The Bone Season is the 2013 debut novel of author Samantha Shannon, the first in a seven-book series. Set in a Dystopian, Alternate History England, the story follows a young clairvoyant woman named Paige Mahoney. Since 1859, when the phenomenon of clairvoyance first became public knowledge, England has operated under an oppressive and strongly anti-voyant government called Scion. Paige belongs to a class of criminal voyants who use their contact with spirits and the spirit world (known as the æther) to make a living while avoiding the authorities. She is a rare kind of voyant known as a dreamwalker, capable of separating her spirit from her physical body and entering the æther in spirit form.
One night, Paige is subjected to a spot check by government agents and accidentally kills one with her gift. She is arrested that very night and transported to the city of Oxford, which is home to a secret penal colony called Sheol I. The penal colony is run by a race of supernatural creatures known as Rephaim, who arrived on Earth two hundred years ago through a rift in the æther, along with man-eating monsters called Emim. The Rephaim have a deal with Scion: in exchange for protection from the Emim, Scion must send a number of voyants to Oxford every ten years. These decadal harvests are known as Bone Seasons.
Upon their arrival in the penal colony, every voyant is assigned a Rephaite keeper and taught to fight the Emim as part of a penal battalion. Paige is chosen by a Rephaite called Arcturus Mesarthim, known as the Warden, who has never previously shown interest in humans. If she wants to escape the penal colony and return to London, she must learn how to survive in her new environment ... and figure out her keeper's mysterious motives.
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This book contains examples of:
- Accidental Murder: During the spot check that sets off the rest of the story, Paige is so terrified of being detained that she lashes out with her spirit, killing one Underguard and driving the other out of his mind.
- Accidental Pun: Nashira calls Paige a free spirit, which is appropriate, given that her spirit regularly leave the confines of her body.
- Armor-Piercing Question: When Paige accuses Warden of saving her life with the intention of forming the golden cord, he calmly points out the flaw in her argument."How could I possibly have engineered such a thing, when I had no idea whether or not you would ever dream of saving my life in return? You despise the Rephaim. Why would you try and save one?"
- Armor-Piercing Response: When Paige finds out that Warden's fiancée murders clairvoyants to usurp their gifts, she reacts with anger and horror, calling him evil and demanding to switch keepers. He replies in such a way as to completely take the wind out of her sails.Warden: You do not want a Sargas keeper, Paige.Paige: Don't tell me what I want. I want —Warden: You want to feel safe again. You want me to treat you as Thuban and the others treat their humans, because then you would feel that you had every right to hate the Rephaim. But because I do not harm you, and because I try to understand you, you run away. [...] You ask yourself time and time again why I want to help you, and you come to no conclusion. But that does not mean that there is no conclusion, Paige. It means you have yet to discover it.
- The Big Damn Kiss: The unresolved tension between Paige and the Warden culminates in one of these near the end of the book, moments before she's marched up to the stage for public execution.
- Blatant Lies: After drinking the antidote Warden offers her, Paige tells him that they're even, since she bandaged his wounds the night before. He responds by denying that he was ever injured to begin with. It's unclear why he felt the need for such a transparent falsehood. Perhaps it's bad form for a Rephaite keeper to admit that he was vulnerable in front of his human, or perhaps the message was that he won't acknowledge her help, much less thank her for it, and that such efforts would be unwelcome in the future.
- Bridal Carry: Warden carries Paige back through the meadow this way after their first bout of training. Justified, as she's so exhausted she can barely stand.
- Brutal Honesty: When Paige observes that he treats the humans at Magdalen as his butlers, Warden corrects her: "Slaves, Paige. Let us not be delicate."
- Cosmic Horror Reveal: When the story begins, you think it's going to be about a clairvoyant woman keeping her head down in dystopian London. Paige herself isn't concerned with anything but staying out of Scion's way and keeping her kingpin boss happy. These day-to-day concerns seem insignificant once she finds out that Scion is a façade controlled by an otherworldly race from beyond the veil between life and death.
- Oddly enough, it's this reveal that convinces her Scion can be taken down, as she tells Jaxon in The Mime Order. It may be her innate Rebellious Spirit talking, or it may have something to do with the knowledge that Nashira will stop at nothing to murder her and acquire her gift. Either way, Paige's days of keeping her head down are over.
- "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: If Paige had just waited for Nick to drive her home, she never would have been arrested.
- Cryptically Unhelpful Answer: Warden, who never seems to have a straight answer for anything, does this when Paige asks him why pollen of the poppy anemone had such a horrible effect on the Rephaite Kraz Sargas.Warden: We are not what we seem, Paige. How long was there between the application of the pollen and the shooting?Paige: Maybe ten seconds.Warden: What did you see in those ten seconds?Paige: It was like his face was rotting. And his eyes were white, like they'd lost all their colour. Dead eyes.Warden: There you have it.
