Posted: FOLLOWING OUR INTERVIEW LAST WEEK WITH SAMANTHA SHANNON, THE LATEST YOUNG AUTHOR TO INK MILLION-DOLLAR DEALS, WE TAKE A LOOK AT HER DEBUT NOVEL THAT'S CAUSING ALL THE FUSS.
THE Bone Season has come once every decade for the past 200 years in the Scion citadel of London.
It is the time when the city's "unnaturals" - those with clairvoyant abilities - are claimed by the alien Rephaim to use as frontline cannon fodder in the war to defend Earth against the carnivorous Emim, and not to mention, to serve the Rephaim themselves.
While the ruling Scion elite have taught the rest of London to fear the unnaturals, the wider population doesn't know about the Rephaim or the Emim; kept in ignorance, they have no inkling about the Scion's dark deal with the Rephaim and believe that unnaturals are just humanely killed when captured by the authorities.
So when 19-year-old dreamwalker Paige Mahoney is caught in the act of using her powers and taken away to the Tower of London, she expects a swift but merciful death at the hands of the authorities. Instead, she finds herself being taken to Sheol I in long-destroyed Oxford, which the Rephaim have been using as a base in their war against the Emim.
There, she is given into the keeping of Arcturus Mesarthim, blood-consort to the female blood sovereign of the Rephaim, Nashira Sargas. But Arcturus seems different from your usual Rephaim, and Nashira seems to take a greater interest in Paige's clairvoyant ability than is healthy for her life.
Naturally feisty, with a heart for the helpless, Paige intends to rebel and fight back against the Rephaim. But with 200 years of experience behind them, and a failed human rebellion 20 years ago, can she even dream of succeeding?
For those who missed our interview last week and haven't heard the hype yet, first-time author Samantha Shannon, 21, just graduated from St Anne's College, Oxford University, with a degree in English Language and Literature. This is her debut novel and the first of a planned seven-book series; also, film rights have already been optioned by The Imaginarium Studios, headed by motion-capture actor extraordinaire Andy Serkis.
It is obvious from The Bone Season that Shannon has a clear vision of her dystopian, alternate-history supernatural world. All one has to do is check out the "Seven Orders of Clairvoyance" listed in the front of the book to see the thought she has put into her world, not to mention the glossary of made-up and obscure slang words she includes in the back.
She also writes with good pacing, drawing the reader easily on from one chapter to the next. The story itself is interesting enough in terms of concepts and ideas, although I seriously doubt she has enough material in it to spin out for another six books.
My two main problems are with her characters, and the sudden epic turn into bad romance territory without so much as a single warning (although I could see that hook-up coming from a mile away).
Character-wise, I have to say I am not a big fan of the protagonist Paige, whom I feel acts immature more times than supposedly feisty and rebellious.
There are also too many supporting characters, who seem to pop up to be introduced, carry out minor roles in a few scenes, and subsequently, used to conveniently push the plot along, versus the story unfolding naturally.
And way too many of them are male (says this female reviewer)! Aside from Paige and villainess Nashira, the only other significant female character is Liss Rymore, a failed clairvoyant who befriends Paige in Sheol I. And while I'm no ultra-feminist, I do believe in balance, and the character balance here does not serve the story well.
As another reviewer describes it, Shannon's characters seem to be more furniture set out in her world rather than actual people readers can empathise with and root for.
I would say that while there are some good things going on in The Bone Season, there are also some irritating flaws that might put some readers off.
So, should you pick up this book? Perhaps for a different type of read - think alien overlords and ESP - or perhaps to satisfy your curiosity about the hype. It won't be a totally bad read, just perhaps less satisfying than it should be, especially with its many loose ends.WHAT comes to mind when you think of "unnatural creatures"?
Looking at current pop culture trends, I would say most people would immediately think of vampires, werewolves and zombies.Classical fantasy fans might expand upon that list with dragons, unicorns and griffins, while mythology buffs might throw in sphinxes, chimaeras, cyclops, centaurs and harpies, among others.
Fans of shows like Supernatural and The X-Files are likely to come up with creatures like chupacabras, wendigoes and shapeshifters, while literary-minded readers might include Frankenstein's monster. And those who remember 20th-century legends will perhaps think of Bigfoot, yetis (or the abominable snowman) and the Loch Ness monster.
Well, I can tell you that at least three of the creatures mentioned above appear in the short stories selected and edited by authors Neil Gaiman and Maria Dahvana Headley.
The compilation is actually a mixture of old and new stories, including some of Gaiman's own favourites. In fact, there are two stories that were first published over 100 years ago!
The oldest one, published in 1885, is Frank R. Stockton's The Griffin And The Minor Canon. It tells the story of a griffin who descends upon a town whose church has statues of griffins decorating it, in order to see what he looks like as he has no idea what he appears like. The Minor Canon is the priest who first encounters him.
Other older stories include those from well-known young adult (YA) and science fiction and fantasy authors like E. Nesbit, Larry Niven, Samuel Delany and Diana Wynne Jones.
Nesbit brings her usual engaging style of writing from the point of view of young protagonists in her 1900 story The Cockatoucan, Or Great-Aunt Willoughby. In this story, the young heroine Matilda and her nursemaid Pridmore get on the wrong bus on their way to visit Great-Aunt Willoughby and end up in a kingdom where a cockatoucan is causing chaos by changing things randomly every time he laughs.
For example, in the course of the story, the king gets changed into a desirable villa, the navy into French poodles, and Pridmore into an Automatic Nagging Machine (although some might say she was already that, anyway!). Matilda eventually helps solve the situation after she gets changed into a much cleverer version of herself.
