Why You Shouldn’t Read The Bone Season
The announcement that the first selection of the Today show’s new book club* would be The Bone Season stamped Samantha Shannon’s debut novel with inevitability. A seven-part YA occult-themed vampire-wizard epic published by Harry Potter‘s imprint and already optioned for a film, The Bone Season is destined to become the next ubiquitous Hunger Games/Game of Thrones/etc.-level hit in the book world. You’re probably going to read it.
But you might also hate it, which should matter. Hit series that have followed the basic Potter template—New York Times‘ Janet Maslin calls it the “book club craze,” though that seems imprecise—have come and gone with increasing rapidity and decreasing reward. Even fans of Fifty Shades of Grey acknowledged the books were lousily written and largely disappointing. There must be a threshold at which these series’ diminishing returns no longer make the time and energy devoted to reading them worthwhile.
The Bone Season is the perfect candidate for this mass disenchantment. Maslin, in an uncharacteristically scathing review, describes the novel as a greatest hits of YA fads, from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, with even a dash of 1984. And this was Shannon’s second crack at a novel, after a Twilight ripoff. Sample sentence: “I was drawn toward him as if a flower to the sun.”
Its author’s tale is even less encouraging. Via Vulture‘s profile, Shannon was picked up by agent David Godwin after interning for him for a whopping fortnight, and signed a seven-book publishing deal after working on the first volume for only six months. To be clear, that’s more planned volumes than months she spent writing the first one.
Not surprisingly, the book’s heap of advanced press has focused less on the writing and more on its packaging. Via Maslin:
The “Today” news anchor Natalie Morales said she had found this book by reading a newspaper article about it, and such reports have focused on Ms. Shannon’s hitting the jackpot, not on her writing. And Al Roker…plugged the Google Hangouts that “Bone Season” fans would be able to enjoy. Google Hangouts are a way of conducting e-chats, rather than reading books…Not one bit of the five-minute segment concerned exactly what Ms. Shannon has written.
In fairness, all published books come to us by some combination of luck, privilege, and access, and an author is not responsible for its presentation. But both Shannon’s novel and the hoopla around it so explicitly disparage actual writing, both in its expedited process and pedestrian results, that they seem almost intentionally insulting to the solicited readership. Her publishers are really asking people to sign up for seven volumes of trendy pastiche, neither original nor artfully executed. The sole payoff seems to be the serial-ness of the series: everybody involved is openly counting on the multiple volumes to submerge questions of quality, hoping pace obscures prose.
Shannon’s publishers have every reason to bet on this. Book series tend to reach a tipping point at which people don’t even know why they’re reading titles except that everybody else is doing so—hence the strange cognitive dissonance of readers avidly consuming Fifty Shades while openly admitting they don’t enjoy it. If publishers count on this behavior, they’ll push writers of one novel into a series, inflate a three-book series into a seven-book series, and so on, all to the dilution of the end product. The result will be many more books, none of which are very good, and all of which can’t help but depress people about reading in general.
In short: you’re going to see a lot of people reading The Bone Season very soon. Resist the urge to join them. You’ll miss out on seven desultory books, and you might help improve the literary industry in the process.