The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon

I don't normally bother to post about books I don't finish. But for The Bone Season, I'm going to make an exception. Not exclusively because of the book itself but because of what it made me think/wonder about urban fantasy and YA.

 

Now it's quite possible the author is a lovely person and fully deserving of the success she's picked up - I mean, signing a 7-book series deal with a publisher and selling the movie rights to your first novel are nothing to sniff at for someone of any age. But something being a success doesn't automatically mean that it's something original or good (see the unfeasible success of re-mastered Twilight fanfic into a blockbuster trilogy currently gracing the shelves of most of the country's charity bookshops).

 

Maybe it's me. It's quite possible as I move steadily across middle age my tolerance for teenage attitudes and thought processes grows ever less. But this book is so riddled with all sorts of tropes it's almost hard to move. First off, our protagonist (Paige) is a special snowflake, with abilities nobody else has and she's also an outsider because of where she comes from. But not because Paige is not white, oh we couldn't possibly have a non-white main character who's special and expect the book to sell - no, Paige is Irish (I almost typed 'begorrah' after that, because this is special literary Irish we're talking about, all rolling hills and rural tranquility, not growing up on a Dublin council estate).

 

Then, when her secret abilities are exposed Paige is whisked away to become the slave/feeding stock of folks who aren't really aliens but are from 'the other side', because all of the abilities people are trying hard to hide are psychic ones of various kinds. This is a setting where the other folks 'harvest' people with psychic abilities, ship them off, take away their names and (in Paige's case, at least) physically brand their new names onto them in proof of ownership. And there Paige will eventually fall in love with her new master, because while Paige is special, her abilities do not extend to seeing how falling in love with someone who is a member of a race who are psychic vampires and who can also have you beaten or killed without repercussions is at all problematic.

 

Naturally - I admit I flicked to the back of this volume to check my suspicions were correct - this character (the Warden) is also not-like-other-boys, as he is leading a rebellion to change how things are. And the Warden is in love with Paige, of course, because she is not-like-anyone-else-he-has-ever-psychically-fed-on-before, so therefore they are Meant To Be. Anyway, at the end of The Bone Season, we have Paige and her other friends (including Mr Heavily-Foreshadowed Potential Alternate Love Interest, in case Paige needs to do some soul-searching in later volumes about who she is Meant To Be with) heading off to fight the bad folks at home and the Warden going back to fight secretly against the others of his kind. Which of course will give Paige lots of time to wonder if they are really Meant To Be, as the Warden isn't there with her, and maybe angst about whether he's okay, then rinse and repeat.

 

Anyway, alongside all of this there's the issue of how bloated the book is. World-building is a fine skill, especially the kind of world-building where you want to introduce new terminology and new structures of any kind. There's a fine line between introducing concepts and info-dumping and sadly, for me at least, The Bone Season tramples over that line heavily on a number of occasions. To be perfectly honest, I think this book would also have benefitted from not being in first person, as then at least there's the possibility we might get a few less 'as you know, Bob'-type conversations with people who helpfully tell Paige something (or at least most of something) she needs to know to advance the plot.

 

So, the overall verdict: it's all been done before. The YA world is full of special snowflakes and the not-like-other-boys who love them. Fortunately, the SFF world is also full of books with more dynamics and variety than that, so perhaps it's time I stuck to those and gave up on first person narrative for good...