TheUnicorner's Reviews > City of Bones

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
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Feb 06, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: young-adult, urban-fantasy, do-not-believe-the-hype, morbid-curiosity, series, self-flagellation, special-snowflake, terrible-hunting, violence-yay, douchebag-hero
Recommended for: fans of urban fantasy
Read in April, 2008

I read this one while taking a break from school books and papers, and I needed some mindless but entertaining brain rot. Therein lies the appeal of this novel.

If you've even dipped a pinkie toe in the online Harry Potter fandom, you've probably heard of the author (if not, just employ some google-fu and you find everything you need). The buzz generated by Clare's fandom notoriety probably was a great boon for this book, and I admit it's the only reason I read it. Although it's hard not to have preconceived notions if an author's reputation precedes them, I'm going to try as much as I can to remain unbiased as I do this review.

The opening chapter reminds me of those horror movie teasers in which the first character we see gets offed, thus kicking off the action. In this case, our sacrificial lamb is a blue-haired emo teenager with a penchant for colored contacts and big foam... things. It all goes down at a teen dance club, where the heroine, Clary Fray, witnesses emo kid's murder. Blue-haired emo kid, we barely knew ye. But wait—it turns out that no one can see the killers but Clary! The killers are actually teenage demon hunters, and the blue-haired boy is actually a demon, disguised as a human (for the record, the foam thingy was a glamour to hide a weapon). These demon hunters call themselves shadowhunters, or nephilim (what, one name isn't good enough? They need another one?). Normal humans, whom they refer to as mundanes or "mundies", can't see them. Since Clary can, that must mean she's special. Wow, I'd have never seen that one coming.

During the next chapter, we find out more about Clary. Her widowed mother is a hippie artist type with a close friend named Luke, whom Clary calls uncle, despite the fact that he is not a blood relative. Clary knows virtually nothing about her late father. Gee, I wonder if that will ever be a plot point? The mother's name is Jocelyn, which I find disconcertingly similar to the name of Buffy's mother (Joyce) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a nitpick, I know, but it bugged me. Clary has a BFF named Simon, who struck me as an amalgam of Buffy's Xander and Oz (insofar as Simon's in a rock band and owns a van). There's also the flaky tarot card-reading neighbor named Dorothea, who reminds me of a cross between Buffy's Jenny Calendar and Angela from the Inheritance Trilogy—pardon me, Cycle.

Soon afterward, Jocelyn is kidnapped and Clary is rescued by the shadowhunters, who whisk her off to their headquarters, excitingly named "The Institute." It turns out that all the shadowhunters' hangouts are hidden from mundanes by glamours. To mundies (I'm switching terms b/c MS word keeps auto-correcting "mundanes" and it's pissing me off), they appear as old condemned buildings or something. Hmmm... where have I read this plot device before? (Although to be fair, I'm sure HP isn't the only work of fiction to employ it). The Shadowhunters originate from a magical land called Narnia Idris, located in western Europe but hidden from Mundies by one helluva glamour. At the Institute, Clary meets the Wise Old Mentor Figure, Hodge (think Giles meets Dumbledore). Hodge also has an animal familiar, a raven named Hugo (which made me think of Lost's Hugo Reyes aka "Hurley," who is sadly a much more interesting character than anyone you will ever meet in City of Bones). Hey, at least it wasn't a Phoenix.

What follows is your typical Campbell-ian fantasy plot. I'm not going to get specific, in case there's anyone unfamiliar enough with Star Wars that any of this comes as an actual surprise, but if you have even a passing acquaintance with those films, you should be able to call everything pretty accurately. We have the Shocking Betrayal, Surprise!Relativity (otherwise known as the "Luuuuuke, I am your father" syndrome), the Roguish Anti-hero, the Designated Love Interest (the former two are actually combined in one character), the Empire, and the Rebel Alliance. I was going to give Clare credit for a somewhat clever reversal of the whole Empire/Rebel dynamic, but then I realize that JK Rowling did it first, so so much for that. Context being that in City of Bones, we've got the Ministry of Magic Clave (the highly ordered ruling body of Shadowhunters) versus the Death Eaters Circle (an order of defectors dedicated to cleansing the world of demon/human hybrids known as Downworlders).

