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Hey Clary, have you ever met Harry?
on November 12, 2010
This review was written for my blog, so the hyperlinks and strikethrough text got erased when I posted it here, but I think you get the gist.
I'm finally getting around to reading Cassandra Clare's City of Bones (first book in the "Mortal Instruments" series) and I have so many conflicted feelings about it, I'm actually having a hard time just reading it. Nevertheless, this post is actually a review of City of Bones. IT HAS SOME SPOILERS. Not that there's much to spoil.
First of all, I've been familiar with Cassandra Clare's work for quite a few years now...of course, what I mean is that like thousands of other people, I knew her from her LOTR and Harry Potter fanfiction days, under the penname "Cassandra Claire." She would probably be the most stellar example of what's known as a BNF, or a Big Name Fan. She wrote the "Very Secret Dairies" for LOTR and the "Draco Trilogy" (Draco Dormiens, Sinister, and Veritas) for Harry Potter. They've been translated into various languages and most likely if you read any Harry Potter fanfiction at all, you've probably heard of Cassandra Clare. Unsurprisingly, there was also some controversy and accusations of plagiarism involved, since she paraphrased or "forgot to cite" a lot of phrases and quotes that she used in her stories, which she'd taken from other famous works/fandoms. You can read all about it at her very own Fanlore page <here>. As I recall, she may or may not have been gifted a laptop by fans when hers was stolen - though this is apparently one of the myths that got deleted off websites like Fanlore.
Anyway, all this is just background context, but it's important context, and you'll see why. So basically after this highly successful fanfiction stint, Cassandra Claire became Cassandra Clare, the best-selling author of the YA "Mortal Instruments" series, which finally brings me back to City of Bones. With that said, City of Bones is more or less the Harry Potter world reimagined, and what I mean by that is that basically almost every single concept and phrase and description in this book seemed oddly familiar... But that's kind of to be expected, since naturally a writer's style can't change overnight. Still.
Here's now the series works. Clary Fray is your normal teenage girl - for about fifty pages, anyway - and basically she starts seeing things that other people can't see. No, it actually isn't a book based off the ever popular faerie mythology. Clary sees three teenagers covered with weird markings kill someone they claim is a demon. Turns out, there's a whole "Shadow world" out there, where there are vampires, werewolves, faeries, and so on. One of those marked teenagers turns out to be a young Shadowhunter named Jace, who happens to have all the same mannerisms and characteristics as Draco Malfoy, especially the Draco Malfoy portrayed the Draco Trilogy. In other words, he's arrogant, wealthy, sarcastic, blond, and he even comes with a back story with some kind of stern father who teaches him that "to love is to destroy." The father spoiled his son with luxuries (they live in the Malfoy - well, a manor - after all) but the father also died. Jace is a Shadowhunter, meaning he's been trained since birth to kill demons and whatnot. A Shadowhunter uses a stele (which is a wand-like object, Clare's description, not mine) to draw runes, i.e. they use this "tool" to do magic. Cool, right?
Okay, Jace is actually pretty appealing (well, why not? He's basically Draco) but the similarities don't stop there. See, about 16 years ago in this magical world, this guy named Lord Voldemort - er, I mean Valentine - decided to get rid of everyone who he felt wasn't pureblooded enough, which in this case means anything nonhuman. There's actually quite a bit of snobbishness going on between the Shadowhunters and the Muggles - er, I mean mundanes - that don't know about this magical world that's hiding in plain sight. Anyway, 16 years ago, "Valentine" failed and everyone thought he and his wife and child died. His supporters, the Circle (okay, fail, Death Eaters sounds so much cooler), either died during the Uprising or turned themselves in and are somewhat co-opted back into the government, but exiled.
Clary, of course, turns out to be mysteriously connected to He Who Shall Not Be Named, who turns out not to be dead. Like you didn't see that one coming. Anyway, Valentine sends demons after Clary and manages to kidnap Clary's mom. Clary's dad conveniently died around the time she was born. Hmmmm. Valentine used to be this popular and handsome Shadowhunter who, you know, didn't start out evil but gradually became obsessed with killing all the Downworlders (those nonhuman, part demon whatevers) and using this thing called the Mortal Cup to create more Shadowhunters from regular humans. Problem is, only like 20% of the converted humans survive, but Valentine's not going to let that stop him. He builds up his followers - the Circle - which basically consists of the parents of all of Clary's new Shadowhunter friends. By the way, the Shadowhunter names are all things like Blackwell, Pangborn, Lightwood, Fairchild. Just so you know. No sense of deja vu, of course.
Also, in a twist you so couldn't see coming, Valentine turns out to be Clary's mom's husband, which makes Clary...right, his daughter. Oh no! To help you (and Clary) keep track of everyone, there's this old picture of the Circle when they were young, y'know that group of friends who were all together...too bad the picture isn't animated, right? Let's keep going though. So V's after the Mortal Cup, which Clary's mom has hidden, so Clary and Jace try to find it while some action and unrequited love pads the story. The relationships are painfully similar to what was in Draco Trilogy, but I guess you can't really plagiarize from yourself. On the romantic front, I won't spoil it completely, but just think Leia and Luke Skywalker. Uh huh, another classic. Jace also has an "I am your father" moment.
All right, all this said, despite all of the above, City of Bones is a pretty good book, in the same way that I thought that the Draco Trilogy was pretty fun to read. Incidentally, the Draco Trilogy can be downloaded as a PDF from a variety of places. Both the Trilogy and this "Mortal Instruments" series have lots of Latin inscriptions, lots of references, and lots of funny moments. It's only irritating because the whole thing constantly makes me think "wow, I've seen this before," to the point that it was really distracting. There wasn't a single part that I felt was all that new, but everything was pretty well done and well written. Clary is almost unbearably a Mary Sue, but I was way more distracted by the shoutouts to Jaida Jones (another famous fanfic writer turned published author, who actually did write a novel I liked, Havemercy) and Holly Black. Regarding the Mary Sue issue, though, can we please get rid of all these fantasy heroines who never seem to realize they're beautiful until their romantic interest tells them? Cliche much and annoying much? Please, you're telling me a 16 year old girl somehow never realized her own level of attractiveness. Really, now.
Unsurprisingly, the "Mortal Instruments" series has been a big hit and might be being made into a film. Lots of people are saying it's the next Harry Potter. In my opinion, it's more like a Harry Potter rehash, but given how much HP has sold, if Cassandra Clare can take even 5% of the market share, that would be a pretty big success. Would I recommend it to others? Hmmm. I think as an avid reader of YA novels, I have far better series to recommend to my friends. You could definitely do worse, but you could also definitely do better. For those who like fantasy and heroic fairy tales, try Kristin Cashore - though her books are very well rounded and definitely deserve all the YA awards they've won, so try her even if you don't usually go for fantasy. For those action-minded, try Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy or Ann Aguirre's Enclave. If you're looking for a more grown up, but still teenage epic action/romance series with vampires, try Richelle Mead. If you like stories about futuristic technological dystopias, try Scott Westerfeld or Robin Wasserman. Leaning toward epic fantasy or consider yourself a fan of Tamora Pierce? Try Allison Goodman's Eon.
Update: The "MI" series ARE being made into films and the hype is already that it'll be the "next big thing" when Twilight ends. All I can say is, that's almost as predictable as the book.