I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be published 20 August 2013.
Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, the opening novel in a projected seven book series, is not the kind of book that makes for comfortable reading. In the first chapters, Shannon lays out a version of London that is completely locked down. Special police patrol night and day looking for “unnaturals,” people with clairvoyant talents like soothsaying and talking to ghosts. Being captured means a death sentence, for the normal population are terrified of the clairvoyants.
Our protagonist, Paige Mahoney, has unique talents that she employs for her Seven Dials dwelling boss. It’s not a great life. She always has to be on the lookout for police and for her boss’ mercurial temper, but at least she’s free. Well, she’s free until she ends up on the wrong train at the wrong time and gets captured. Once in custody, Paige learns that the expected death sentence is a cover for something even more bizarre and dangerous. Instead of getting the noose, Paige is shipped off to a prison colony named Sheol I. (If you know your Hebrew–and why wouldn’t you?–you might recognize the name as the Jewish version of Hell.)
In Sheol, Paige learns that all the captured clairvoyants have been used by an alien race, the Rephaim, to fight flesh-eating monsters known as Emim. We don’t learn much about them in this book, except that they’re very dangerous. It became clear to me that Shannon is saving revelations about them for subsequent books. Paige has enough to be getting on with with her new master. As soon as a clairvoyant arrives in Sheol, they’re claimed by a Rephite for brutal training to fight the Emim. But Paige’s master, the Warden, is not like the others. He’s cold, but curious. He pushes her to develop her talents, but he doesn’t starve and beat her like other Rephaim. While she can’t help but hate the Warden for what he represents, Paige’s lot is a lot better than that of the other humans in Sheol.
After the somewhat heavy exposition of the first chapters, Shannon settles in to tell an addictive tale about Paige’s attempts to win freedom not only for herself but for the other human inhabitants of Sheol. For a debut novel by a twenty-year-old author, The Bone Season is an incredible read. Hell, even for a veteran writer, this is an amazing book. I plan on sticking around for the next books in the series because I have, as my ten-year-old niece would say, suspicions about what’s going to happen next and I want to see if I’m right.