The Bone Season is an interesting work on many levels. Long before its release, there was a TON of publicity. Apparently the publisher has a lot of faith in the story and the author. Apparently they've signed her to turn this into a seven book series. They've been touting her as the "next J.K. Rowling" and the book as the "next Harry Potter." I read the book blurb before I heard the rest of the hype and I must say I did find the synopsis intriguing.
I'll dive into the synopsis in a minute, but first let me just warn readers both of this review and of the book….there is a TON of information in this story. Probably the biggest page filler in the book is the amount of intricate details laid out to create some extravagant and creative new/alternate worlds. In many instances, the flood of details was overwhelming and confusing and made the reading slower than it should have been. During the first ~third of the book, there were times when I felt a little strained at the amount of new information coming my way. A lot of it was coming through good storytelling, but it also felt like a lot of the information was just presented through blocky narrative or descriptive text as though I was reading an encyclopedia (or wikipedia) article on Scion London. I suspect that this "tell not show" was part of what bogged down the reading for me, but even in the "show" sequences, there was still a lot to digest.
That said, for some reason I feel like I should give a glimpse into the intricate world building you can expect from this book. Most of this is hinted at via the "back of the book" synopsis, but it really doesn't give you a feel for what you're in for. If you're not interested in the details of the plot/world/setting, go ahead and skip down to the last few paragraphs of my review to get my overall feel for the book.
The book is set in London of 2059. In addition to being the future, it is the future based on an alternate history. According to the story, more than two centuries ago the king tried to summon spirits to do his bidding and help him gain more power. Naturally things went poorly for him. As a result of his dabbling in powers he couldn't understand, he opened a gap between the "æther" and the mortal world. This rift caused an immense increase in the number of "voyants" in the world. These voyants have different sorts of powers ranging from the more common forms we're familiar with (reading Tarot cards, scrying in a crystal, talking with the ghosts of the dead, etc) to more rare types.
Our central character is Paige Mahoney and she is one of the rarer types of voyants. She is what is called a dreamwalker. At first glance I thought this was going to be some "Inception-like" rip off. There is a very slight resemblance but it is definitely more different than similar. Paige is able to feel or sense the "dreamscapes" of those around her. In very simplistic terms, the dreamscapes seem to be the subconsciousness or psyche of an individual…the "dream" world within their mind. A person's dreamscape has different zones and will have different characteristics depending on the person. In addition to sensing or seeing a person's dreamscape, Paige is also able to have an "out of body experience" where her own spirit will leave her own mind (her own dreamscape) in search of dreamscapes to observe and explore. Over the course of the book, her powers and the nature of dreamscapes and the æther become more defined.
The initial part of the plot hinges around the fact that London has become a dystopian society called Scion where any voyants are hunted down and imprisoned. Many individuals do not even realize they have voyant abilities. Others have discovered them and try to hide them and live a normal life. Some use their voyant abilities on the sly to try to make a living telling fortunes or communicating with the dead. Others, like Paige, have taken to the criminal underground. A number of voyant gangs exist in the underbelly of Scion London. The first portion of the book focuses on Paige's life in Scion and her role within the secret cell known as the Seven Seals.
The world building of Scion London and the strange link to the æther and the paranormal was very interesting though a bit heavy and hard to follow at times. Just as I was starting to feel comfortable with the ins-and-outs of this new world, the author throws a wrench in the works and has Paige captured and arrested. It's at this point that the book starts to get VERY different.
Rather than just rotting in a cell, plotting her escape and taking her revenge on the government, Paige is transported, along with a number of other voyants, to Oxford. The city has been rebuilt and repurposed as a holding pen for containing and (supposedly) rehabilitating voyants. This sounds fairly normal at first but then we learn that the city is being controlled by a strange race of creatures from some other world. These creatures are called the Rephaim and in addition to looming large and powerful over the voyant humans, the Rephaim have voyant powers of their own.
So now, we get a new type of world building. We leave the dystopian city of London aside and move to Oxford, a city built by humans but being managed by a strange paranormal alien race. The humans in Oxford are treated as slaves and are given certain tasks to perform based on their abilities. More than just existing as slaves, the Rephaim use the voyant humans in their battle against another strange race of beasts existing between the world of the Rephaim and humans. Both the Rephaim and humans fight against these creatures in an effort to save Earth from potential invasion. Yet it's clear that the Rephaim's motives are not wholly altruistic towards the humans. In fact, it's quite evident that they hope to enslave all of us through one form or another.
