Monday 7 October 2013

Reviewed by Arianne: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon + Interview with Andy Serkis on The Bone Season Movie Adaptation.

Product details:
Publisher: Bloomsbury.
Paperback, 466 pages.
Release date: August 20th 2013.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: Adult.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.

It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine and also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.

I'll admit it: going into The Bone Season, I was little bit skeptical.

Never before has a book entered the book-loving universe with as much hype as this debut - at least not in my reviewing lifetime. And you have to give Bloomsbury's marketing department credit where credit's due: they've done a great job of getting this book's name out there in the weeks leading up to and after its release. 

Set in a parallel world which diverged from ours in the middle of the nineteenth century, The Bone Season lays claim to carrying on many proud literary traditions. Alternate timeline? Check. Set in the future? Check. Teenage heroine out to save not only herself, but potentially her entire world? Check. Several loyal protagonists fighting against a whole race of antagonists? Check. Forbidden love? Sort of. Disappointing beginning? Most definitely.

My early reading of The Bone Season was littered with notes, and they weren't exactly flattering. (I would take a snapshot, but I can't actually get them to fit in one photo.) To give you a brief glimpse, let's start with character and voice. 

Oh, Paige Mahoney, how I truly wanted to love your narrative. I wish I could believe in you the way your author clearly does, but your contradictions are just too immense.
Paige is someone who is supposed to be second-in-command of a ruthless criminal gang; a protégée, a 'mollisher' (but we'll get to the irritating slang later). Instead, her words are those of someone who wishes she could join a gang, but isn't actually in one. Insight into gang life is short, mainly centered around the formative pages and a few slightly more detailed flashbacks, and it just doesn't ring true. Not because of realism issues - in a book like this, the question of realism doesn't exist as everything's far-fetched from the get-go - but because there was no life to it. Nothing that really sparked my imagination. Paige's desperate possessiveness of Jaxon Hall and her place as his precious 'dollymop' (seriously, we will get to the slang thing eventually) starts to grate, especially when she's still doing it after months away from his filthy clutches.

And okay, the slang thing. I know it's meant to be authentic, but set against Paige’s strangely formal narrative - she has a great vocabulary, but the initial style tries to hard to imitate the classics - it's doesn't work. There's no seamlessness between either code of language. How can you go from saying things like 'gallipot', 'cokum' and 'donop' (a unit of measurement, apparently, and not to be confused with dollymop, see above) to using phrases like 'cry me a river' and 'crib'? It's like Victorian London crossed with MTV. It's against the laws of nature!

Aside from those few qualms, however, and despite the fact that the first two chapters are a complete info dump, there were parts of The Bone Season that I really, really loved. 

The second half of the book was completely enthralling. This is where the Rephaim come in. Otherworldly beings descended from the aether, they live in the shadows and have captured Paige and others like her for their own possibly malicious purposes - and so ensues an epic dance between good and evil, peace and war, aura and ectoplasm. 

(Wait, what? Did I forget to mention the ectoplasm? Oops. My bad.)

In the latter stages of the book, vague characters like Dani, Seb and Eliza are replaced by fantastic villain Nashira, feisty ally Liss and dark horse quiet Michael. Nick had my heart from the very beginning, but of course the one character I truly adored was Warden. He was so much more than just Paige's puppet love interest, and the most vivid of all the characters in the book. Once he'd been introduced - and the mystery of who he appeared to be began to slowly unravel - I could not put the book down. 

Paige's aims are simple but the world building is incredibly intricate and the plot hurtles forward as though the story itself is afraid it's going to run out of paper to be told on. I was gripped by a breakneck race for survival and undertones of a political thriller in the making. Keeping up with the different types of voyant can be tricky but there's such a sense of rebelliousness, of passion and intensity within the action-packed finale that total understanding of Samantha Shannon's unique new world becomes irrelevant - because you know you're going to be re-reading it again and again.

In short: at almost five hundred pages and billed as Bloomsbury's next big-hitting bestseller, The Bone Season is the definition of literary investment. It's slow to start, but perhaps its saving grace is the fact that by the time I reached the end, I'd almost forgotten that my early negative notes existed. The characters really come into their own, the world is one I can't wait to see more of - and there are so many unanswered questions, I'm positively salivating for the sequel.

NB: I don't usually put these on my reviews as I believe in freedom of book-choice, but in the interest of verité I think it's worth mentioning the violence in this book. It is grotesque at times and may put off some readers. Otherwise, it's well worth a read!


Want to check out The Bone Season for yourself? Read an extract: HERE.


