Title: City of Bones
Author: Cassandra Clare
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Length: 460 pages, 131,000 words
Read: August 17-19, 2011
Summary: Fun until the end
City of Bones is the first in a series of fairly typical urban paranormal. We have a girl who thinks she’s nothing special, but she discovers she’s part of this whole world of demon hunters, fairies, vampires, werewolves, etc. And right under our noses in New York City!
Seen that before?
Well yes. Certainly one of my biggest problems with this book is just how similar it is to lots and lots of other late 2000s urban fantasy. It’s much like Holly Black‘s stuff (White Cat, Tithe), but with a bit less atmosphere. In fact, the two authors are friends and share the same agent (coincidence?). But City of Bones is similar to a lot of other things as well. At times there’s a wee bit of a unique feel involving the Shadowhunters (that’s what this book calls the demon hunters clan the protagonist hooks up with). Just a little. There’s certainly very very little rooting in any kind of traditional mythology, but instead a whole hell a lot of stuff stolen from contemporary pop myth. Werewolves and vampires both, and guess what? They hate each other. Author Cassandra Clare started off as a Harry Potter fanfic writer, and that shows because she borrows a lot from HP. But not what you’d think. There’s next to no similarity of feel, no wizard school, etc. Instead City of Bones borrows things like naming conventions and loose bad guy structure. Names like “Pangborn” and the like. The evil guy (who faked his death) is back with a “Circle” (ahem Death Eaters) and their’s more. Clare loves capitalized terms like “The Circle,” “The Uprising,” “The Institute.”
Still, for at least the first 50-60% I really enjoyed reading this novel. It’s well written. Albeit overwritten. I can’t understand how the hell they let her through the gates at 130k words. At least 15% could be cut with just a good line edit and there are long long dialog exchanges that are either datadumps or serve only as barbed chatter between the male and female leads. The POV is a little wonky too, 95% of the time focusing on the female lead (Clary), but occasionally shifting to the male or even a baddy. Clary’s very very typical. She’s pretty, but thinks she isn’t. She dives into crazy life threatening fight scenes time and time again, but has no skills herself. But somehow you don’t mind her. In fact she’s pretty likeable. The male lead (Jace) is less typical. He’s genuinely obnoxious (verbally) but mostly tries to do the right thing in deeds. His aloof self is actually pretty well crafted, although annoying at the same time. There is some good tension in the interpersonal stuff — although not even the whiff of sex, which would have spiced it up.
All this criticism aside, I did actually enjoy the first half of the book. I even said to my wife half way: “I’m reading one of those rare urban fantasy’s that’s actually good.” Truth be told, there’s all sorts of drivel I don’t finish and don’t mention on my blog. City of Bones is a long book, and I flew through it to perhaps the 75% mark. I can’t exactly say what made it enjoyable, but it was. Despite the pretty derivative scenario, the characters were engaging for the most part. Clare’s a good action writer — not perfect, but her action scenes are to the point and clear. There’s a definite urban feel to things. Sometimes a little too much as this is one of those worlds where the fantasy types spend a lot of time at clubs posing as hip weirdos. They have “cool” swirly tattoos too (in this context quotes = sarcasm). There are twists and turns and reveals. Some of the big ones you can see a mile coming. Like the deal with Clary’s father. I guessed that one about page 20. The hints were slathered on like a redhead with the sunblock.
Really the only thing that prevents this book from being a solid guilty pleasure (it was never aimed at classic), and me from starting in on the sequel (which people say is actually better), is the cheesy final showdown. It totally lost me. Mired and tortured me in fifty pages of “bad guy gives lots of Scooby Doo explanation in the middle of a fight.” Yeah, he’s like stabbing with a sword and he has time to get about three pages of dialog in during each stroke. We even have this cheesy flashback from one of the older characters (a werewolf named Lucian — we’ve never seen that before!) to a supposedly crucial scene right around the time of Clary’s birth. A big flashback at the 85% point? It’s the only one in the book too. A couple lines of dialog would have told us what we needed to know. The whole end just felt forced. Clare should have kept the villain off screen or something, because he was so ham-handed he was begging for a slice of pineapple. Which is a shame, because there was enough craft in the other characters that I actually grew to like them.