Feature

The Bone Season: A Novel by Samantha Shannon

“It’s tricky when a book arrives with such preliminary brouhaha.”

(Bloomsbury, $24)

“It’s tricky when a book arrives with such preliminary brouhaha,” said Jane Ciabattari in NPR.org. Even before opening The Bone Season, most readers will know that the novel’s 21-year-old author just graduated from Oxford University, has been hailed as the next J.K. Rowling, and is embarking on a series that will stretch to seven titles and probably launch a major movie franchise. Can any book possibly measure up to such hype? When it’s as “intelligent, inventive, dark, and engrossing” as this one, I’d say that it can.

“If Shannon’s writing were not quite so heartfelt,” you could easily picture her having cynically fused together elements from several recent best-sellers, said Helen Brown in The Telegraph (U.K.). The Bone Season features a “clever and courageous” heroine who’s strongly reminiscent of The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. Arrested by the fascist rulers of 2059 England because she’s gifted with clairvoyance, 19-year-old Paige Mahoney has been imprisoned at a penal colony where Oxford used to be. And the familiar tropes keep coming, said Leila Sales in TheDailyBeast.com. Paige’s captors even have a vampire-like habit of drinking human blood. Yet The Bone Season follows no rote path. It’s unpredictable, even a bit messy. “The only way to find out what happens is just to keep reading.”

Readers with a low tolerance for “paranormal jibber-jabber” won’t get very far, said Ethan Gilsdorf in The Boston Globe. Routine references to things like “dreamwalkers” and “splanchomancy” force us to flip back again and again to a nine-page glossary. “What disrupts the book most often, though, is the author,” said Elizabeth Word Gutting in The Washington Post. Just when the action nears a pulse-pounding height, Shannon swoops in with more “unnecessary, redundant narration.” Such flaws would have been more forgivable if the publisher weren’t trying to establish a new classic. Still, the talent elsewhere on display suggests “just how good Shannon could get in the next six books.” Will she deliver? We’ll have to wait and see.

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