The next J.K. Rowling? Uh, nice try, Bloomsbury, but no. Extremely false. This isn’t the worst book I’ve read, by far, but it is one of the most frustrating, mostly because Samantha Shannon is clearly very smart, so that makes it all the more aggravating that this turned out the way it did. I have lots of thoughts, as if you couldn’t tell from all my status updates. I will try to parse them out in a concise and entertaining manner, but I make no promises because it is New Year’s Eve and I’m in my party dress.
So let’s start out with that awful marketing plan, since I’ve already brought it up. Comparing their extremely green author to one of the most beloved authors of all time was not a smart move on Bloomsbury’s part. I’m sure they miss all their Harry Potter revenue dearly, but all it did was set up Samantha Shannon for failure. And that was going to happen whether or not the book was any good. This book, which in my opinion is a hot mess, needed to be edited within a half inch of its life. It didn’t need to be praised as “the next Harry Potter.” Honestly, what I think it needed was for its author to incubate a little more. Her fine education and precocious imagination aside, she bit off way too much with this series, and did not have the life experience necessary to pull it off. This book screams AMATEUR to me. As stated above, I’ve certainly read worse books, but I almost think the experience of reading this one was so horrible because I could see the potential hiding in there. This story could have been great given five or so years, and a lot of patient editing.
To sum it up quickly, The Bone Season is the first of seven novels that take place in a dystopian/alternate world that diverged about two hundred years before present time. It’s a world where clairvoyance is real, and those possessing the ability are either persecuted or conscripted for police service, and where others choose to practice their talents in criminal underworlds as an alternative. But just as Shannon begins to describe this world to us, and we’re already feeling lost, our main character, whose name I have now forgotten, is kidnapped by a mysterious race of beings who are also clairvoyant, and then we have to learn about THAT world on top of the other one. Everything has a label, there is a new and confusing terminology for everything Shannon could have possibly thought of, and it is an incredibly trying reading experience. Not that challenging books are a problem, but there’s a way to do it that Shannon didn’t manage.
And then it quickly became clear to me that the plot of the novel was just the standard YA/romance with a super speshul heroine hiding underneath the thin veneer of the very confusing exterior of the world Shannon has created. Our heroine is SO SPECIAL and nobody has ever had powers like hers and the bad guy falls in love with her! And only she can save the day! It was about 1/3 of the way through the novel when I just gave up trying to keep track of everything and just let the crazy wash over me. The cardboard cutout secondary characters, the way the heroine fixated on things for no reason (and Shannon clearly expected us to care about those things as well, only I didn’t want to), the constant info-dumping and violations of Show, Don’t Tell. She uses complicated words to impress when simple ones would do. Last minute plot contrivances to get her story in place. A romance that comes out of nowhere. She basically lifts a character straight from A Clockwork Orange, and probably thought we wouldn’t notice, maybe because her target market won’t have read that book yet:
“Look at you with dewdrops in your shiners. Raise your head, O my lovely! What do you want–sympathy? Pity? You won’t find that from him, just like you didn’t find it from me. The world is an abattoir, my mollisher. Raise those barking irons, now. Let me see you give him hell.”
Ugh, shut up.
I might read the second book in this series. But maybe not. Reading this one was torture, if I’m being honest, because a lot of the things I see Shannon doing as an author are things I used to struggle with as well. It’s like looking into a mirror and seeing my past self, and I can see myself thinking the wrong things are good, and being an idiot, and I don’t have the power to stop myself. Anyway, in my case it didn’t matter, because nobody was publishing the shit that I wrote when I was her age, and mistaking complicated worldbuilding for complexity and depth of content, as Bloomsbury seems to have done with this series.
Most of all, I just really wish whatever person accepted her manuscript for publication would have been thinking with their brain instead of their wallets. This book and its author are going to suffer for it.