I am always hesitant to compare authors, especially when the comparison is to J.K. Rowling - perhaps because one of the first authors proclaimed "the next J.K. Rowling" was Stephanie Meyer, the author of the "Twilight" series. Meyer brought us the riveting descriptive prose of "the gray sky was gray." Clearly not up to Rowling's standard. So when CNN proclaimed "the next J.K. Rowling" had just published her first book at the end of August, I was skeptical.
"The Bone Season" by Samantha Shannon has little in common with Rowling's world of witchcraft and wizardry, but the debut author does manage to create a similarly compelling "other" world within normal society. Set in 2059, the novel focuses on the plight of clairvoyant individuals living in society illegally. Unfortunately for the individuals with gifts such as mind reading and dream walking, their talents are illegal. To survive, they must either attempt to hide their abilities or join underground organizations and partake in even more illegal activities.
However, hiding is not so easy because the government employs clairvoyants to seek each other out in public places. If arrested, they face imprisonment in the infamous Tower of London and are frequently never heard from again.
The main character, Paige Mahoney, is a special type of clairvoyant: a dreamwalker. When she is caught, she finds out the fate of the clairvoyants taken before her. While many face years of imprisonment designed to break their spirits, Mahoney is taken right before the imprisoned clairvoyants are transferred to their final prison, an event that takes place every ten years and is known to their captors as a bone season.
In the interest of not completely spoiling the plot, I will leave out the specifics of the rest of the book. It ends on a cliff-hanger, but Shannon has already committed to six more novels for a total of seven books in the series - just like Rowling's Harry Potter series - so that is to be expected.
Shannon's work is interesting, but it reads very much like a first novel. While some secrecy and confusion can be a good literary tool - especially when the main character is also in a state of uncertainty - many basic questions about the world Shannon created are not answered until the second half of the book or remain completely unanswered in this first installment of the series. While she still has six books to cover some of the history and close the gap between the world today and her fictional future universe, some background information in the beginning would have helped clear up confusion about how her world evolved out of today's society. Understanding that evolution would have explained the fear and anxiety of the main character, making her more accessible.
Although some terminology may have been lost in lack of translation - Shannon is British - she uses outdated slang that can make her dialogue a bit jarring. While she explains this in a note at the end of the book as trying to stay true to the times when her fictional gangs were founded, calling an apartment a "crib" seems a bit ridiculous not only for today but also for a story taking place over 40 years in the future.
While I would never call her - or anyone - the next J.K. Rowling, Shannon has potential as a science fiction and fantasy writer. I am curious to see where she takes the story and characters she has introduced in her first novel over the course of her next six books.