More so than the derivative plot, however, I'd say City of Bones' biggest weakness lies in characterization. After all, I can forgive a lot if a story has great characters. Unfortunately, City of Bones does not deliver. Clary is likeable and sympathetic enough, but she's a bit on the bland side, and is often the one who ends up carrying the Idiot Ball when the plot calls for it. Clary is also one of those beautiful-but-doesn't-know-it girls, a YA trope that annoys me to no end. Not only is it completely unrealistic (seriously, if she's that much of a knockout, there is no way she wouldn't know it) but it's blatantly hypocritical, especially since the heroine is usually contrasted with the Stuck-Up Beautiful Girl (in this case, the beautiful but snobby Isabelle). So the point here is that beauty isn't everything, but apparently, we can't have a heroine who isn't beautiful! So we'll just make her unaware of her stunning beauty. Problem solved! Never mind the implication that you still need to be beautiful to get the guy, as long as you're nice, too! No mixed messages, not at all!

Ahem, sorry about that. I get a bit impassioned about pet peeves. Anyway, the secondary characters are actually even less interesting. As you've probably gathered from my cursory descriptions so far, most of them are obviously inspired by characters from more famous fantasy/sci-fi works. Trouble is, Clare's characters lack the charisma and charm of their predecessors, making them little more than pale knockoffs. I've already mentioned Simon, the Quirky Sidekick. Then we have Jace, a shadowhunter and Designated Love Interest, who's like Han Solo, HP's Draco, and Buffy's Spike all mushed together. Alec and Isabelle, Jace's shadowhunter friends, are even more thinly characterized and even less interesting (and the names bother me because I keep thinking of Dark Angel and Roswell... the fact that Clare's Isabelle is very similar in personality and function to her counterpart in Roswell isn't helping matters). The only remotely interesting supporting character is Magnus Bane, but he barely gets any page time at all.

So with all this negativity, you're probably wondering why this book still got a fairly high rating from me. Simply put, it was entertaining. Clare's prose is not as groanworthingly incompetent as Paolini's, nor as coma-inducing as Stephanie "let's describe every little thing in as verbose of a manner as possible" Meyer's, so it's easy to read. The plot is fast-paced and keeps you turning the page. The book fulfilled its function, which was fun and fluffy brain rot in the midst of term paper hell. As long as you don't take it too seriously and don't particularly care if it's derivative as heck (playing "spot the Buffy/HP reference" is a rather fun diversion, though), you should find it enjoyable.

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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by dreamer (new)

dreamer Was she the one who was accused of plagiarism?

TheUnicorner Yup, that's the one.

message 3: by dreamer (new)

dreamer Niiiiice.

message 4: by M— (new) - added it

M— I really liked your review, but some of your HTML coding didn't render correctly. Goodreads doesn't appear to acknowledge the "" command (preferring instead the "" command). I think you used the strikethrough for good effect, but scanning through and over the coding gave me a bit of a headache.

Rachel " Clary is likeable and sympathetic enough, but she's a bit on the bland side"

I felt this way, too. I find it hard to relate to such a dumb narrator. Half the time she seemed to be saying, "Huh? What?" with little growth or empowerment (or "self-actualization" as Simon alluded to). From the first 10 pages, I couldn't help but feel Clary was just a Mary Jane that somehow managed to sneak past into a novel. Cassandra Clare...Clary...really? That was the BEST name you could come up with for your main character? One that's JUST LIKE YOURS? A tad suspicious.

You also alluded to the fact that everything in the book had several names. This was something that annoyed me about LOTR, but I figure, "okay, we're dealing with several different languages." But here? Is it necessary to have a name and a nickname for every fantastic creature & setting?

Glad I'm not the only one. :)

Tasha I didn't know that Clare wrote fan fiction before this. Considering how derivative this book is (great call on Simon being like Xander, btw), I'm not really shocked she was accused of plagiarism. I pretty much agree with your review 100%.

Janine I'm glad I'm not the only one struggling with this book. I keep putting it down to read other things because the characters seem one-dimensional and don't hold my attention.

I must admit... I was excited to read this book and even bought the second book before I started reading the first. Now I'm thinking it was a huge waste of my money. I think your assessment is spot on!

Alyssa There were some parts of this novel that I really loved. The constant, but never over-played, action really pushed me through the rough spots. But, I have to agree with your assessment. As a work of literature, this book is nothing. I am surprised that it was even published.

