In which there is a City, and it is of Bones, and it features for exactly one chapter. Really this should be called Spot the Plagiarism.
But I will admit that I totally enjoyed the hell out of this book, though I may also have felt rather guilty about it.
Especially because it seems to have plagiarised one of the best lines from one of my favourite books of all time, The Changeover, which is a spectacular, Carnegie Medal-winning, incredibly evocative and humane low-fantasy YA novel and get off your ass and read this fucking book what are you even still doing here. Yes I have some issues with it – some pretty major issues – but like with The Hunger Games they are issues that I think ultimately play to the strengths of the novel and the authenticity of its representation of adolescence, even if those strengths are native to my mind and had nothing to do with the author’s intentions.
I can’t really say the same for City of Bones, where I can’t be sure what has and hasn’t been plagiarized and therefore am not fully comfortable saying that I like the book, even though I enjoyed my time reading it. If it’s just a matter of content, then yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I have to wonder where that content came from, and whether I can attribute all of the wit and humour to Clare or if there is some unrecognised artist – or artists – to whom I owe my enjoyment of this story.
But since I have absolutely no idea either way, aside from being very leery of the Changeover possible-ripoff, I can only go on what I’m given. And make no mistake, this is a fun ride.
It’s just a bit … fan-ish.
Get comfy: this is going to be a bit long.
I don’t know the specific words I want in this situation, but basically you can very clearly tell that, while it’s certainly quite decently-written, the writer came from fan-fiction. It’s something in the order of the words she uses: ‘Without a word he spun and hurried back toward the infirmary. He was lurching as he walked, like someone drunk or dizzy.’ ‘Eventually she pulled her sketchpad out of her backpack and started drawing, propping the tablet against her knees.’ The words being used all seem right, but the order feels a bit … off. Like going 1,3,2; it just feels off-kilter to me, like a concept grasped but not experienced and thus not executed properly. I don’t want to say it’s a writer trying to punch above their weight, but that actually might be it. It feels amateur, and I say that because it reminds me a lot of my own writing, especially my earlier stuff. Thank Shakti for drafts.
Having said that, this isn’t bad writing per se, and it certainly gives it its own unique feel, but again, that is a feeling of an enthusiastic amateur trying things out. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and it is easy to read, and you get the point of what’s being said and what’s being conveyed without any problems. I do think though that a little word-rearranging would have made the thing a little smoother. I guess it feels like the writing is aspiring to be a little more sophisticated than the story it’s telling, and while I can certainly relate to that, it suggests a kind of lack of awareness.
Basically I’m saying that the writing makes me feel really smug. Make of that what you will.
There’s also the occasional repetition of exchanges between characters that reminds me of that one line between John Snow and whoever his girlfriend is being repeated in Season 2 and Season 3, something about … blood? Periods and how men are really squeamish? Anyway it felt like an oversight and it happens here, only instead of it being a year apart it’s like 2 chapters apart. Granted, I think this is actually the only instance of this happening, though I do have some vague recollection of it happening once at an earlier point, but while a fairly basic misstep it’s also a pretty minor complaint enjoyment-wise.
Overall the writing is beyond merely serviceable; it does feel a bit ‘amateurish’ in places, but if anything that adds to the charm. I really am a self-important shit, aren’t I?
I really like Clary.
I was not expecting to. I suppose she does actually qualify as a Mary Sue, but I really can’t get behind that. I suppose I have a rather high threshold for main characters who have wish-fulfillment on their side, being a Harry Potter fan and all. That and pretty much every main character ever has wish-fulfillment on their side of one kind or another, unless there’s some kind of willful subversion of the convention going on.
Clary’s wish-fulfillment goes along the fairly typical lines of being ‘plain’ and then having all the boys drooling over her and not understanding how they can possibly like her when Isabelle/any other girl ever is around – well, both the boys I should say, because other than Jace and Simon every other male in this book is either too old for her or just isn’t interested. But really, other than Jace and Simon, who matters?
It is kind of obnoxious, not just the ‘that’s what makes you beautiful’ crap but also the ‘hot girl is jealous’ thing – and, of course, the dreaded love-triangle – but I don’t understand the people who get really upset about this stuff, except I guess for the fact that it is really prevalent. But it’s no more prevalent than, say, every teenage male protagonist getting The Girl, the only one who matters due to looks/importance to plot/being female, which was something people didn’t seem to batt an eyelash at until fairly recently. Then again I could just be hideously ignorant; and either way it’s not like there’s nothing to complain about in either case. They’re both iterative and kind of dull, and that’s a kind of offensive all of its own. But it’s also the wish-fulfillment thing, and for the sake of enjoyment, I cannot hate on that, at least on principle. The only downside is that it can be portrayed really disrespectfully, and also to the exclusion of any other representation of male-female interaction for our lead protagonists.
