The Bone Season…

… 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.

Alas.

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.

WHY WEREN'T YOU BETTER? WHY, BOOK?

WHY WEREN’T YOU BETTER? WHY, BOOK?

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.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Bone Season…

  1. Jayme

    Hey, I came across your blog while looking for reviews on “The Bone Season” (I made the mistake of reading enough reviews to know I didn’t want to read it rather than just finding that out on my own. Lesson learned!) and I ended up reading through several of your posts and short stories and enjoyed them.

    This is a bit forward, but I was wondering if you were at all in need of a crit. partner or beta reader swap…because I am in desperate need of one! I have sent my stuff to close friends and family and done a lot of work and editing, but I need a pair of fresh eyes, and I was just hoping you might want some as well! I’ve done manuscript swaps with a writer friend of mine before, and it did wonders, but I’ve never swapped my stuff with someone I haven’t known since I was a kid.

    I won’t be offended at all if you don’t feel comfortable sending your baby off to a stranger, and I enjoyed reading your blog posts regardless.

    If you are mildly interested, this is a link to my blog, you could scan through and see if my writing style is something you’d be willing to wade through at length.

    http://wrestleforblessing.blogspot.com/

    • Yes! Let’s do it!
      Part of me thinks it’s a crazy idea, but I did go through your blog and enjoyed your stuff too. I’m excited at the idea–I’ve had friends do beta readings and give me good feedback, but they aren’t writers themselves, so I have nothing to “trade” back, haha. I have to be honest that I probably won’t be a very fast critique partner right now (first year high school English teacher… I just grade/plan/grade forever) but things will get better after this semester! :)
      Do you have an e-mail address where I should start contacting you?

      • Jayme

        I know it is a crazy idea, but I was realizing how badly I needed an unbiased (who feels safe to be ruthless) crit partner and I thought I’d give it a try! Thank you so much, I’m so excited. And nervous (like I said, never had anyone I haven’t known since childhood read this…nerve-wracking.) Timing is not an issue, because I’m still smack-dab in the middle of my first round of heavy edits. Plus it’s a pretty long manuscript so I wouldn’t expect anyone to blast through it.

        This is my e-mail address: jayme.l.ficken@gmail.com

        You can tell me what works best for you, but I figure we can send chunks of 50-75 pages, or a few chapters at a time, depending on your preference. Like I said, mine is pretty long, to the point where I’m fair convinced I’m going to have to break it up into two or three books by the time I’m done editing.

  2. Jayme

    I’ve sectioned off the first third of my manuscript (95,000 words). It hasn’t been restructured to be it’s own book yet (I wrote it straight as one book, but it outgrew any size that any literary agent is likely to tolerate unless you’re Tolkien or something) and I am going to have to do some work to that end. Let me know when/how you want me to send it to you. Thank you so much!

    • my whole novel (the one I’m currently trying to fix, a YA fantasy) is only like 56,000 words, haha, so I might send you the whole thing at once! I haven’t had a chance to mess with it much, but my schedule will hopefully start to open up soon.
      Go ahead and send it to me at “silverwolf634″[at]gmail.com. No quotation marks, I’m just trying to avoid spam… :)

  3. Amy

    Thank goodness I’m not the only one! I really struggled to read this book and was so disappointed. I just couldn’t get to grips with it. I kept forgetting who characters were, probably because I just didn’t care & I didn’t think the descriptions of anything were very good. I couldn’t picture it in my head. My expectations were pretty high, especially as the author went to the same school as me. But I read so many good things about this book. The story has no flow & I found it quite a complicated subject to understand. This may have been because I just didn’t care or because of the vocab used. Bitterly disappointed!! I so wanted to like it…but I just think it’s rubbish.

  4. Bruce Watterson

    Having spent the last two years reading (and in many cases re-reading) much of the SF and Fantasy Masterworks collection I’ve recently detoured into the YA genre. It was a re-read of Ender’s Game and then the rest of the series which prompted me to go further off piste than I would usually bother with YA. To say I’ve generally been disappointed (Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner all very … mneh.) is a huge understatement and the Bone Season is, as Cathy succinctly summaries, BORING and I would add nothing new!
    Dystopian future (again) hard done-by teenage protagonist (sigh) is snatched up by a nefarious conspiracy of some sort (really), whose motives are opaque and forces them (surely not) to participate in a life-or-death struggle (sigh). Having set up a fairly predictable story line early on in the book it goes on to do absolutely nothing for a staggering length of time before briefly picking up towards a disappointing ending.
    If I had my time again I wouldn’t bother reading, as it is it’s several hours I’ll never get back!

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