Audiobook Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

26 08 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Read by Alana Kerr

Audible for Bloomsbury

Length: 14 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Bone Season simply didn’t live up to my expectations. I think there are a lot of people out there who will love this book, and look forward with baited breath to the next edition of the series. For me, The Bone Season wasn’t the right fit. The things that it did well were the things I was less interested in, and overall the whole thing felt flat to me. 

Grade: C

I am really sick of hearing that so and so is the new JK Rowling. Some new book series comes out that loosely shares some sort of commonality with Harry Potter, or the author happens to have some sort of association with Rowling, and people begin screaming "THE NEXT HARRY POTTER" A seven book series…. THE NEXT HARRY POTTER… magic being performed by people under 40…. THE NEXT HARRY POTTER…. the writer is British…  THE NEXT HARRY POTTER… there’s a character in the book whose name rhymes with Dobby… THE NEXT HARRY POTTER! I hate it! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I hate that the expectations are raised. I hate that authors can’t write original fiction without people comparing it to something else. I hate that it friggin’ works. Whenever someone is touted as the next JK Rowling’s my interests is spiked. I’m not sure why. There are plenty of Fantasy series I love more than Harry Potter, yet, if someone says "THE NEXT STEPHEN R. DONALDSON!" I’m all ho hum but channel the name of Harry Potter, and I’m like a fiend looking for that last bit of crack. I liked Harry Potter. It’s so much fun, and I fell in love with so many characters, but it wasn’t the life changing series that it was for others. I was already a voracious reader, with a love of fantasy. My first boyhood crushes were on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Susan Pevensie. Yet, there is something about Harry Potter, the magical mood, the feeling of being an isolated loner stripped away from everything and sent to a grand magical school where you are in fact special. It’s a feeling I like, and when someone says this latest book may once again allow me to relive that feeling, I can’t help but take notice. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out.

Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant whose spirit can leave her body and search out others, living in a London controlled by Scion, a dystopian government who subjugates those with magical abilities. After a tragic encounter on a train, Paige is taken into Scion custody and transferred to a secret penal colony in Oxford, where she encounters a race of magical beings that have been controlling the government for 200 years. I came into The Bone Season a bit hesitant, but with high expectations. Sadly, my expectations were not realized. I was fascinated by the blending of magical realism and dystopian literature the synopsis describes, and while Shannon’s world building of her magical structure was detailed and at times brilliant, her look at Scion controlled Europe was very weak. The Bone Season started with a bit of heavy handed exposition explaining what Scion was and how it would affect those with magical powers. This opening dragged down the story. I think if Shannon allowed the reader to slowly discover the oppressive government, instead of presenting what it was in a quick infodump, the blending of the two worlds may have been more effective. By the time the novel did take an interesting turn, I wasn’t invested in the characters at all. No matter how often Paige told us someone was wonderful, it rarely actually played out that way on the page, and you quickly began doubting the characters opinion. I also had a hard time with the Rephaim. They were like a weird blending of Vampires and Fae, and neither side was explored well enough to make the blending effective. Instead of a unique race of Otherworldly creatures, I found them a weird mishmash of popular fantasy beings repackaged with a shiny bow to make them look original. I found the weird mix of pretentiousness and self loathing unbalanced. Instead of seeing the natural dichotomy of any sentient beings, it all felt forced into showing us another side of these creatures that was manufactured. The Bone Season isn’t a bad book. Shannon created beautiful visuals, and permeated her tale with a sense of magic. She has some thrilling action, and while I was personally bothered by the romantic tones in the novel due to my personal curmudgeonly attitude, they were understated and probably would appeal to those more open to complicated romantic relationships in fiction.  I think there are a lot of people out there who will love this book, and look forward with baited breath to the next edition of the series. For me, The Bone Season wasn’t the right fit. The things that it did well were the things I was less interested in, and overall the whole thing felt flat to me. 

Alana Kerr’s wistful Irish tones were definitely beautiful to my ear. She does a good job bringing Paige to life. At first I was surprised by how understated her brogue was, but the character describes attempting to lessen the ethnic tensions by adopting a proper British speaking voice, and Kerr does a good job adapting the character to this. I could have listened to her voice for a long time, no problem, yet having a beautiful voice, and even appropriate character performance isn’t always enough. Where I struggled was her pacing. She read The Bone Season at a slow plodding pace that may have been fine for the world building aspects but suffered when things started happening. I felt tempted at times to speed up the audiobook, partly because I was never fully engaged with it, but mostly because many of the action sequences lacked a sense of urgency in their reading. It was like she was describing events to a room full of students, instead of actually living it, and because of this the listeners never became fully engaged in the world. For most of the book, I felt like a passive, uninvolved observer, when I much prefer to be pulled into the pages of a book, feeling just as much at jeopardy as the characters guiding us on this journey. In The Bone Season, this never happened. 

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