Monday, July 19, 2010

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Published: March 27th 2005 by Margaret K. McElderry
Word Count: 130,949
Series: The Mortal Instruments, book one
Source: audio book

My Grade: A-

Synopsis from GoodReads: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder - much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing - not even a smear of blood - to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know....

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare's ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.

When I first started listening to this book I didn’t think it was anything special. It seemed rather same-old, same-old: A girl, unbeknownst to her, is actually not a normal human but part-human part-something-magical and is the key to the whole shebang. Pretty common premise. In fact, it’s my premise. But there was nothing terribly gripping about it. If I had been reading the book instead of listening to it, I think I would have had a harder time continuing. I'm glad I did though, because as a certain point it grabbed me, and I was totally into it.

The element that stood out to me the most is how gritty and brazen the tone is. This book is most definitely on the more mature end of the young adult category. Casual use of swears and the general way in which many of the characters talk would not suggest a high moral compass on their parts. The protagonist is supposed to be fifteen, but she talks and acts more like she’s eighteen or older. All the characters who are supposed to be around her age do. The environments they are in – like nightclubs, raves, and sketchy diners – would not be places you would find many fifteen-year-olds. At least not on their own. Should we allow for the fact that they are urban New Yorker teenagers? That their environment has exposed them to more of the rough side of humanity and they have grown a thicker skin and become accustomed to living an edgier lifestyle at a younger age? Maybe. We are not given enough background to be able to make that judgment. In which case, Clary and her friends seem older than fifteen.

Another consideration we could allow for is that three of the five teenagers in the story are Shadowhunters. So they are not normal teenagers. But they are still fifteen. And the fact that they are young and do not know as much as they think they do is mentioned by the adult characters from time to time. Still, they are extremely sure of themselves. But should I be placing human standards on them if they are the main fantasy element in the story? Yes, I think so, because although they are burdened with special powers and skills in order to fight demons, the author makes it very clear that they are still human – just enhanced humans. But they show little fear, or doubt, or insecurity. They have very few questions but seem to know exactly how the world works. They’re clever and conniving and have full control over their supernatural abilities. But any of this could be in criticism of an adult character too. I don’t know what it is, exactly. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I suppose in an adult character I would be more forgiving of these absent character aspects, and that’s why the young adult author has a more difficult job. Creating believable teenage characters is a major challenge, because teenagers have a way of thinking, an attitude towards life, a distinct outlook that while not uniform across the board is still separate from an adult character’s point of view. And in this case, I don’t know if the author got it exactly right, because the characters feel older than they are. I suppose I don’t really know why that is, but am only speculating as to why it could be. However, on the other side of the coin, I understand why this series is so popular with teenagers. It is a fantasy fulfillment. These characters are everything a lot of teenagers wish they could be, as far as self-esteem and assurance and ability. And is that not was escapism is all about? As the series progressed and I became more familiar with these characters, I forgave them fully for any turn-offs I initially held.

I think the author does a fantastic job at keeping the attraction between Clary and Jace subtle. It builds very slowly through the book and at points the author makes you think it might not even be there. Maybe the reader thinks it’s only there because that is the general expectation in these types of books. It is far in the background and the plotline and action greatly eclipse it. But the hints of it make it that much more interesting to follow. You don’t really know if Clary and Jace are going to end up as a couple or not. You don’t really know if their relationship is even moving in that direction for a long time. Often their banter sounds more like the mocking between siblings who are annoyed with each other rather than witty flirting between two interested parties, which contributes to keeping the reader guessing about these two.

The author tells the story well. The writing style crackles and sparks. It’s witty and fresh. Clare’s descriptions are colorful and vivid. This author could write about a lot of things and still make it interesting by how she writes it. I’m sure this has contributed to the success of this series.

I love how Simon, the best friend, is used as an integral part of the plot. All too often a best friend character exists just to give the protagonist emotional support but doesn’t function in the main thread of the story. Yes, in order for Simon to serve his purpose he needs to be in on the secret, but that’s ok. The only thing I don’t like is that it might be a bit un-relatable to a lot of teenage girls for Clary to have her best friend be a guy. (And a straight guy who is secretly in love with her at that. Can we say ‘soap opera’?) However, it does make for a very nice double love triangle. I recently watched an interview on the author’s website where she talks about her love of love triangles. Besides the aforementioned one, she also has a love triangle back-story for Clary’s mother Jocelyn. At this point the story begins to walk the thin line between what the suspension of disbelief allows and what is just unbelievable.

Pet Peeve: What really annoys me is too much usage of the verb “unhitched.” Seriously, why? “Jace unhitched himself from the sofa.” “Hodge unhitched himself from the desk.” It’s used at least once a chapter. I don’t really get it. And wouldn’t you notice such a blatant over-usage while editing? I’d like to think I do with my own writing. Yes, I may be fond of the way a certain word describes the action, but its novelty wears off with use. And using ‘unhitched’ doesn’t even seem appropriate much of the time.

This review is pretty harsh, but truthfully, I really enjoyed this book. I wanted to read on and I have. (See upcoming reviews!) Clare’s world-building is superb. The book is dark at times, joking at times, and clever and witty.

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Books on this blog

  • City of Bones, Book One of The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare
  • Eighth Grade Bites, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer
  • Evermore by Alyson Noel
  • Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
  • Magyk, Book One of the Septimus Heap Series by Angie Sage
  • The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud