Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 4.0

YTD: 31


Plot/Story:

3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.


City of Bones is the first book in a series of six (originally planned to be three) by author Cassandra Clare.  The premise is an interesting take on some classic paranormal fantasy stories, which includes elements of wizardry, lycanthropy, vampirism, and the Nephilim (half-angel humans) or Shadowhunters.  The primary character, Clary (Clarissa), finds herself in the midst of a secretive battle, hidden from human  (mundane) eyes by “glamour” magic – something similar to what humans (muggles) of the Harry Potter world are blinded by.  Clary, as it turns out, is not a mere mortal, and City of Bones takes the reader along with Clary as her fabricated world is unraveled; lies are exposed, and painful secrets, long-buried, are uncovered.  Clary must learn as quickly as possible in order to save her mother; she must learn to trust those who are different from and unfamiliar to her, while balancing the oftentimes equally painful and dangerous realities of mortal life: love, friendship, and forgiveness.


Characterization:

4 – Characters extraordinarily well developed.


One great strength for this book is its characterization.  Each character is clearly written to serve a purpose and, what is more, each character is distinguishable and independent from the others.  Within moments of meeting a new character, the reader begins to understand their personality, their nature.  Clary is strong-willed, hot-headed, and inquisitive.  Jace is egotistical, emotionally guarded, and protective.  Alec is shy, tentative, and jealous.  Simon is sarcastic, loving, and carefree.  The list goes on and on, and if each character were detailed, it would be clear that they all have personalities of their own.  This is fantastic in its own right, but also adds enormously to the story by allowing for truly interesting, engaging, and oftentimes hilarious character interaction.   One disadvantage for the characters, though, is their language – all of the characters, but particularly the younger generation, use high vocabulary which seems out-of-place at times, and which leaves one wondering if Clare went through her final draft with a thesaurus and changed a bunch of words to make the story sound smart.  In theory, this is great and I applaud the chance any book/writer gives to expand its readers’ vocabulary; however, imagining that a bunch of sixteen-year-old New York City kids would run around talking like Ivy League graduates is a bit much.  This is a prose/style issue, though, so I will not let it weigh heavily on characterization in general.


Prose/Style:

2 – Prose/Style in need of Development but works.


This particular segment is difficult to write, as there are a few items with which I must take issue.  There is discord between Clare’s use of language and word choice, with her overall narrative voice.  As an experienced reader with two degrees in English and who works professionally in Academic Affairs, I have a great deal of familiarity with the craft of writing and with instances of plagiarism.  I preface this segment with my experience because I know some who read this will react negatively or be sensitive to what I am about to say.  Now, to be clear, I am not accusing the author of plagiarism by any means; however, when the narrative voice and tone of a book do not necessarily match the language and word choices throughout, one begins to wonder.  Typically, this happens with either a) novice writers or b) writers who are “borrowing” content and/or ideas from other writers and reshaping it to fit their own story.  I find, in this case, the latter seems to be true.  While there is a great deal of original content (in my opinion), there also seems to be a fair amount of re-working of previous themes, elements, and ideas.  This is natural, to an extent, particularly within the fantasy genre where writers tend to be very much aware of and familiar with their predecessors’ works.  The similarities were disconcerting, though, particularly when instances of flat-out non-credited quote-dropping occurred.  For instance, at the start of Chapter 3, Simon wanders off and the narrator explains that, “it was a far, far better thing he did now than he had ever done before.”  This line is taken nearly verbatim from the last lines of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.  Now, the problem is not that she used the words – the problem is that there is no credit to the original author.  It is possible that the majority of people who read this book might not be intimately familiar with Dickens’s work.  This increases the importance of referencing the original content. Had I been writing this scene, for instance, I would have provided some simple clarity: “Simon headed off toward the coffee bar, muttering under his breath the time-honored Dickens sentiment that it is a far, far better thing he did now than he had ever done before.”  Not only does it credit the original author, but it also makes this author appear clever – “Oh, wow, she reads Dickens!”  Instead, for those who do recognize the material in this book which has been dropped from other works, the author comes across as lazy, inept, or deceptive.  What person and author would choose to come across as such?  Again, this could be chalked up to inexperience, but considering that the author had previous plagiarism issues with her early FanFiction, one would hope that she (and her editors – let’s be fair) would be much more careful in ensuring that any “borrowed” material would be properly cited.  For these reasons, I sadly must score this section lower than I might otherwise, as the prose is generally fluid and the pace works well for an action-fantasy book.  Had it not been engaging and enjoyable prose, this section likely would have scored a “1.” It is absolutely a “page-turner,” though, and at nearly 500-pages, this reader finished in just three days.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.


