It is a complicated world that Samanatha Shannon has created in The Bone Season. The heroine is nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney. She has been working in the criminal underworld of Scion ( pronounced as “Sigh-on”) for three years. She was recruited directly from school and made a member of the Seven Dials, a group that is in the central circle of the city. They consist of the White Binder, the Red Vision, the Black Diamond, the Pale Dreamer, the Martyred Muse, the Chained Fury and the Silent Bell. She is employed by Jaxon Hall and is considered to be a rare clairvoyant, since she is a Dreamwalker, and can break into people’s minds to gain information.
Scion is London of 2059. It consists of clairvoyants ( “voyants”, as they are popularly referred to). Voyants can be identified by their aura, mostly coloured dreamscapes. Jaxon Hall has identified seven orders of clairvoyance: soothsayers, augurs, mediums, sensors, furies, guardians and jumpers. Paige Mahoney or the Pale Dreamer she is known on the streets falls into the last category, a Dreamwalker. This is a category that is rarely to be found. It is an oligarchy, with a very strict social pecking order.
There is a dark side to this society. A netherworld, if you wish, based in Oxford. It has been in existence for nearly two centuries. It is actually a penal colony where stray voyants and/or criminals are sent. Sheol I is governed by six and a half feet tall Nashira Sargas, the blood-sovereign of the Race of Rephaim. Every decade they “harvest” as many voyants they can to co-opt them into their own society. Depending upon the abilities of the voyants selected, they are introduced into different levels of society. Those deemed worthless are relegated to being slaves or entertainers (“harlies”).
Paige Mahoney is sent off to Sheol I after she kills two people. But she is considered to be fortunate since she is spotted by the blood-consort or fiance of Nashira, Arcturus Mesarthim, known as The Warden. He decides he will be responsible for Paige’s training, a fact that makes her very special ( and causes some envy) in the society. This is Bone Season XX, but everyone refers to Bone Season XVIII as being exceptional, since it was when a rebellion was quelled. But little details emerge, save what is mentioned in hushed whispers on the streets.
Without giving out to many spoilers it is a classic story of good vs evil, familiar adventures and experiences of a young adult, albeit in a newly fashioned dystopian landscape. Irrespective of the fantastic world that she inhabits and the exceptional talents she possesses, Paige comes across as a normal girl, with the usual ups and downs of life and emotions ( including getting a flutter about Arcturus). Bone Season is a book that once you get into whisks you off on a jolly ride.
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is to be released on 20 Aug 2013. It is the first of a planned seven-volume series, all though Bloomsbury has signed the twenty-one-year old author for only a three-book deal. ( Apparently it is a six figure advance against royalty that the young Oxonian has been given, negotiated on her behalf by legendary literary agent, David Godwin.) Well before the book has been released the film rights were optioned by The Imaginarium Studios. It is London-based performance capture studio led by Andy Serkis ( The Lord of the Rings ) and Jonathan Cavendish ( produced of Bridget Jone’s Diary).
A newspaper claimed that Samantha Shannon was the next big writer after J. K. Rowling, presumably based on the advance figures. The story that Shannon tells in The Bone Season is imaginative, but not exceptional. It is a story well told, by a talented novelist who in time to come (as her writing skills mature) will be influential on the literary landscape. Where most debut novels tend to be semi-autobiographical, in Shannon’s case the autobiographical elements are literary, existing in the atmosphere, the plot and the story details. Shannon was born in 1991, on the eve of an era, when there was a burst of fabulous literature for children and young adults. (Notably, Rowling published her first Harry Potter book in 1997.) Some of the international writers who came to dominate the period from the early 1990s were Lois Lowry, J. K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctrow, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer etc. The stories that they told were unusual for the time, they focused on what were termed as dark topics, but obviously struck a chord with many young readers. Details of nineteenth century England is a characteristic of Steampunk fiction and shades of which are visible in the slang used by the Scion, Voyants and Rephaim. The idea of toying with memories has been explored before in literature and films such as by Aldous Huxley, Men in Black, Lois Lowry’s Giver etc. Even the relationship that Paige has with the Warden has shades of Darcy ( Pride and Prejudice), Charles ( The Grand Sophy ) and George Knightley ( Emma). So entire generations of readers have been brought up on exciting and imaginative literature. It is bound to be influential. This is not really a space for a literary deconstruction of a tale well told. As T.S. Eliot said in his essay, “Tradition and the individual talent”, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the …poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison…. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism.” The fact is Samantha Shannon has carved a niche for herself as a writer to be watched.
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THE BONE SEASON
15 July 2013 ( Updated 16 July 2013)