As with any book, there are many characters that are fairly flat stereotypes that exist merely because they need to be there to help move the plot forward. Apart from those characters, we have three main characters: Paige, Jaxon and Warden.
Jaxon is the "mime-lord" of the Seven Seals. Basically he's the gang leader of the underground voyant cell operating in a section of central Scion London. He's both charismatic and brutal. He has his own goals and motives and works to ensure that nobody is going to get in the way of his goals.
Warden is the Rephaite keeper to Paige. He is the "blood consort" to the female Rephaite sovereign. He is an ominous force to be reckoned with but he is also a strange mystery to be solved. As Paige's keeper, she quickly discovers that Warden treats her far better than any of the other slaves. He seems to have a curious interest in humans and some ulterior motives that aren't obvious at first.
I've already talked a bit about Paige above. The one other thing I'll mention is something that really annoyed me throughout the book. As I mentioned, her Rephaite keeper Warden is very generous to her in terms of his treatment in comparison to the treatment of the other humans in the city. Paige is VERY angry throughout the book. She hates being imprisoned and she hates the treatment of the humans. I can agree and justify her hatred and her anger. Yet, it is quickly clear to the reader that Warden is different from the other Rephaim. While it's entirely possible that he could be putting on a facade to try and placate her, there's no visible motivation for deceit. On the contrary, everything points to the fact that he is treating her kindly because he has some underlying desire to help her. And yet, through nearly the entire book, Paige lashes out not only against the cruel and ruthless Rephaim but also against Warden. I can certainly expect and justify that kind of hatred towards him for a few weeks perhaps, but she is cruel, hating and untrusting to him for months and months in spite of the constant secret kindnesses he shows her. This was very frustrating to me especially as she works through her own mental anguish trying to figure out a way to find an ally in this place. The constant distrust also made the last few chapters of the book a little strained when she did finally trust him and open up to him.
As I mentioned initially, this book is dense. Weighing in around 500 pages, The Bone Season works to build two very detailed and intricate new worlds with intriguing new roles, practices, creatures and language. The amount of detail presented is often overwhelming and sometimes confusing. Still, it's difficult to think of a way to give the reader that much information in a more easily accessible or concise way without blatantly removing a lot of the details. While I will admit that many of the details feel extraneous and don't necessarily progress the plot, they do help flesh out the world and make it more vivid. I applaud the author for some wonderful world building.
The characters are interesting and have some rather stark motivations and personalities. In both Scion and Oxford, there are a number of secondary characters that go beyond the stereotypical tropes but largely there are only a handful of central characters to be distinguished. Warden is the most complex and even by the end of the book we haven't fully unraveled his motivations. Paige is hardened by some severe experiences in her past that leave her jaded and untrusting. Apart from my frustration that Paige holds onto her anger and mistrust longer than I would've expected, I felt like the characters were rich and realistic.
The overall plot is interesting and rather creative. In some ways it's nearly as intricate as the world building. In other ways it felt very straightforward and almost too simplistic…so much so that I wanted to hurry various parts of the plot along to get to the "predictable" outcomes. I can honestly say I haven't read a book with these types of characters, worlds, powers and sequences…but there are definitely parallels in other dystopic, fantasy and adventure stories. There were a number of plot points that felt predictable and there were others that felt very strained or rushed. And then…there was the romance. Yes, amid all of the chaos and adventure, the author found time to throw a romance into the mix. Personally I felt like the romantic angle was unnecessary and solely tacked on because it's on the checkbox of "required features for a Young Adult novel." While I'm not sure I would wholly categorize this novel as YA, the heroine is in her early 20s (?) and the marketing is pushing towards the recently graduated Harry Potter crowd. Still, the romance felt completely strained and cheesy. I just shook my head through those scenes.
Overall, I did enjoy this book. There were a LOT of times where I felt like I was just trudging through pages of details to try and get back to the main plot. I suspect/hope that the future novels in the series will be able to do a lot more "showing" and less "telling" since we've gotten so much of the history and the details out of the way. Stripping away the details (now that I've consumed them), I can say that I really did enjoy the story. I found it interesting and fun. It is definitely a DARK novel with some heavy themes (gangs, slavery, violence) but it tries to not get terribly graphic and as such should be suitable for older teens. I'm not sure it entirely lives up to the marketing hype. Still, it was an entertaining read. Just don't expect a light read and you'll be fine.
3.5 out of 5 stars
View all of my reviews on Goodreads.com