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City of Bones

a book series by Cassandra Clare

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Painful to Read

  • Sep 3, 2009
I have to be honest.  As bad as the Twilight series is... one can actually read those books and actually push through them.  The Mortal Instruments?  Not so much.  This review centers primarily on the first book in the series: City of Bones.  It's the only one I read.  And if one creates a data point for it, I'll happily move this review over there.  Until then, this will do.

I pick up a lot of young adult literature.  The number of young adult books that I like is vast, but so is the pool of books I'm not big on.  City of Bones falls into a style of Young Adult literature that I'm not particularly proud of.  I'm not sure where it began, but Twilight is one of the leading YA Lit books that started this trend.  But Cassandra Clare may be much worse than Stephenie Meyer.  Cassandra Clare began her writing career with fanfiction.  Primarily with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.  And hey, fanfiction isn't a bad way to start.  You can get an audience rolling and sort of experiment with your own writing.  Fanfiction is like training wheels.  Unfortunately, Cassandra Clare (which is actually just a penname) never took off the training wheels.  That's not meant to be an insult, it's only meant to say that Cassandra still seems to be writing fanfiction when she's entered a market that she should be doing more.

City of Bones focuses on a girl named Clary Fray (ugh...).  She's with her friend Simon, and they're both going into a club called Pandemonium.  Once inside Clary sees a cute boy who goes into the storage room at the club, and two mysterious figures following her.  So her first instinct when noticing a couple of suspicious people with knives is to follow them.  Everyone knows that's exactly what you're supposed to do.  But letting that slide, she witnesses as the blue haired boy who snuck in is killed by the one who lured him in, and the two who snuck up on him.  Clary panics.  Conveniently enough, the body of the boy disappears and Clary learns he was really a demon and those who killed him are Shadowhunters.  This is just the beginning for our unfortunately named heroine.

As a result of what happens at the club she gets home late and her totally uncool mother is upset.  But that doesn't matter, the next night Clary goes out with Simon to some cafe where she meets up with one of those shadowhunters.  HIs name is Jace.  And pretty soon Clary is going to learn there are a lot of supernatural things going on in the world that she doesn't know about.  And it all begins when her mother is kidnapped and all that's left is some demon in her house that Jace manages to kill.  Now Clary has to go save her mother, and to do that she'll need Jace's help... along with the Shadowhunters. 

The plot soon becomes a mixture of Harry Potter and Star Wars.  But that's not quite as bothersome as the approach to writing that Cassandra Clare takes.  As I said, she hasn't really left the fanfiction behind.  I'm not too concerned with her ripping things directly from Harry Potter and Star Wars as I am that most of her writing is bad and so is her structure. 

The first is that she plays very close to a formula that is annoying in Young Adult Fiction.  We have a main female protagonist who happens to be a weakling and rely on her knight and shining armor (at least how the book begins).  And she happens to be interested in this dark, brooding and mysterious guy.  How many dark, mysterious guys does a young girl need in her fiction anyway?  And why is it so difficult to write in a girl who can kick ass?  Of course by the time we get to the end of the book any sort of hope we have for a romance between Clary and Jace gets crushed. 

The next is much of the writing itself, and this is really when you start to see she hasn't left fanfiction behind.  When you're cruising fanfiction.net, everyone there writes in a style that shows they're excited about being a writer.  Because they've learned that in order to be good you've got to be really colorful in your language.  That means using an abundance of adjectives to describe everything.  A lot of people also want to show how good they can be by using complex words, extended metaphors.  When it comes to fanfiction these are what people to do to "prove" they can write.  This mostly stems from people getting sucked into this idea that writing is only good when it's complex, and that fiction is only good when its flowery.  City of Bones shows that sometimes this can kill your fiction.  Instead of just describing someone's eyes as blue, Clare has to say something along the lines of "Icy Eyes."  For color it works, but when she does it for the millionth time it gets annoying.  One of the most important aspects of writing is to use nouns and verbs.  Most writers (especially young adult authors like Cassandra Clare) seem to think that more adjectives equals better writing.  It doesn't.  Let's take a short small portion from the beginning:

Jace raised his hand, and Clary saw dim light spark off the knife he was holding.  It was oddly translucent, the blade clear as crystal, sharp as a shard of glass, the hilt set with red stones.

