I know I owe you at least one more post about my previously written books, but first…
A week or two ago I was at the movies and a trailer for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (book written by Cassandra Clare) came on. I didn’t recognize the plot, but I recognized the title. I’d passed by those books more than a couple times in the bookstore. So I decided to go pick up the first in the series to see what it was all about. I have to keep myself apprised of my competition, after all.
Here are my impressions summed up: It is not a terrible book. I did enjoy reading it for the most part. I am not going to go into exhaustive detail on why I liked it, but I am going to talk extensively about what I didn’t like, for educational purposes, you know? Since I’m most comfortable with lists, I’m going to give you a list [Minor Spoiler Warning]:
What I liked: The idea of demons, vampires, werewolves and the like being real is not a new one. But I did like the concept of using “magic wands” of a sort that have been re-purposed into “steles” that tattoo powerful runes onto the skin and other things.
What I didn’t like:
1. Confusion – I am very used to reading about new and exciting fantastical worlds with their own sets of rules, and I was still very confused by the book. Even worse, the main character herself was confused by the explanations she was receiving. Clare made a point of saying so:
“Forgive me,” he said. “This must be confusing for you.”
City of Bones, 77-78
What Clare didn’t consider is the possibility that if her “mundane” main character was confused, the reader probably would be, too.
2. Motivation – A lot of times in the book, I found myself doubting the characters’ motivations for doing things. They seemed contrived, more intent on furthering the plot than staying true to what real people might do. For example, Clary (the main character) finds herself facing a portal to she-has-NO-idea-where that she finds out her mother would’ve used from time to time. Her mother has disappeared, seemingly killed or kidnapped. The idea of her escaping has never been discussed. Yet this happens:
“I want to see where she would have gone,” she said, reaching for the door. “I want to see where she was going to escape to -”
City of Bones, 109
She then proceeds to go through the portal. Note that Clary’s reasoning was she wanted to see where her mother “would have gone.” Not, “Maybe she escaped. Maybe if I go through here I’ll find her.” No, it was just “If she had escaped, which I don’t believe she did and we never talked about her doing, she would be here. She won’t be, but I just want to see where she would have been.” It’s worth noting here that Clary has never been shy about asking questions, yet she suddenly decides to jump through a portal she knows nothing about just to see where her mother definitely won’t be. See what I mean? I hope so.
3. Clary – I am being harsh. I know. But I can’t help it. Clary is a useless main character. Yes, she is a fifteen-year-old girl. Yes, God knows I was useless when I was fifteen. But Clary is the “special” main character of a book, so one would expect her to be worthy of the title Protagonist. Instead, she is a character who things happen to and around. She very rarely actively does. I can list all the notable things she does do right here: She accidentally kills a demon by throwing her hands out in defense and shoving a magical object into its mouth, she jumps through a portal, she uses two runes – one to turn a picture of a cup into a cup, the other to break through a magical barrier, she throws a knife on a whim and it happens to connect with the target, she throws herself in front of somebody to stop them from being killed. That’s about it. The rest of the time, everyone else fights and does things while dragging her along. Clary even laments the fact that she is useless at one point in the book.
I knew it was there, Clary thought. I should have acted on it. Even if I didn’t have a ________ like _____, I could have thrown something at it or told Jace about it. She felt stupid and useless and thick…
City of Bones, 360 (some words omitted to avoid major spoilers)
And don’t talk to me about character arcs. This is three quarters of the way into the book. No arc has happened at this point. My friend was sitting by me as I read the final climactic scene in the book and started screaming at the fictional character to do something. This happened. I swear. She was just standing there as the climax happened. In the end, I came to this conclusion: It felt as if Clare had read a manual on how to create a Strong Female Lead without really understanding what it meant. Clary is constantly doing things like refusing to be left behind – “Stay here, you hear me? Stay here.” “Like hell I will,” she muttered – but then she doesn’t add anything to the plot by not staying behind. Literally nothing different would have happened in that scene if she really had stayed. That was the worst part – almost all the side characters were infinitely more interesting and more competent than she was. It was a very Bella Swan problem. (Yes “Bella Swan” is an adjective now)
4. Cliche – Look…everything’s been done. Everything. If you’ve thought about it, so has someone else. The only reason the next generation of Supernatural Boyfriends isn’t going to include some kind of were-weasel is that no one would buy the books…I hope.
The thing is, certain cliches are just tired. First there’s the “Just get out of here you big, dumb, stupid animal” scenario, in which a character tells Clary that he doesn’t care about her in order to protect her, and she falls for it. Who hasn’t seen that a million times before? The one that really got me though was that Clary and Jace fell on top of each other multiple times. Remember that portal that Clary falls through? Jace goes after her and falls prone on top of her. Then on two different occasions the two of them are riding in a vehicle together and the vehicle swerves and Clary falls into Jace. (I have just now realized what Clare might have been doing given how the book ends, but I still think it was blatantly overused) Those moments pulled me out of the book each time. I think she could have done better. (I didn’t cite anything in this one because DAMN this post has gone on too long. You’ll just have to trust me.)
Final diagnosis? City of Bones gets a B- . Not terrible, but certainly not amazing. The end.
Word of the Day: Adversary (n) – a person, group, or force that opposes or attacks; opponent; enemy; foe
(I’m working on a comic right now, but it won’t be ready until my next post. Sorry.)