- David Versus Goliath: Paige facing Nashira in the climax. Nashira is a powerful Rephaite with not one but several clairvoyant abilities, as well as her fallen angels to serve as weapon and shield, while Paige is a human woman whose only assets are her rare gift and the element of surprise.
- Death Glare: Warden gives Nashira an impressive one during the Bicentenary, while she's addressing the Scion emissaries.His expression was terrible to see. Angry. Brutal. Murderous. I'd never seen him look like that.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Paige says this almost verbatim after showing Warden her most painful memory.
- Empty Shell: Paige accuses Warden of being this after walking in his dark, ashen, completely featureless dreamscape. She'd thought that seeing the inside of his mind would allow her to better gauge his character, but she has no idea what to make of a Mental World devoid of anything pertaining to his true nature."There's nothing for me to see. That suggests to me that there's nothing inside you. No thoughts, no conscience. No fear."
- Flashback Cut: When Warden brings up the subject of possession, Paige flashes back to the day Jaxon asked her to break into his dreamscape and puppeteer him. It's not a new possibility for her as a dreamwalker, but one she never seriously considered.
- Grief Song: One of Paige's memories has her singing "An Ember Morning," a mourning song associated with the victims of the Molly Riots.My heart, I saw a flame upon the skyWhen October's bitter morn was nighSmoke choked the honey meadow.Hark, spirit of the south,I am waiting near the cloven treeNow Ireland's heart is broken by the sea.
- Held Gaze: Paige catches a Rephaite studying her at the oration, and holds his gaze for an intense, charged moment before remembering that she's forbidden to look him in the eye. Once he becomes her keeper, they start doing this on a regular basis.
- I Didn't Mean to Kill Him: Spoken by Paige, regarding the unfortunate Kraz Sargas. Although she ends up putting a bullet in his head, she truly didn't know how much damage the pollen would do.
- If I Can't Have You
: A non-romantic example. Jaxon Hall is extremely possessive of his gang — or, rather, their rare and prestigious gifts. So when his only dreamwalker tells him that she's quitting the Seven Seals, he threatens to kill her using this exact formula."If I can't have you, no one does."
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: The deaths of Seb and Liss both serve this purpose for Paige, as she blames herself for not being able to save their lives and hates the Sargas all the more for killing them.
- I'm Not Hungry: Paige does this no less than three times in the early stages of her imprisonment, mainly because she despises having to accept anything like generosity or benevolence from her keeper.
- When she ends up bedridden with blood poisoning after her first test, she rejects both the antidote and the food that Warden brings her.I wanted him to think I was on hunger strike. I wanted my power back. I wanted to make him feel as small as I felt.
- She does this again after missing the curfew, when Suhail drags her back to Magdalen. When Warden insists that she sit down and eat something, she lies and says that she isn't hungry, despite having lived on skilly and toke for a week. Eventually she gives in and finishes off the prepared meal.
- When she wakes up after walking in Warden's dreamscape, still furious with him about the salvia, Michael greets her with a spread of food. She tells him she's not hungry and that she doesn't want Warden's "guilt breakfast," but since she doesn't have anything against Michael personally, it doesn't take much coaxing to make her eat.
- When she ends up bedridden with blood poisoning after her first test, she rejects both the antidote and the food that Warden brings her.
- Inspirational Insult: Warden does this to Paige when they train on the meadow, to goad her into attacking his dreamscape.
- In-Universe Catharsis: Warden asks Paige to show him her last, most painful memory, so that she can confront it and be free of it. Whether or not it worked is left ambiguous, but she's no longer pining after Nick by the time The Mime Order rolls around.
- "It" Is Dehumanizing: Used by a few of the Rephaim, just to prove what assholes they are.
- Thuban refers to Paige as "it" when questioning Warden about her, demonstrating his especially contemptuous view of human worth: about on par with animals, if not lower. Warden presents an immediate contrast by answering with "she."
- Used also by Kraz Sargas when he finds Paige in the House."So the concubine lets his tribute to the blood-sovereign go wandering off by itself."
- Le Parkour: Paige's flight from the Overseer takes her over balconies, up drainpipes and across rooftops, demonstrating her impressive stamina and upper-arm strength. She nearly gets away by making a desperate fifteen-storey leap between buildings, which just goes to show that she would rather die than be arrested.
