Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season was snapped up by publisher Bloomsbury for what is known in the industry as a "six-figure sum" when Samantha was just 20 years old and studying at Oxford.
In early 2011, Shannon had “the seed of an idea for a dystopia set in Oxford, but something wasn’t gluing, then the word clairvoyants just came to me and I started designing the different clairvoyant types, mashed it up with the dystopia I had in mind and the design for a supernatural race of creatures and it just snowballed into The Bone Season.”
The novel, the first in a series of seven, has snowballed indeed. Rights have now been sold to 21 countries and Lord of the Rings actor Andy Serkis and “Bridget Jones’ Diary” producer Jonathan Cavendish have optioned film rights through their production company, The Imaginarium Studios.
The Bone Season
The novel tells the story of 19-year-old clairvoyant Paige Mahoney. It's the year 2059, and Paige is making a living in the criminal underworld of Scion London, finding information for her unscrupulous boss Jackson by breaking into people’s minds. In a world where “dreamwalking” is illegal, Paige is committing treason simply by being alive. On a rainy evening on her way home from work, Paige is attacked, kidnapped and drugged.
She awakens to find herself in Oxford—a city kept secret for two hundred years—imprisoned by the Rephaim, a supernatural race that has taken control from Scion. Assigned to a new master, the Warden Arcturus Mesarthim, Paige soon learns that the links between Scion and the Rephaim run deeper than she can imagine and so begins her long fight for freedom.
The Bone Season is a complex and epic dystopia filled with supernatural races, different societal factions, and various levels of clairvoyance, as well as multiple dialects and new slang words—the book even comes with its own glossary.
Paige is a “dreamwalker”, Jackson’s “mollisher” in training, a young clairvoyant destined to be the heir to I-4, the section of Scion that Jackson is “mime-load” of. The slang dialect of The Bone Season is steeped in Victorian characteristics, as Shannon explains: “I always knew I wanted a slang system because I’d read A Clockwork Orange. Although I knew I couldn’t play around with things on that level, I really did want to give it a bit of linguistic colour. I took some Victorian slang and mashed it up with some clairvoyant slang and I hope that it gives the book its own voice and makes you feel like your part of the world a bit.”
The seven orders of clairvoyants
Shannon did the most amount of research for the book on the seven orders of clairvoyants, as she “wanted them to be unique to me and The Bone System but at the same time, I wanted them all to have roots in 19th-century median-ship and spiritualism, I wanted it to have a sense of heritage.”
For Shannon, world-building is one of the most enjoyable parts of being an author, but despite The Bone Season being a fantasy novel, realism was important to her too. “I really enjoy world-building, I find it really exciting especially in a fantasy world because you can break rules. I also wanted The Bone Season to have its own logical system, so I’ve given all the clairvoyants limits, I didn’t want them to be infinitely magical. I wanted them to have their own weakness and strengths, so I hope it is realistic despite it being a fantasy.
“I didn’t want the clairvoyants to be this oppressed mass of people that are simply just ‘the good guys’. I wanted them to have their own internal conflicts and problems as well as the effects of what Scion is doing to them. I wanted to have a rich background to the gangs and the criminal underworld. I’m looking forward to exploring that more in the next book.”
At the heart of The Bone Season is the relationship between Paige, a hot-headed, brave and tough protagonist and Warden, a calm and contained Rephaite creature who starts out as Paige’s natural enemy.
“Warden is the character I’ve had designed for the longest. It’s one of my great pleasures writing his interactions with Paige because they’re radically different characters but they have this strange chemistry going on-. Without really trying he exposes many of the assumptions she has and the things she takes for granted.
“Paige’s voice came to me very quickly and although she is physically very strong, I also wanted to give the impression that although she thinks she knows everything, she really doesn’t and she has a lot of weaknesses, too. She wants freedom, but doesn’t quite know what freedom is.
“Freedom is at the core for both Paige and Warden. He appears like he’s in control, but in many ways he is a prisoner, too. It’s going to be interesting to develop what that means for them over the series."
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is published by Bloomsbury on 20th August.
Photo credit: Mark Pringle