Samantha Shannon’s début novel, The Bone Season, launches while the author is impressively just 22 years-old, having written it while completing her degree at Oxford – also the haunting central location in this dystopian young adult novel set in an alternate-universe England.
The Bone Season is the first in a planned series of seven books, following 19 year-old heroine Paige Mahoney in a parallel, not-so-distant future England. Paige is a powerful clairvoyant in a world where the boundaries between Earth and what lies beyond have been blurred.
Spirits of the dead and assorted paranormal beings fill the streets of London – streets which are fiercely patrolled by Scion, the Big Brother-esque governmental body in charge of oppressing any supernatural activity, and harshly punishing the individuals gifted, or cursed, with the ability to interact with these unearthly forces.
Spirits of the dead and assorted paranormal beings fill the streets of London...Paige finds community, a good living and protection from Scion working as a sort of spirit-spy in London’s supernatural underbelly, joining a crime syndicate made up of other clairvoyants like herself.
But after a deadly confrontation with Scion officials – in which she just begins to understand the full extent of her powers – Paige is arrested and swept off to the mythical city of Oxford.
Assumed by many not to exist, Oxford is rigidly isolated from the rest of the world. Here Paige finds herself trapped in a highly-organised slavery ring, with prisoners fed in from Scion’s arrests of clairvoyants; prisoners supplied appease a powerful race of creatures Paige could have never imagined.
Buzz around Shannon has lauded her as the next J.K. Rowling; the fact that both well-publicised, seven-book fantasy series for young people were bought by the same publisher was bound to draw comparison. But I think it’s inaccurate to link these two series too closely (not to mention a little unfair to heap such stratospheric expectations on a first-time novelist).
Shannon’s magical world is much bleaker than Rowling’s; The Bone Season lacks much of the warmth and humanity of the Harry Potter series, and I think intentionally so. This is bare-bones, action-packed storytelling, which sacrifices depth of language and character to fill the pages with danger and a detailed mythology.
The Bone Season trips into some well-worn fantasy territory – why is sexual tension between teenaged girls and immortal beings still happening? – and feels too much like a build-up to bigger things to be entirely satisfying as a stand-alone novel.
But Shannon has created an impressively detailed backstory, some slow-building tension and an imaginatively rich world that I look forward to exploring further in her future books.
The Bone Season was published last month by Bloomsbury.