Q&A with Andy Serkis on The Bone Season Movie Adaptation

1. What is it about The Bone Season that compelled you to include it in The Imaginarium Studio's very first slate of films?

We first came across the manuscript at the London Book Fair and immediately fell in love with the scope, the scale and the exceptional detail of the world Samantha had created. It’s a really compelling story with such a great central character – we all immediately saw its potential as a fantastic feature film.

2. Have you met Samantha Shannon and how involved will she be in the film's production?

Yes of course – she’s a delightful, incredibly intelligent person. She’s very warm and a passionate storyteller- dedicated beyond belief. We’re working very closely with her on all aspects of bringing the world of the book to the screen. We’ve been involving her with all the early concept artwork that we’re beginning to put together. Obviously it’s her world so we want to make sure we bring it to life in the way that she wants.

3. Can you tell us about how the creative process for adapting a story like The Bone Season begins?

It begins with knowing the story you want to tell. There are thousands of stories contained within the world that Samantha has created- we have to be very disciplined about opening up the world in a way that will lead us on to further investigation in the rest of the series. We need to find the emotional heart of the story; the relationships; the tension; the suspense and the drive, and of course working closely with Samantha is going to make it much easier.

At this very early stage it’s about finding the right writer and the right approach to telling the story. Hand in hand with developing the screenplay it’s also about developing the visual world and bringing that to life, finding the right visual effects team who understand Samantha’s concepts.

4. You have been part of bringing some of the world's most famous and well-loved fantasy worlds to contemporary audiences. Which of your experiences across film, tv, stage and video games would you say has been most helpful in preparing you to produce The Bone Season?

It would be impossible to single out any one single experience, it’s an accumulation of all my experiences to date, but obviously having worked on The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s extraordinary world with Peter Jackson is incredibly useful. Peter basically gave me the opportunity to work on a lot of extraordinary characters in a lot of extraordinary worlds and has opened up my eyes to a genre that I knew very little about before.

5. Will performance capture will come mostly into play when portraying Shannon's Rephaim race on screen in The Bone Season? Can you give us any insight into how you'd like these characters to appear?

We’re in very early stages of designing how we want to portray these characters, and are exploring a variety of avenues to bring these characters to life. We’re certainly not tied to any one production technique at this early stage.

6. Animal Farm is the other film on your inaugural slate. What can you tell us about this project?

We’re extraordinarily excited about Animal Farm. We have been working on the methodology this year, the development of the characters and the story. We’re working with a wonderful character designer and very pleased with how the animals are developing as visual characters.

In terms of story, we’re remaining very truthful to the original book however we are relocating the setting as if Orwell were writing in the present day - we’ve been working very closely with the Orwell estate on this.

7. You're talents are very varied! If you could only do one thing for the rest of your career, which would you choose (stage/tv/film/video game roles, voice roles, director or producer)?

Mountain Climber.


  1. Great review Adrianne. You made me laugh with your against the laws of nature comment and I'm imaging all kinds of crazy language now in my head! Sounds like once you really get stuck in that it's a winner.

  2. I'm so glad that The Bone Season has been picked up to be made into a movie, I think the world that Shannon created would look amazing on the big screen! And I felt exactly the same way you did about this book, it took me a while to get into, but the second half was definitely worth it! Great review Arianne! :)

  3. ChristinaBookAddict9 October 2013 at 01:13

    Fantastic review, Arianne. Like you, I have heard a lot of good things about The Bone Season and am really intrigued by it, especially after reading your review. The slang/strange vocab I think would really annoy me, but perhaps I would get used to it like I did for Maze Runner. I like that you said once you were done the novel, you forgot about all about the negative notes you took down. That's impressive! I definitely plan on checking out this one!

  4. What a wonderful review, Arianne! I have heard so many good things about this book, and your review really provides some wonderful insight as to what makes it work so very well. Thank you so much for sharing! :)

  5. You're right, Christina - it's rare that a book grows on you so much that you can forgive its early faults, but The Bone Season just got better and better. I try to make my reviews as fair as I can but I just can't imagine giving it anything below a four star rating, it was so good. No two readers will have the same experience of it and of course this means the negatives could win out for some, but I found sticking with it was really rewarding.

  6. Thanks so much for your wonderful comment, Melissa! I always smile when I see the I Swim for Oceans tag around the blogosphere :) The Bone Season isn't perfect but I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would, I just had to give it a positive rating.

  7. I love spooky books, and I haven't read these ones yet! :D

  8. Wow, great prize! My spooky read is Anna Dressed in Blood!

  9. i like the The Shining!


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