Some of the newer stories include Gaiman's own Sunbird (first published 2005), The Smile On The Face (2004) by Nalo Hopkinson, and The Cartographer Wasps And The Anarchist Bees (2011) by E. Lily Yu.
Sunbird was my favourite story in the Fragile Things short story collection, so I was happy to see it here again. The tale is a slightly disturbing but very interesting take on a group of gourmands known as the Epicureans, who decide to catch and eat the legendary Sunbird of Suntown. (Hint: It refers to a familiar mythical creature; extra points if you figure out the real name of Suntown before it is revealed!)
There are also three original stories, published for the first time in this book. Moveable Beast by Headley tells of a Beast residing in a small forest surrounded by a town that is charged with containing it, while Megan Kurashige's The Manticore, The Mermaid And Me tells, literally, of unnatural creatures and how they come to be.
Meanwhile, YA author Nnedi Okorafor takes us to Africa with her tale of Ozioma The Wicked, a girl who can speak to snakes, and is both shunned and sought out for her talent. (She's not the unnatural creature, by the way.)
I quite enjoyed this compilation of 16 short stories.
The creatures within are unexpected, imaginative and refreshing to read about, despite the age of some of the stories.
I mean, how can you not be drawn in by a story whose title is basically a line of ink? (That's illustrator and author Gahan Wilson's story, which starts off the book.)
A lot of thought has also gone into the presentation of the book, which includes illustrations by Briony Morrow-Cribbs that accompany the title page of each story.
As such, I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an appropriate gift for readers who enjoy the YA and/or fantasy genres. In fact, pick it up for yourself, as I am sure you will enjoy the different creatures from myth, classics and pure imagination contained within.
An important note: Royalties from the sales of the book will go towards supporting the American nonprofit literacy organisation 826DC (826dc.org).A PAGE-TURNING ROLLER-COASTER OF A THRILLER THAT HAS AN INTRIGUING MULTIMEDIA ASPECT TO IT. NIGHT Film is Marisha Pessl's second novel and will doubtlessly follow the success of her previous book, Special Topics In Calamity Physics.
Hoping for a scoop, narrator and journalist Scott McGrath investigates the strange circumstances surrounding the alleged suicide of the talented daughter of mysterious filmmaker Stanislas Cordova. McGrath is willing to do anything to expose Cordova, who he suspects of playing some role in his daughter Ashley's death in a seedy part of Chinatown.
McGrath forms an unlikely alliance with coat-stand attendant and would-be actress, Nora, and a handsome and sullen part-time drug dealer named Hopper, each of whom have their own particular reasons for being interested in learning the truth about Ashley Cordova's death.
Cordova is Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch and Roman Polanski all rolled into one. His mysterious and unsavoury reputation is based mostly on his cult movies, which have all been banned because they are so terrifying that they have the ability to make people lose their minds.
The first thing the reader will notice about Night Film, apart from its unwieldy 600 pages, is the use of visuals and formatting within the text. There are many pages that replicate websites, medical files, police reports and newspaper articles, creating a whole universe of information, mis-information and rumour around the reclusive Stanislas Cordova.
It's an interesting reflection on how the form of presentation frames and influences the way we receive the content, particularly relevant in this digital age, where we are used to receiving and digesting information in a variety of media, formats and templates. Perhaps now that we have gone beyond the limitations of manual typesetting for books this is the shape of things to come for digital natives and we may well see more of this in the future.
The multimedia aspect of the book mostly works well, but having photos of some of the characters and locations is a step too far and undermines the reader's role in the creative process. One of the joys of reading as opposed to cinema is precisely the participative collaboration between the reader and the writer; being allowed to imagine what people or places look like.
There's an app for that.
As well as fictional footage about Cordova and his films on the author's YouTube page there are icons embedded within the text that link to an app that contains further background material about Stanislas Cordova and the mythical archive of his movies, many of which are described or alluded to in the book.
Though Pessl has already sold the film rights to Night Film, she has retained the rights to the fictional movies she describes and it's easy to see how Night Film might become a matrix that spawns a whole series of interconnected works.
As the story progresses we find out that things are not quite what they seem. What starts out as a rollercoaster ride of a thriller suddenly becomes a fun-fair house-of-horrors ghost train, which swerves from gothic noir to slapstick and back again, with passages as purple and as dark as Poe or Lovecraft.
Though there are some interesting characters in Night Film they all speak with the same voice as the narrator - which in truth is closer to an exuberant teenaged girl than a jaded middle-aged journalist.
As McGrath investigates, he questions many people, some of whom put up a token resistance at first, but invariably and a little too conveniently, everyone tells the protagonist everything he needs to know so that he can move on to the next step of his investigation.
I'm not quite sure when this book stops taking itself seriously, but about halfway through I had to check the cover to make sure I hadn't accidentally picked up a Harry Potter adventure. I imagine that Pessl had quite a bit of fun writing some of the more extravagant scenes, but that said this playfulness stretches the elasticity of the willing suspension of disbelief beyond its limit, making the tension snap.
Though it does come back to the original plot, the story is irredeemably pulled out of shape. The book isn't helped either by the long and drawn-out ending, which is not totally satisfying and leaves some loose ends dangling unnecessarily. Another annoying feature is the seemingly random use of italics throughout the book.
Apart from these quibbles the book is competently written and well paced. The chapters are short. They often end arbitrarily in the middle of a scene, where a paragraph break would have been sufficient, but the small bite-size segments work like a chocolate bar and you find yourself breaking off another chunk, and another, until you start looking at the bedside alarm clock to see how many more hours of sleep you can sacrifice.
All in all, Night Film is an energetic, gripping and entertaining read and worth the time and effort.
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