City of Bones

City of Bones

Now where do I begin when tackling this one…

City of Bones is an urban fantasy novel by the bestselling, yet highly controversial author Cassandra Clare. It was first published in 2007 and forms the first part of The Mortal Instruments series, followed by City of Ashes (2008), City of Glass (2009), City of Fallen Angels (2011), City of Lost Souls (2012) and City of Heavenly Fire (due for release later this month). It also has spawned a prequel trilogy called The Infernal Devices and a recently announced sequel series which is to be titled The Dark Artifices, as well as a series of short stories that focus on the secondary character, Magnus Bane.

The novel focuses on Clarissa “Clary” Fray, an ordinary teenager who discovers that the world is not all that she believed it to be when she witnesses a group of tattooed youths slaying a demon. She soon learns that the youths belong to an order known as the Shadowhunters (a group of humans imbibed with celestial attributes) who help to keep the balance between the human and demon worlds by eliminating all monsters (called Downworlders) who pose a threat to humankind.

Clary is particularly drawn to the arrogant-yet-skilled Jace, who is in turn intrigued by the fact that she is an ordinary human (or mundane) who has the ability to perceive supernatural occurrences, although it seems that a spell has been placed on Clary’s memory to prevent them from discovering why this is. Clary is initially torn between her attraction to Jace and desire to continue her normal life, she is soon forced to turn to the Shadowhunters for help when demons kidnap her mother.

However, rescuing her mother is no simple task. Valentine – a Shadowhunter who once betrayed his order and attempted to destroy all of the Downworlders – has returned from the grave and is now searching for the Mortal Cup (an ancient artefact with the power to turn mundane children into Shadowhunters). Clary soon discovers that Valentine is the one who has orchestrated her mother’s disappearance and sets out with her new friends to find a way to remove her memory block and discover how she is connected to Valentine and the Shadowhunters…

I already mentioned that Cassandra Clare is considered to be quite a controversial author. Maybe I should first explain why this is.

Clare started out as a writer of fan fiction under the pen name Cassandra Claire. She rose in popularity, particularly within the Harry Potter fandom, when she wrote an epic trilogy of stories which focused around the characters of Draco Malfoy and Ginny Weasley. She became infamous within the fandoms when it was revealed just how much of these stories were plagiarised. Not only did Clare use plot elements from existing popular works, she also lifted quotes and entire paragraphs of text without even acknowledging the source material.

I toyed with the idea of not mentioning this in my review, however I feel that it is relevant to the point that I am about to make. In my last review, I talked about how lack of originality could make a novel bland and unforgettable. In this story, it presents a very different problem.

There is nothing original in City of Bones. Reading through the novel is a bit like playing fandom bingo. Although primary influences on the story appear to be Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you can also clearly see the X-men, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and even Hellsing. These aren’t even simple nods towards the series that the author clearly loves. These are the basic plot elements of the series that Clare has simply put in her story and renamed. The cast are largely Harry Potter characters repurposed for her universe (particularly Draco for Jace and Ginny for Clary, but also Luke for Professor Lupin, Valentine for Voldemort and Hodge as very heavy-handed hybrid of Snape and Peter Pettigrew). The sassy teenage demon hunters are very much echoing the cast of Buffy, while placing them in a setting reminiscent of the Xavier Institute of the X-men comics. For me, this was just too distracting. I was spending more time trying to figure out why plot points seemed vaguely familiar than I did actually enjoying the story for its own merits.

If you can get past the blatant rip-offs of more popular franchises, the City of Bones actually flows well, is relatively exciting and picks up pace as the story progresses. Yet the story does repeatedly get bogged down with lengthy passages of unnecessary exposition, particularly towards the start of the story (“Demons…Religiously defined as hell’s denizens, the servants of Satan, but understood here, for the purposes of the Clave, to be any malevolent spirit whose origin is outside our own home dimension”). And yet, while the novel spends paragraphs explaining concepts that we are familiar with, it offers little explanation to those that needs it. What is a stele? I understand that its definition is largely a deus ex machina that does exactly what is necessary to resolve any situation but I really have no idea what it is or how it functions. To all purposes, it seems to be like a magic wand but we are told again and again that Shadowhunters aren’t magical. It felt as though the author was unsure when was best to use descriptive text and so just threw it into the text at random.

Yet, while the dialogue can be a bit flowery and needlessly dramatic in places, it does offer some pretty fast-paced and engrossing action sequences. Plot twists were generally too well sign-posted to be surprising but I thought that a couple were actually quite creative – my favourite being the location of the Mortal Cup. All in all, the story wrapped up to pretty satisfactory conclusion, allowing the story to stand alone while still leaving open threads to be picked up by its sequel.

However, while City of Bones does offer some exciting sequences, its largest failure is in its ability to create an engrossing cast. All of the characters (except for possibly Valentine) can be described as being sassy and confident. They have a clever retort for everything, and are pretty interchangeable in any given situation. Although some have some secondary characteristics that I think the reader is supposed to cling to (for example, Alec is sassy and confident and also gay) these individual attributes are never developed beyond a fleeting mention.

Even the two main characters do not seem to have any unique qualities to make them stand out among the sea of cookie-cut sassy teens. Clary never quite becomes a Mary-Sue but towards the end begins to show signs that she will soon develop into one in the subsequent novels. She is supposed to be a strong character (though does not really do much in the novel other than hide behind the Shadowhunters) and this strength is largely portrayed in her tendency to slap people across the face if they annoy her (which, last time I checked, was considered abusive and not the mark of a strong female lead).

Jace, on the other hand, is portrayed as being a good Draco Malfoy. While Draco’s arrogance is suited towards an antagonistic character, it just makes him frustratingly dislikeable as a protagonist. Every other breath, he declares himself to be beautiful. This isn’t endearing. It just makes me think that maybe Clary isn’t slapping him hard enough. Added to his actions during the climax of the novel, it just made me find him insufferable.

So, how do I wrap this up? Well, City of Bones is not a great novel by any stretch of the imagination. I can see why it’s fans like it so much but, for me, everything good about it is only good because it has been lifted from another source. I liked Harry Potter. I liked Buffy. I don’t like this novel because it’s just reusing the things I enjoyed from these series without bringing anything new to the table. While the story does have a couple of nice twists and some exciting sequences, these aren’t enough to save it. We’ll return to this series in a future review and I hope, when we do, we will find that Clare has developed some unique facets to her world to make it feel like more than just a cheap knock-off.

City of Bones can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: City of Ashes | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Kingdom Lights | Arkham Reviews
  3. Trackback: The Emerald Atlas | Arkham Reviews

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