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Updated: August 31, 2013 16:48 IST

A balanced cocktail

Swati Daftuar
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The Bone Season; Samantha Shannon, Bloomsbury, Rs.499.
Special Arrangement The Bone Season; Samantha Shannon, Bloomsbury, Rs.499.

A splash of sci-fi, a dash of paranormal and dystopian fiction, a sprinkle of fantasy… a recipe for a winner.

Samantha Shannon’s debut novel, The Bone Season, is facing what seems to be a clear case of great expectations. It’s flying off the shelves because we all want another Rowling, and apparently, the word around the corner tells us that Shannon’s the one. If you strip the book of the hype and the pre-launch raves, what do you get?

You don’t get a Rowling, that’s for sure. But you also get the sense that this might not be such a bad thing after all. The Bone Season is a debut to take notice of. It doesn’t really need a borrowed leg to stand upon.

A trickily balanced cocktail of sci-fi, paranormal and dystopian fiction, with a sprinkle of fantasy, Shannon serves up her book with language that is assured and unique, and a confidence that tells you that she is here to stay, and write. Set in London 2059 or Scion, with a 19-year-old protagonist that almost everyone is going to try and find the author in, the story’s skeleton isn’t ground-breaking, but its treatment definitely is. So you have a heroine, Paige Mahoney with a rare clairvoyant gift, a world that abhors, fears and outlaws this power, and an underground network of criminals who fight the oppressors. Throw in otherworldly creatures and a surprisingly subtle romantic sub-plot, and you’ve got a story that that stops just short of being unique. Between the pages though, The Bone Season is so intricately and painstakingly crafted, so wonderfully expansive and detailed, that it become impossible to dismiss it.

Of course, there is room for a little more; rather, a little less. At places, the book is almost too densely packed, too firm in its intent to explain, too full of the numerous concepts, ideas and laws that constitute its world. Storytelling gives way to statement-like passages that explain and overload you with information. There is, perhaps, too much packed into the first instalment of what is going to be a seven-part series.

As the story moves from London to Oxford, the world of the clairvoyants comes into sharper focus. The central plot begins to take shape. Paige Mahoney is captured and taken to Oxford, a colony now controlled by an otherworldly race of Rephaim. She is handed over to Arcturus Warden, who becomes her master and trainer. Shannon could have gone wrong here, overdone the aspect of dominance and submission, and handed us another badly written, overbearing and unbearable romance. Instead, she sidesteps this disaster successfully, and while the development of Paige and Warden’s relationship is slow, it’s also subtle, believable and worth rooting for.

Apart from Warden and Paige, Shannon also takes great care in developing the minor characters. Clearly a detail-oriented author, she doesn’t rush, doesn’t leave questions unanswered or ideas undeveloped.

One of the very basic and frankly reductive reasons for the comparisons with Rowling is another seven-part series. Will the plot stand the test of time and have enough meat to take it through seven instalments? One book down, it’s too early to tell.

The Bone Season demands patience from its readers, but it also offers great returns. This is a book you won’t sail through. Youmight even put down half read, your head swimming with too much information.

If you do make it till the end though, you’ll realise that Shannon has introduced you to a whole new world, with one question unanswered. Will you come back?

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