Samantha Shannon creates an alternate London in the not-too-distant future in her debut fantasy novel, The Bone Season. In this London, the ruling organization is called Scion, in fact London itself is referred to as SciLo. And there are many types of clairvoyant beings—called voyants—humans with various special talents. And, of course, being voyant is considered to be unnatural and illegal. The actual person is illegal. By being alive they are somehow “wrong,” not simply by using their talents.
This is an epic fantasy in the sense that Shannon builds an alternate world with a new hierarchy of order. On the other hand, it’s the story of just one young female voyant. Paige Mahoney is an Irish girl who came to London as a young child. Raised by her grandparents, yet transported out of her comfort zone into SciLo by her father. Paige understands otherness.
And then in her early teens, she begins to realize she’s clairvoyant. Her power allows her to invisibly cause injury to others, mostly in the form of nosebleeds. But when we meet Paige she’s older and using her talents in service of a voyant crime syndicate. She’s developed her powers, but people she works with think she is capable of more.
In the process of the novel, Paige discovers much more about the world she lives in. There are more layers of intrigue and power plays that she never dreamed about. All of a sudden, she must shift gears from her regular life to a larger playing ground, with much more risk.
The Bone Season series is billed as Young Adult, but it didn’t feel that way to me. Shannon develops the world and its various characters in great depth. Of course, the book is also over 500 pages long. The pace of the story is a logical and pleasing balance of world building and action elements. I never felt bogged down in over description, just wishing for action. Shannon keeps everything moving forward briskly.
I like the interplay between the voyant population and humans from Scion. Shannon uses this and Paige’s Irish heritage to explore the personal and societal consequences of treating people as less than or other. But she’s never preachy or heavy handed, and always weaves the ideas seamlessly into her plot line.
Paige is a likable heroine. Some YA female characters become whiny or entitled. Paige never does. She’s a rebel with strong convictions, who might speak before she thinks a bit. Or more than a bit! But fundamentally, she’s a smart young woman, finding her way in a frightening time.
Picking up the next book in the series seems like an easy decision. I’ve always got so many books already planned that it may take me a few weeks or a month. But I’ll get there. And I am regretting letting The Bone Season languish for so long in my unread Kindle stack. Shannon is a talented young writer, whose fantasy worlds get plenty of strong reviews. Now I know why.
Read this if you’d like to escape today’s reality and visit a dark future with a strong female heroine.
Pair with other urban, epic fantasy books from Octavia Butler or N.K. Jemisin.