Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review - Cassandra Clare's City of Bones

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments Book 1) by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: March 27th, 2007
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Clary's life has been turned upside down. One night her and her best friend Simon are at a club when she sees something no one else can. There's apparently a shadow world in New York and for some reason Clary is starting to see it. After this shocking discovery Clary's mom Jocelyn is kidnapped and this new world of demons and angels and vampires and werewolves holds the key. There is a group of humans known as the Shadowhunters, and they protect the world from the demons from the downworlds. They keep all of humanity safe and ignorant. Clary has spent her life safe and ignorant, but only at her mother's behest. Jocelyn was once a Shadowhunter, part of the elite Circle lead by her husband Valentine to overthrow the Clave, the organizing body of the Shadowhunters. Jocelyn came to hate the purity of blood the Circle demanded and fled her husband and that world to raise her daughter as a mundane, safe from the dangers of this shadow world. But everyone's past comes back to haunt them. Valentine isn't as dead as everyone hoped and his ideals haven't changed in the fifteen years he has been in hiding. Can Clary, a girl just thrust into this other world, be able to help stop history repeating itself?

The concept of plagiarism is horrifying to me, yet in our society it is oddly pervasive and somewhat accepted. As a creative person who has artistic output the thought that someone would take my work, my blood, sweat, and tears, and claim it as their own, it makes my blood boil. I am so wary of the taint of plagiarism that I have this obsessive self-policing instinct that recoils at the thought that I would cut corners to get a faster or better end result even using just the bones of another person's idea. Plagiarism in any form is abhorrent to me. Yet there were many instances at school where students would get caught showing the work of others as their own. They would lift artwork straight off of deviantART and an observant student or teacher would call them out. Why you might be wondering am I ruminating on artistic copyrights? Well, even if you've only been half aware of the controversy, Cassandra Clare is an author who has, apparently, been rightly tarred as a plagiarist. She is an author who, while the taint has stuck, has also been accepted by the YA community and become very successful. An odd conundrum of our times where theft and unoriginality are king.

While the roots of the story start in fanfic, I want to make it clear that this is just one cast against one person and that fanfic is a thriving and interesting genre that uses pre-existing characters in new ways and isn't being denigrated by me. The bones (haha) of the case against Cassie is that in her fanfic trilogy devoted to Draco Malfoy she basically was ripping off not just witty dialogue from Buffy to Pratchett to Red Dwarf (classified by her as "an obscure British sitcom" and yes, in my mind she should go to hell for saying that) but full scenes and settings from other authors. She was called out, her work was categorized as plagiarized and was pulled from the site it was on. Yes, there was also a lot of name calling, Cyberbullying, and other horrid stuff you can read all about elsewhere, but the fact is she got a book deal from this. This alone disgusts me. But with the eyes of the world on her she wasn't able to rely on the witticisms of Joss Whedon anymore, she took her plot structure from her fanfic trilogy, stripped it down, rebuilt it, and what is left is boring. Even if you were unaware of all this controversy swirling around her you could not help but notice that this book lacks originality, it lacks that spark that's needed to make it more then just a mish-mash of other tropes and plot devices as old as the written word. Cassandra Clare, in my opinion, is a bad writer, not to mention morally corrupt and a bad human. She used the reflective glory of other "true" writers to give her work a shiny allure, that while tarnished, is still there.

But I can't ignore the fanfic roots of City of Bones mainly because this is so obviously Harry Potter from Draco's point of view. And even if I didn't know about the Draco Trilogy, once a flying motorcycle shows up, there's no doubt it's Harry Potter. This book is giving us front row seats to life with the Death Eaters, with a little more Nazism thrown in, sieg heil! In fact it's just too much of everything thrown in, too much borrowed and re-interpreted in a flat way. Here's some Harry Potter (a stele is so a wand no matter what Clare says), add some Rick Riordan, a little Piers Anthony/Bill Willingham (mundies, really, Fables much?), an aroma of Celtic mythology, a dash of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, just have at it. But never once does all this thisness convert into something it's own, something cohesive and original. All this translates into major worldbuilding issues. I'm ok with a magical world coexisting alongside a mundane world, as long as it makes sense. Whether it's willful ignorance on the part of the mundanes, or spells and wards keeping them away, something has to be explained as to how this ignorant coexistence works. Having carriages going over cars and slipping in and out of traffic with not an eyelid batted, please.

The laziness in the worldbuilding though is never so obvious as in the characters that inhabit this world. City of Bones has this feeling of one epically long night of party crashing, much like the aforementioned Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, a book and movie I detest. When you go to these parties you meet people, you get vague impressions, and then they're out of your life forever. That's how I felt about all the characters. They are flat two-dimensional people who will maybe have a defining characteristic, but overall, they are forgettable. After almost five hundred pages with Clary all I know about her is she's a short red-head who draws. Seriously, this is ALL I KNOW about the protagonist of this book? Um... major flaw here. While I know people will jump down my neck for this, but I actually think Bella Swan has more of a personality then Clary. There, I said it. I do think that this issue would have been fixable it there was some buildup before throwing us into the action of the book. How about a few days spent with Clary living her normal life? Some way for us to identify with her and the world she's about to lose. A way for the reader to forge a connection, because without this bond I have no conduit to help me in this book's world, and it makes me care about nothing. Valentine could kill them all for how much I care about them and perhaps I would help him, especially with Jace.


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