… book talk … “The Bone Season” by Samantha Shannon

Bone SeasonI have been reviewing artworks of one or another type for quite a while, and when I first began being remunerated, I explained that I could not “trash” things because I had spent many years on the other side, where I poured my heart and soul and finances into “art” only to suffer shallow, idiotic, ill-informed personal prejudice vituperated by those who had somehow come to be called “reviewers” – and I was determined to offer only educated, informed and informing points of view, even when I disliked something. It was my goal to ALWAYS remember that whoever had made that something I didn’t enjoy had done so with love and good intentions.

So – it pains me NOT to like something and then write about it. But – well – wait – FIRST –

Full disclosure: I only read the first four “Harry Potter” books. I despised and could not finish “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” fantasies. I found Philip Pullman‘s “His Dark Materials” trilogy interesting for its undercurrent of dark despair, so those managed to almost hold my interest almost to the end;  a predictable turn of events since, even as a child, I was not a C.S.Lewis “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” fan, but, rather, a devotee of the implicit threat in each breath taken in the worlds built by Roald Dahl, where love was almost always a deceitful pose and true affection most often occurred among suckers and the downtrodden – who were all too often punished for their soft emotionalism.

My world view, then, (and now) is quite dystopian enough, thank you very much. I have grown weary of these Young Adult fantasy series in which a group of evil, untrustworthy, duplicitous and very powerful adult people ruthlessly control everything and everyone, often in secret with all sorts of devious spying and invisible disappearings and punishings of those who dare speak up. Uhm, HELLO? We live in a REALITY where 1% control 99% of the wealth and assets. We are spied on daily by our own government. People are detained in prison camps FOR YEARS without being charged. Those who dare to expose the illegalities of those in charge are tried and publicly pilloried and jailed for having done so. We send unmanned drones to kill people, and worry little (if at all) about the non-targets brought down in the process. And that’s just in America. Much of the rest of the world is even worse. WE ARE LIVING IN A REAL DYSTOPIA – I don’t need to read a book about a pretend one.

Her official book jacket photo.

Her official book jacket photo.

Further full disclosure: the author of “The Bone Season” is 30 years my junior; British, beautiful, and went to Oxford. These are ALL THINGS for which I – nearly every day of my life – long. I am irritated with her before I even open the cover of what has to be the most hyped book of 2013; a book which is ONLY THE FIRST in a contracted series of SEVEN. Yes, she was – what – 19 or 20 when she got this contract. Now, far be it from me to begrudge another human being their success, but, boy oh boy, I REALLY DO.

So, the things was, this book had to be really good or I was not going to like it. And, I’m sorry – but – I really thought it was not.

First of all, when the frontispiece quote by Charlotte Bronte (plus points, there) is followed by a chart of the “Seven Orders of Clairvoyance” which includes over 50 categories (so many minus points) you have almost already lost me. This is entirely too complicated in a world where every device I own and every place I go online requires of me a user name and a password. By which I mean, my mind is already over-burdened with trivia, effluvium, and useless detail – to ask me to keep more of it straight for a world I’ve yet to enter is, well – A LOT TO ASK. And did I mention the 10 page glossary at the back of the book? After the book ends at page 450. YES, that’s what I said – 450 pages for something to happen that I am pretty sure – were a series of seven books not planned – could have happened well shy of 200 pages.

Now look, I have already admitted that I’m bitter. Granted. But here she got a seven-book contract and gets to have a glossary full of words she’s – in essence – made up  – whilst I was REPEATEDLY told my vocabulary was too erudite and arcane and would force people to look things up. SO I SHOULD HAVE ADDED A GLOSSARY? A FLOW CHART? I mean – my book only had humans in it – no chart of categories required.

Oh this is getting ugly. I’m sorry. Here’s the thing: “The Bone Season” was decently plotted, but, derivative. This story has been told a thousand times before – as have most stories, so, no sin there. It is in the telling where we find beauty and interest and, for me, this telling felt formulaic and was neither exciting nor innovative. It was competent. Which is, in itself these days, a GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENT. And if I wore a hat, I’d take it off to Ms. Shannon for having created this complicated world and having gotten this contract and having been translated into lord knows how many languages not to mention having made a huge movie deal BEFORE ONE WORD WAS EVEN PUBLISHED –

Now there – there’s a damn fantasy novel – how about you tell us how the hell you managed that? In particular with this rather pedestrian, not really that exciting, 450 pages of words and levels of society requiring charts and glossaries to follow? I’d be interested to see what actual young readers – as opposed to publicists and such – think of this book. I’m betting rather less than all the hype to which we’ve been subjected would have us believe. This isn’t the second coming of Potter kids; that’s never going to happen and I wish everyone would stop trying to publish it. Instead, why not look for the FIRST COMING of something unique, original of voice, and brilliant in its own right?


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