- Lima Syndrome: Warden's treatment of Paige is singularly humane and considerate, which seems incongruous until we learn that he's a dissident of the Sargas regime and unsympathetic toward the violent colonization of Sheol I. He always intended to make an ally of her, should she prove trustworthy. But by looking through her memories to determine whether or not she's likely to betray him, he comes to empathize with Paige on a deeply personal level and eventually to desire more than alliance from her.
- Moment Killer: Nashira walks in on Paige and Warden embracing during the Bicentenary celebrations. She doesn't react well.
- Neck Snap: Nashira does this to Seb during Paige's first test, proving yet again that human life is expendable to the Rephaim.
- Noodle Incident: Twice Paige references an episode from her days with the Seven Seals, something to do with Didion Waite and the poltergeist of Ann Naylor, without explaining what actually happened. It's given more context in The Pale Dreamer, her backstory novella.
- Now or Never Kiss: Paige and the Warden. She's moments away from being publicly executed, and they're about to launch a rebellion which might see them all slaughtered if something goes wrong.
- Opening Monologue: The book opens with Paige explaining her life in the syndicate and her relationship with her father. The deluge of worldbuilding information continues as she leaves Seven Dials and makes for the train.
- Penal Colony: The plot revolves around Sheol I, a penal colony established by the Rephaim with the purpose of training, indoctrinating and subjugating human clairvoyants. Those who fail their tests are forced to live in squalor in the Rookery, starved and beaten by anyone with higher status, while those who succeed in their tests are made to fight the corpselike monsters who freely roam the land around Oxford. It's altogether a pretty hellish place.
- Precision F-Strike: Warden leaves Paige alone in a dark forest with an Emite, and it ends up one of the most terrifying experiences of her life. When she wakes up in Magdalen, she's not happy with him.Warden: How are you feeling?Paige: Fuck you.
- Rousing Speech: Paige deliberately gives one to her fellow escapees on Port Meadow, encouraging them to fight off the approaching SVD while she deals with the poltergeist guarding the entrance to the train."Give me two minutes, and I will give you freedom."
- Rule of Three: A golden cord mysteriously forms between Paige and Warden once they save each other's lives, three times each. Little is revealed about it except that they can use it to transmit images and emotions through the æther.
- Stealth Pun: The train was hidden beneath the training grounds the whole time. Incredibly, this seems to have been intentional on Nashira's part.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Averted somewhat. Paige dislikes and distrusts Warden for being her personal jailor, reacting with hostility to his every overture of kindness, and only comes to sympathize with him when she learns that he is a. one of the scarred ones, b. as much Nashira's prisoner as she is, and c. going to help her organize a prison break. They become friends and co-conspirators soon afterward. By the Bicentenary, she has developed romantic feelings for him and is reluctant to part ways with him.
- Paige never forgets, however, that they used to be captor and captive; in The Mime Order, she tells Nick that she has absolutely no compassion for Warden keeping her prisoner when he could have set her free.
- Tampering with Food and Drink: Michael slips a little something into the red-jackets' wine at the Bicentenary to make sure they won't be at top performance during the revolt.
- This Way to Certain Death: When Paige is dropped off in the woods for her second test, she disobeys orders and heads south through No Man's Land. Then she stumbles on a crater and a mutilated skeleton. Faced with proof that there really is a minefield, she reluctantly turns back toward Sheol I.
- Time Skip: There's a gap of four or five months between Liss surfacing from spirit shock and the Bicentenary. A few missing scenes from this gap feature in The Dawn Chorus.
- Touché: Paige points out to Warden that if he dislikes modern music so much, he should thank the Scion censor, which wouldn't exist if not for the Rephaim. In response to which he raises his glass and says "Touché," graciously acknowledging a point scored.
- Trying Not to Cry: Paige is far too proud to cry in front of other people, so in her last memory, where she realizes that Nick doesn't love her back, this is her internal monologue as she tries to hold it together.I had to focus on not crying. No matter what happened tonight, I could not, would not cry. I'd be damned if I would cry.
- Vampiric Draining: Human blood has a natural immunity against the half-urge, a kind of infection fatal to Rephaim. Warden explains this to Paige when he's injured for the second time and on the brink of succumbing to fever. He then asks to drink her blood, promising her a favour in return. Reluctantly, she consents, but not before half-jokingly asking him if he's a vampire. This example is unusual for being treated as a purely medical procedure, albeit one Paige feels sickened by afterward.
- Visual Pun: Jaxon to Nadine, blowing a ring of cigar fumes into her face: "I wonder how long it will take the NVD to ... smoke you out?"
- We Are Everywhere: Paige says this verbatim at the beginning of the book, telling the reader that clairvoyants are out there whether we can see them or not.
- Would Rather Suffer: Paige declares that she would rather die than spend an hour in polite company with her keeper. He calls her bluff.