… was BORING.
I wanted to like it so very badly. I was interested because it takes place in London and Oxford (and references Port Meadow), so I had that connection immediately. I loved my time in Oxford and love reading stories that take place there. The author, Samantha Shannon, got a huge advance and was being quietly touted as “the next J.K. Rowling,” so I wanted to hop on that train and enjoy another great fantasy adventure book.
Even if I’d carried low expectations, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this.
The writing is weak. There’s no way around it. It’s full of awkward descriptions, there’s a monster-truck-load of vocabulary introduced and only about 20% actually explained, there are about three potential love-interests and the reader can’t tell who to root for until way too late, and the syntax (which I’m sure is supposed to reflect the short and to-the-point thoughts of the first person narrator) is stunted and simplistic. Even when it finally becomes (pretty) clear which love interest demands the focus, it’s completely awkward because the narrator childlishly refuses to see it; I kind of wanted to slap her every time she had a petulant thought.
I was annoyed the whole time I was reading it, and only finished all 450 pages because I’m stubborn like that–and, perhaps, was holding out the hope of something redemptive.
Admittedly, around the 350 page mark things started to pick up, but that is an unacceptable amount of set-up. When my novel got rejected this summer, two of the main points were “get to the point faster” (Shannon has the narrator’s world turn upside down right away, so at first glance she follows this advice, but then nothing actually happens until that 350-ish mark I mentioned) and “don’t use character dialogue as exposition dumps–they shouldn’t all sound like teachers to the main character.” Well, all the characters, especially “Warden,” are massive information-dumps and half of their dialogue sounds like a teacher trying hard to explain things to the narrator… and to the reader. Yet with all those words, words, words, it still doesn’t make sense.
For my complaint about the weird vocabulary we’re supposed to accept, take a glance at these from the first chapter:
mollisher | mime-lord | oxygen bar | dreamscapes | voyant | meatspace | aether | NVD | amaurotic | Scion | spool | colobomata | threnody
Sure, some of them are guessable and/or explained, but the continued intersection of meatspace, dreamscape, cord, spirits, and the aether are never fully clarified, in my opinion, and that really harms the story.
By the way… there are 108 total terms in the glossary. :/
Tamora Pierce had her narrator use a unique vocabulary set in a similar way in the “Bloodhoud” books, but she had the talent to pull it off. There were only a handful of words compared to Shannon’s, and they flowed organically within the rest of the story. “The Bone Season” didn’t have that flow at all.
I don’t mean for this review to sound like an attack, but I do hope that my disappointment is evident. I deeply, truly was rooting for this book and my hopes were dashed like a dummy in a Mythbusters’ explosion. The author is young, which is awesome, but her writing sounds young, too, and that’s a shame. I think it will affect how seriously she is taken in the future and they should have kept her tucked away in the publishing stable for a little longer, working with an editor who could fix the numerous issues she faced.
The sad part is that it’ll probably get turned into a movie anyway.