a thing.

As well as the strong feminist themes, there is a well-developed theology which is seamlessly written into The Bone Season. I most noticed it in the speaking of the Threnody over the bodies of the recently deceased. If the Threnody isn’t spoken, the dead cannot be absolved, and they will hover in this world. Certain types of Clairvoyant can capture spirits and harness their power for their own uses. I loved this idea, and the intricate detail Samantha has woven into the stories.

The Bone Season is one of those books I could read over and over again, and still find something new, some new level of meaning, every time. I am still not over my first reading and already I cannot wait to be reading them again.

 

 

 

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