I’ve recently come across people voicing doubt and concerns over Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season series, and I feel like a lot of the reviews on Goodreads don’t offer enough information about the topics to help potential readers make up their minds. I thought it would be helpful to write a detailed post talking about some of the main plot points: the history of the Rephaim, clairvoyants, the penal colony, and the relationship between Paige and Warden. Of course, the Scion London Underworld is also a massive part of the series but it seems like the other topics have raised more eyebrows.
Please note that this ENTIRE post contains spoilers for The Bone Season AND The Mime Order! Do not read it if you’re actually interested in reading the books and don’t want them spoiled. But if you’re someone who isn’t bothered by spoilers and are on the fence about starting the series, then read away, this post might help you decide if you can deal with the content or if you’d like to give it a pass. I have mentioned The Song Rising very very briefly but the things I’ve brought up are not spoilers at all so don’t worry about that! The points I’ve made come from everything I remember from reading the series, but my memory isn’t amazing, so if I’ve forgotten something, please feel free to let me know so I can adjust this post accordingly.
This post can also act as a recap for those who haven’t read The Bone Season and The Mime Order for a while now and want to remember the important bits before jumping into The Song Rising when it’s out (my spoiler-free review for The Song Rising will be up tomorrow).
Sources include The Bone Season, The Mime Order, and The Bone Season Wikia.
Who are the Rephaim and how did they end up in the physical world?
First of all, the Rephaim are not all evil. At the start, Rephaim resided the Netherworld where they lived off the aether (the spirit realm). Dead human spirits also crossed the aether to go to the Netherworld. Eventually, due to things like war, a lot more human spirits entered the Netherworld which led to the balance of the ethereal threshold tipping over and becoming dangerous. At the time, Ettanin Mothallath was in charge of the Rephaim, he decided to send some Rephaim to the world so the balance could be restored. The Sargas were against the idea but Mothallath went ahead with the plan, but he also said the Rephaim mustn’t reveal themselves to humans. However, that didn’t work out, humans found out about the Rephaim. After this revelation, the Netherworld was basically ruined (they call this the Waning of the Veils), and that’s how some humans were able to use the aether (this is called clairvoyance). Other side-effects were that human-eating beasts called Emim escaped from the Netherworld and into the human world too, and the Rephaim couldn’t survive on the aether anymore.
Following these events, a war broke out between the Mothallath and the Sargas. After the Sargas won, most Rephaim declared their loyalty to the Sargas to save themselves (they weren’t exactly merciful).
What is Sheol I?
The British government agreed to give clairvoyant slaves over to the Rephaim (led by Nashira Sargas) for protection from the Emim. The agreement gave rise to Scion and led to a penal colony called Sheol I being set up in Oxford.
Scion is a governing system that makes the non-clairvoyant population of London (called amaurotics) fear clairvoyants, they call them ‘unnatural’ and aim to get rid of clairvoyants (by secretly working with the Rephaim). The anti-clairvoyant governing system results in the clairvoyants living undercover in what they call the London Underworld, which is comprised of several gangs controlled by an Underlord/Underqueen. The protagonist, Paige, is a clairvoyant who belongs to one of these gangs called The Seven Seals.
The concentrated presence of so many clairvoyants (spiritual activity) in Sheol I means the Emim are drawn there instead of targeting humans in other areas, the colony sort of acts as a beacon drawing Emim to it. Since the Rephaim can’t live on the aether anymore, their new source of sustenance is the clairvoyant aura. Basically, clairvoyants have an aura and the Rephaim feed on this aura to survive (think vampire aliens).
What do the Rephaim and clairvoyants look like?
THE REPHAIM ARE NOT HUMAN. From all the descriptions provided, it seems they sort of resemble humans, but it’s important to remember that they are not actually human beings. Also, they are not inherently a violent, evil alien race (as mentioned before). It’s just the Sargas and the Rephaim who follow them that are tools – the latter do so mostly out of fear and also because they now have to feed on auras to survive. There are plenty of Rephaim that are against the human enslavement and Scion, and they don’t like the Sargas at all, but not many have the courage to face the Sargas (which is why the resisting Rephaim party is rather small – especially after what happened to those who resisted before).
