Book Review: The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon

Samantha Shannon's debut novel, The Bone Season, is a sci-fi dystopian tale with almost as much world-building in the first 100 pages as there has been hype around the book. First in a planned series of seven, Shannon has been called "the next J.K. Rowling," the book was optioned for film before it even hit stores, and it was selected as the inaugural title for the Today Show's new book club.

If you come to The Bone Season looking for the next Harry Potter, you'll be sorely disappointed. Where Rowling's world was based predominantly on myths and historical elements, Shannon's leans into the future; where Rowling's characters start young and relatively naive, Shannon's are grown-up, more complicated; where Rowling's novels dabble in relationships and take their time leading up to the deaths of characters we care about, Shannon shies away from neither sex nor violence.

What The Bone Season is is a complicated, fast-paced novel set in 2059, in a world based loosely on the London and England we know today, but with one marked difference: clairvoyance. Clairvoyants (called simply "voyants") are everywhere, but they are also inherently illegal. As such, those voyants not already captured by the government are most commonly found in crime syndicates--like the one in which we find Paige Mahoney, a 19-year-old voyant. At least until Paige is captured and sent to the Rephaites, who occupy the campus and town of Oxford as a kind of militaristic camp designed to train voyants as weapons.

It's all incredibly complicated and rather hard to lay out in a summary, which explains why Shannon never tries it herself. Remember how Hagrid explained wizardry and the wizard world to Harry throughout the first Harry Potter books? Yeah, this is not that.

The Bone Season throws readers right into the mix of things with little explanation. There's enough detail weaved into the actual fabric of Shannon's plot to bring the world she has imagined to life, you just have to be willing to work at it.

And once you do, once you see the world in front of you, with its myriad layers of voyance and the multitude of competing groups, The Bone Season will sweep you away. It's a smart novel that moves with steady footing between the worlds of science fiction, fantasy and dystopia, and carries enough emotional weight to keep the characters--even the alien ones--interesting to the last. Shannon brings a new, young voice to the world of science fiction, and though the ending of The Bone Season isn't entirely satisfying--it is the first in a series, after all--it's enough to leave me interested to see what comes in the second book.


Thanks to the publisher for providing a galley of this title for review.
The Bone Season | Samantha Shannon | Bloomsbury | Hardcover | August 2013 | 480 pages


  1. I'm reading this at the moment. I agree that Shannon throws you right into the story, and I like that. So far, I'm impressed with it.

    1. Yeah, there's not a lot of hand-holding, but I kind of loved that about it.

  2. "The Bone Season throws readers right into the mix of things with little explanation." Excellent. I have this one checked out from the eLibrary, was actually considering starting it today. Seems like I've found my book for the evening.

  3. I'm having a hard time getting excited about this one. Maybe a mood thing. One day.


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