It's colorful, but it keeps the story from proceeding (and we already know Clary knows he has a knife thanks to preceeding prose).  Some might say this is beautiful, and indeed it is quite beautiful, but that's a lot of description just to show us what a knife looks like.  If it was referred as simply a "Crystal Blade" and left out that "sharp as a shard of glass" kind of stuff it'd have been better and more to the point.

A bit of it every now and then is okay, but constant adjective overload?  Not so much.  We don't need to constantly hear about the hero's "eloquent, graceful, icy eyes burning with radiant fury."  That sort of constant use of adjectives can get really annoying and really repetitive fast.  Other times they're used for the purpose of fluffing up her prose.  Sometimes it may sound better and eloquent, but the point of a story is to tell said story, not hold us up.  But using too many adjectives really isn't as big of a deal as some of the other bigger problems the novel has.

While Cassandra may put a little too much effort into her prose she seems to hit the nail on the head with dialog.  It's clever (most times) but keeps things moving.  Most of it feels natural... some of it doesn't.  In some cases there's a lot of dialog stuck in there for the sake of setting up some witty comeback from one character or another.  Most of the dialog is pretty good, although sometimes you may find it hard to believe you're reading about a bunch of teenagers.  When they're using words like Ensanguined it can feel kind of strange.  Do teenagers say Ensanguined?  Do adults for that matter?  So even with having good dialog, she still tries too hard at times--looking for colorful words.  You get the feeling that as she's writing Clare isn't satisfied with basic words, or that she's trying to show us her awesome vocabulary skills.

Perhaps the biggest problem with City of Bones is the character development.  Clary seems a little too clever and perceptive for her own good when it comes to most of the supporting cast.  She instantly knows when she's being lied to and can usually dig between the cracks faster than any other character. Though for whatever reason she can't seem to dig into the more obvious Simon.  Other times it seems as though most characters are just playing their specific role.  I've no problem with a character playing their assigned part (such as Jace being the dark, mysterious love interest or Clary starting off as the damsel in distress who needs saving all the time), but other characters hardly seem to grow throughout the novel.  We come to meet most of the cast but hardly come to know them.  Part of that stems from the series being a trilogy.  But it still holds true that this book is over 450 pages and yet we only scratch the surface of most of the characters. 

When reading, it just feels as though we're still looking at fanfiction much of the time.  There is a ton of fluffy prose thrown in there.  But most of all the story is just weak.  It paces pretty fast, but because the story itself just isn't all that absorbing, it makes the fluffly prose stand out more.  Cassandra Clare is trying too hard.  This isn't fanfiction where one has to "show her stuff."  Most people are just looking for a good story.  And City of Bones just doesn't have a good story.  Perhaps if the story were more absorbing it would be a lot easier to overlook the fluff and to overlook some of the hitches in character development, but since the story isn't so great those problems just stand out more.

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More The Mortal Instruments Series reviews
review by . June 24, 2010
Clary is your average teenage girl... or so she thinks until she goes to a night club and sees three teenagers slay a demon. The Shadowhunters are a  group of people trying to keep the world safe from the evils that lurk in the shadows. Clary finds out that her mother is was a Shadowhunter  and had taken Clary away from that life when she was a baby. Her mother had taken her to a Sorcerer and had her charmed, so that she would forget anything supernatural she saw, every year on her birthday. …
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
Great book, for those who love fantasy. Very suspenseful but simple to read.
Quick Tip by . June 04, 2010
I liked the beginning, enjoyed the characters, but this last chapter unthreaded the entire book and left me discontent.
review by . May 11, 2009
Buffy Summers has got nothing on Clary Fray! And who needs Angel when you have Jace Wayland on your side? Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments has everything that Buffy has and more! Complicated relationships? Check! Demons, Vampires and Werewolves? Check! Warlocks? Check!!    Cassandra Clare has created a fantastic world that is right in front of our noses; we just can't see it... yet.  Clarissa Fray thinks that she's a normal teenager, and her mother has gone …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this book


Book One: City of Bones
Book Two: City of Ashes
Book Three: City of Glass
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ISBN-10: Mortal Instruments Boxed Set (hbk.): 1416997857
ISBN-13: Mortal Instruments Boxed Set (hbk.): 9781416997856
Author: Cassandra Clare
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
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