Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Review: City of Bones

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
7.5/10, a rockin’ YA urban fantasy adventure with sparkling characters

“The Very Secret Diary of Aragorn, son of Arathorn.
Day One:
Ringwraiths killed: 4. V. good.
Met up with Hobbits. Walked forty miles. Skinned a squirrel and ate it.
Still not King.”

Those were the first words I read by Cassandra Clare, part of the Very Secret Diaries of the Lord of the Rings characters that launched her into internet legend. She was in the process of writing an extensive Harry Potter fanfic, but took a break to poke fun at Tolkien’s cast. If the VSDs exposed the Internet to her sharp wit, the Draco trilogy showed her keen grasp of characters and story. Finally, she put those skills to use in her own story and her own world, and the result is the fun, thrilling “City of Bones.”

The book starts with Clary Fray and her friend Simon at a club, where Clary witnesses what she thinks is a murder. The problem is, the body disappears as soon as it’s killed, and Simon can’t see any of the perpetrators, who disappear with smirking arrogance. Of course, things get rapidly more exciting and more complicated: the “murdered” boy was actually a demon, his killers demon-slayers. Their world collides more violently with Clary’s, in an adventure that gets progressively more complicated and layered as it goes along, accumulating glamorous warlocks, sultry vampires, and fierce werewolves, not to mention the demon-slayers themselves, called Shadowhunters.

Clare’s prose is fun to read, never stalling or slowing. She has a nice touch with description and imagery, but her real strength is in her characters. Clary, Simon, and the Shadowhunters Jace, Alec, and Isabelle are fully realized, vibrant characters who engage you from the first time they appear. Clary’s mother, her friend Luke, the Shadowhunters’ teacher Hodge, the warlock Magnus Bane, all spring off the page in supporting roles, and it is the characters that make this story really special.

The only real quibble I have with the book is that the prose is sometimes a little too hip. The characters occasionally sacrifice realism for the bon mot, their wit all as sharp as their blades and drawn more often. However, given that I never watched “Buffy,” the closest thing to a touchstone for this genre, that’s probably all in keeping with the standards. Also, I am (conservatively) twenty years older than the target audience. Perhaps twenty-five.

That said, though, the slightly forced hipness doesn’t detract from the realism of the characters. They are teenagers, saying stupid things sometimes and uncannily wise things at other times. The dynamic between Clary, Simon, and Jace is extremely well played. And the story itself is quite engaging, with strong echoes of Harry Potter (the main villain is presumed to have been dead for some fifteen years, was at school with many of the people Clary meets, and you can feel the shadow of Hogwarts looming over Clare’s vague descriptions of the early school). This isn’t to say that the world or story feel derivative; I suspect it’s more an artifact of my knowing Clare’s appreciation of the Harry Potter series and being more apt to notice similarities. The trappings of her world are nicely detailed (the vampire hotel, the werewolf packs, the warlock’s party) and make for fun reading.

Overall, I had a great time reading this book. I have no qualms recommending it to anyone who enjoys “Buffy,” Harry Potter, or Holly Black, Clare’s friend and fellow author.

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