First, I should point out that this story almost earned a “4” in this category, for its sensitive, blasé inclusion of GLBT and other issues into the plot-line, something which mass-marketed fantasy fiction often lacks.  Unfortunately, some of the “catch-all” plot-wrapping (such as the disturbing revelation about Clary and Jace, which is borrowed from a very famous theme from Science Fiction) detracted a bit from other positive elements.   At times, the book seemed to be slapped together piecemeal, with new and exciting elements latched onto popular, recycled themes.  All-in-all, though, it was rewarding to experience a popular fantasy novel which included characters not just of different species, but of different genders, sexualities, and classes within those species.  There are heterosexual humans, homosexual Shadowhunters, and bisexual warlocks who can all then be further divided into good, evil, or neutral.  This adds a decent complexity to the story and an added social relevance, which should be welcomed by (and is definitely needed in) the genre.  Other important themes include family, coming-of-age, relationships, and spirituality.


Suggested Reading for:

Age Level: YA+, Adult

Interest: Paranormal, Fantasy, Action-Adventure, Magic


Notable Quotes:

“Orgy in Hoboken!”

“If you were half as funny as you think you are, you’d be twice as funny as you are now.”

“The boy never cried again, and he never forgot what he’d learned: that to love is to destroy, and that to be loved is to be the one destroyed.”

“All knowledge hurts.”

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28 thoughts on “Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

  1. I had long avoided this book and just read it this week, too. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it wasn’t as terrible as I expected. In fact, I had fun reading it. I noticed that “far, far better thing” line too. It threw me, because it wasn’t clear that Simon was just a smarty-pants and prone to quoting great literature or if this was meant to be an original thought of Simon’s. It fits in with the discordance you wrote about in the characters’ way of speaking–sometimes they were urban city kids, and sometimes they were transplanted from 1872. I was a little thrown too, by the suggestion in the end that Alec and Magnus were together. They the only gay characters in the book, and I got a vibe of “Well, they’re gay, let’s have them be lovers!” even though Magnus has to be, what, 40? And Alec is fifteen.

  2. Great review Adam! Seriously! Very in depth, very well written… Although, the prose section makes me sad. That’s never a good thing. 😦

    • Thanks very much – yes, certain aspects were disappointing, but I still definitely enjoyed the read and will be finishing the series. If you’re a fantasy fan, I would suggest it – it’s entertaining.

  3. Since you mentioned plagiarism (and on Twitter I saw you mention research) did you see how Cassandra Clare started out writing? I’m talking about, in case you don’t know, Fanfiction and Harry Potter. Anyway, great review! I love the books just for the romance and fantasy type stuff…I’m a sucker for it!

  4. Hey Adam, this was an awesome review. I only read YA so most of the books you review I’ve never read, but I read this one. I’ve never read such a thorough and intelligent review on this book that doesn’t seem biased to love it because everyone else did. I’m glad you enjoyed it 😉

  5. Finally a book you read that I’ve read too! Yay!! This is a awesome review Adam. I particularly thought your ‘prose’ section very interesting. I tend to review more on how the book made me feel, so it’s nice to read a more technical review like you’ve written here.
    You know how much I enjoy your reviews anyway..I ALWAYS learn something! 😉

  6. There were times I was jarred from the fast pace to note that the vocab just didn’t jive with most of the writing. I hadn’t heard of the allegations of plagiarism… As another reader comments, I too thought it wasn’t as bad as I predicted it would be, compared to some other writing out there….

    Wonderful review, btw!

  7. Your comments about sexuality in this novel are probably the smartest I have read in any review of City of Bones. Fantastic work, Adam!

  8. Fabulous review. I have not read this yet but definitely want to. Clare is AWESOME at creating characters. (I read Clockwork Angel and had similar thoughts about the characters.)

    • I plan to read Clockwork Angel eventually, after making my way through the other three so-far-published books in the M.I. series. No idea when that will happen, though. My TBR “pile” is more of a storage unit.

  9. I enjoyed your prose section and thought you expressed your opinion intelligently and fairly. I did not know of Clare’s plagiarism accusations until after I read City of Bones, and I was way too hooked to stop reading. Not all her ideas are original (I mean, whose are these days?) but I do love her characterization and world building, a lot. You should definitely check out The Infernal Devices series too, which is a prequel series set in Victorian England. Steampunk Shadowhunters FTW!

  10. I’ve been wavering on reading this for a while, but your review has finally made me decide to take the plunge! I’ve seen either wholly positive reviews or wholly negative ones, but yours seems to be in the middle and so I trust it a little more (that makes no sense, but hopefully you get the idea).

    I found you via the Giveaway Hop, but I’ll be back!

    • I put it off for a long time too, and there were obviously some things I took issue with but, overall, it was a very entertaining, fast read. I enjoyed it & will be reading the rest of the series, too.

  11. Pingback: City of Bones: Book One of The Mortal Instruments Trilogy by Cassandra Clare « Blackbird Books

  12. Excellent review. I will not read any of her work (because plagiarism leaves a bad taste in my mouth), but you’ve done a great job.

    Thank you.

  13. Such a great review. I have also avoided this book for such a long time, well the series actually. I’m not judging Cassandra but I cannot digest the fact of her plagiarism while reading it. It will always bother me. However, I thought that it was wrong and plan to read it this year and see what I can say about it.

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