In The Bone Season, Warden is described as having ‘dark honey gold’ skin. Paige also describes the Rephaim she saw in Sheol I in The Mime Order: ‘“their skin looks like metal, and they’re tall. Their eyes are yellowish, but when they feed, they reflect the colour of the aura they’ve just fed on.”’ Paige only sees 30 or so Rephaim out of thousands at Sheol I, in her collective description she’s vague about their skin colour, she generally describes the texture of Rephaim skin or compares it to metals. In The Bone Season, Nashira has ‘burnished’ skin, Pleione has ‘nut-brown’ skin. In The Mime Order, Terabell is described as having skin that’s a mix of copper and silver, and Errai has skin that’s like ‘argent satin’. I’d consider Terabell and Errai as ‘white’ in human skin colour terms.
The clairvoyants are human. From all the key characters mentioned in The Bone Season and The Mime Order so far: Ezekiel Saenz and Nadine Arnett are tan-skinned, Eliza Renton is olive-skinned, Ivy Jacob’s name is actually Divya Jacob and she has brown skin (she’s Indian). There are other background characters with skin tones ranging from tanned, olive and black too. The Song Rising brings in some key black characters. There is also some LGBTQIA+ rep in this series. Some of the key characters including the protagonist are white, but there is absolutely no indication of all of the clairvoyants being white or all of the enslaved clairvoyants being white only.
Scion is run by amaurotics (non-clairvoyant humans) who collaborate with the Rephaim. They are just as bad as the Sargas.
To sum it up, the Rephaim, clairvoyants and the amaurotics in The Bone Season series all have different skin colours. Some of those characters are good, some of them are bad.
What do the Rephaim do to the clairvoyants in Sheol I?
Some of the clairvoyants sent to the penal colony are trained as soldiers to fight the Emim that try to enter Sheol I, while others are performers living in slums – the Rephaim also feed on their auras. There are some amaurotics who are worked to death and then kept imprisoned in Sheol I too. The treatment of humans is appalling, they’re branded with numbers that the Rephaim use instead of their names, the majority of Rephaim beat them, feed on them and consider them inferior in all regards. But not all Rephaim support this, there was an uprising where a group of Rephaim worked with the humans to take down the Sargas – including Warden. Those taking part in the uprising were betrayed by a human who told Nashira everything (he’s revealed to be Jaxon in The Mime Order). The rebelling humans were killed by the Emim that got in because there was no-one to fight them off, the Sargas and the Rephaim siding with them let the Emim do it.
What happened to the Rephaim traitors and what’s the relationship between Warden and Paige?
The Rephaim who were part of the uprising were punished, they were beaten severely and left with permanent scars that continue to cause them pain. Warden was doubly punished by being forcibly betrothed to Nashira Sargas (he hates her). Warden is also the Rephaim who picks Paige as his charge when she is dragged into Sheol I. The Rephaim are immortal, which is probably why Nashira didn’t just kill them all too.
Warden trains Paige and makes her stronger, but for her own safety. Warden doesn’t treat Paige badly – she wasn’t beaten, starved, used as entertainment, or fed on against her will (him not being abusive obviously doesn’t excuse what the Rephaim are doing). The reason I’m clarifying this is because there are concerns about the relationship between Paige and Warden being abusive. He tries to help her throughout the book and even at the end of The Bone Season, he helps her and a lot of other humans stage the second uprising to escape from Sheol I. He does everything he can to save her life whilst maintaining the facade of being loyal to Nashira and not giving his true intentions away.
Furthermore, there is no actual ‘relationship’ between Warden and Paige, they appear to (very slowly) develop feelings for one another as The Bone Season progresses, but they don’t end up together (although a kiss does happen). The same happens in The Mime Order and their ‘relationship’ status is still questionable in The Song Rising. Most of the focus thus far has been on these two characters learning to trust each other – Paige needs to accept that Warden is not going to betray her and that he’s trying to help her and the other humans, and Warden needs to accept that Paige isn’t going to betray him and ruin his plans to take the Sargas down like Jaxon did.
In the technical sense, yes feelings do grow between two characters that play an outwardly master/slave role in this series. However, Paige’s place in Sheol I is never exploited by Warden, he doesn’t consider her an inferior being, he doesn’t abuse her or force her to do anything against her will. Instead, he trains her so her powers improve and then helps her escape. Warden is actually more like Paige’s mentor, not her master.