Clary's character was so bland and boring. Unfortunatley, so was Jace. As much as I enjoyed reading about his "hotness", I think that the book would have been a lot better if we had gotten to know Jace a bit better. Even though he was one of the better characters, it seemed as though the plot was driving him to do the things he did, rather than his personality.

I also completley hated how Cassandra handled their relationship. Forbidden love, so overused. I think the author could have looked to Grey's anatomy for some help. The writers are great at cooking up ideas to break up the characters in love.

Overall, I cant even cover how much this book frustrated me. The world that she created and the characters that she had definitley had a lot of potential, she just didn't drive them in the right direction.

Lisa When I picked this book up I didn't know anything about the author or the book other than a friend thought it was entertaining. I almost wish I had read it before I read the book so I could keep a better eye out for the similarities to Buffy and Star Wars. I can definately see them in hindsight. However if I had read your review first, I might not have read the book. ;)

Like you, I really wished for so much more in this book. I think the characters needed more fleshing out, so to speak. I saw the forbidden love thing early on and kept hoping I was wrong, but I wasn't. It's so disappointing to be able to guess what comes next! I was disappointed that there wasn't more - "ew gross I made out with my sibling" especially after Jace was so upset that Clary could even think he and Isabelle were an item.

And despite all my disappointments I want to read the next book. Why do I do that?! I guess I like to give the author a second chance because it wasn't too horrible and I am hoping that she can do better. Anyone moved on to book two?

message 10: by Annabelle (last edited Jul 25, 2009 12:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annabelle For everyone disappointed in the characters, I would just like to say throughout the next two books they all grow and develop very nicely. I think Clare was purposefully trying to make them seem a little bland and obvious in this first novel to show the kind of change they go through.
These books are not the most original, but there isn't much that is anymore. They are however very entertaining and satisfying-especially if you stick it out and read the entire trilogy.

message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lisa Annabelle wrote: "For everyone disappointed in the characters, I would just like to say throughout the next two books they all grow and develop very nicely. I think Clare was purposefully trying to make them seem a ..."
Oh, I am so glad to hear this! I will look forward to reading the next two!"

message 12: by Erin (new) - rated it 2 stars

Erin your review literally made me LOL because it was so spot on. as a Roswell fanatic, AleC and Isabelle's names kept annoying me. And having just re-read the HP series, I kept thinking "seriously.. SERIOUSLY!?" multiple times during this book. Also I could not STAND Clary. how retarded do you have to be? "dont go through that door.." "BUT I WANNA! I WANNA SEE WHERE MY MOM WENT!!?!?!??!!!" etc etc. She made me feel old by how retarded and babyish she seemed haha. And I agree on the whole "pretty girl who thinks she's ugly" blah blah blah. Your review was entirely spot on!

Miriam Have you read Spindle's End? It's one of the only YA fantasies I can think of where the heroine is *actually* not pretty (her fairy godmothers wish her to have golden curls and rose-petal lips etc but forget to say that she should be beautiful).

Julie This is an absolutely perfect, spot-on review. I was about to write my own but since you already said everything I won't bother re-writting it. I'll just point my friends to your review. Maybe Clare should have not bothered instead of re-writting Lucas, Rowling, and a few others.

message 15: by Aida (new) - rated it 5 stars

Aida How old are you people? These books were written for teens not adults. Obviously a lot of you hate the author. I know nothing about her. I just know that my students can't get enough of the books and if it gets kids to read that is all that matters. Stop hating and write your own books.

Georgina Aida wrote: "How old are you people? These books were written for teens not adults. Obviously a lot of you hate the author. I know nothing about her. I just know that my students can't get enough of the books a..."
I am a teen-I enjoyed the book-and I agree with you about its target audience but that doesn't mean that adults aren't allowed to point out its flaws. Or teens for that matter, I myself thought it felt a bit samey :/

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

I personally hated clary though I liked this story a lot. Funny review . As Magnus bane is my current obsession, I totally agree on the more page time thingy. Isabelle and Alec develop more interestingly in the series. Spoiler-Magnus dates Alec. How did you find her Harry p. fanfic? I want to read her Draco trilogies

message 18: by Juu (new) - rated it 3 stars

Juu agree on the beautiful heroine hypocrisy


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