Which is where Clary is kind of refreshing. She takes no shit from anyone while still coming off as unsure of herself and this new world she’s fallen into, which you would expect from anybody in this kind of situation. The banter between her and Jace is rather overblown at times, but that’s part of what I like about it; she’s very much the ‘reactive’ one when it comes to the witty repartee, which is yet another gender norm being perpetuated, but at least she is witty, even if it is a bit … convenient sometimes:
He (Jace) squinted at her. ‘Do you remember back at the hotel when you promised that if we lived, you’d get dressed up in a nurse’s outfit and give me a sponge bath?’
‘Actually, I think you misheard,’ Clary said. ‘It was Simon who promised you the sponge bath.’
Jace looked involuntarily over at Simon, who smiled at him widely. ‘As soon as I’m back on my feet, handsome.’
This seems like something that happened because it could, rather than because it was necessarily believable; Simon hates Jace, sure, but this kind of coordination in making fun of people has not been demonstrated anywhere else in the book prior to this between these two. Also this is a joke at his expense almost as much as Jace’s, having Clary drag him into their little mock-off, and that’s all without getting into the casual homophobia of the joke. However, this is also just after Clary and Jace rescued Simon from the vampires (and if you think Simon should be grateful – well yes, but Jace is a real tool to him throughout the whole book, including when he’s in mortal danger, so that only goes so far) and they’re sort of bonding after being a bit icy towards each other earlier, so some spontaneous camraderie for the sake of humour does actually make sense, especially since Simon probably gets a kick out of her mocking Jace instead of ogling him and wants to take full advantage of it, even if it is at his expense in a way. In fact his being included by Clary in this ribbing of Jace probably turns him on a bit anyway, so …
No, I don’t know where I’m going with that …
As for that ‘takes no shit’ thing: there is a point in the story where Clary is essentially expected to take the blame for ‘making’ Jace risk his life to protect her by Alec. Alec is motivated by his own love for Jace, which is a secret he wishes to be kept … secret … and this may be a gross generalization, but it feels to me that any kind of guilt-trip offered to a female YA protagonist she’s guaranteed to snap up like it’s chocolate. Clary just outright tells him: ‘I don’t make Jace do anything. He does what he wants. You ought know that.’ Which is right – Alec has known Jace for almost half of his life and has been on countless demon-hunting missions with him. I do appreciate that Alec is not acting rationally at the time and that this is made pretty damn clear, so he’s also not just some strawman prick picking on Clary because she’s a teenage girl and therefore must be made to live in shame. Sadly she does kind of end up internalizing the guilt when she sees how upset Alec is – by being slammed into a wall and having her life threatened by him. Women, am I right?
It’s stupid, and it undermines Clary’s previous refusal to take on other people’s baggage, which was an awesome thing about her as a character. But she’s still all right after that. She’s a lot more active than she was in the film over the book as a whole, though sadly that awesome scene where she blows up her apartment to fight that demon at the beginning does not happen in the book. Also she’s kind of a dick to Simon, considering that she’s his best friend and the Shadowhunters treat him like a sub-human most of the time and she doesn’t really stand up for him, but you win some you lose some with any main character I guess.
And then there’s Jace.
I don’t much care about him, but he did make me laugh a lot.
It’s not even that he’s a particularly interesting or original character in terms of being a conceited, self-satisfied douche bag with an angsty backstory to justify it all. Finnick Odair did it better, and he wasn’t even the main character.
However, Finnick Odair did not have Jace’s line-delivery.
The rat, huddled in the hollow of her palms, squeaked glumly. Delighted, she hugged him to her chest. ‘Oh, poor baby,’ she crooned, almost as if he really were a pet. ‘Poor Simon, it’ll be fine, I promise -‘
‘I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him,’ Jace said. ‘That’s probably the closest he’s ever gotten to second base.’
At first glance, this is pretty generic, though no less appealing to the 13-year-old boy I apparently still am for finding that rather hilarious. However, when you factor in that Jace is pretty jealous of Simon and Clary’s closeness his constant insulting of Simon and mocking of Clary gives it another layer – another fairly generic layer, to be fair, but at least it’s there.
But that is part of the reason I don’t care too much for Jace either way: he’s just really predictable. Oh look, he’s being self-congratulatory. Oh look, he’s being sleazy. Oh look, he’s belittling somebody. I’ve never come across this before in a male romantic lead. Please tell me more about this Draco in Leather Pants you speak so much about.
There isn’t really anything to him, not beyond his (fairly modern) DiLP archetype. Bad Boys are nothing new, and Bad Boys who hide behind a veneer of hypermasculine sleaze and shallow self-satisfied conceit to protect their precious vulnerable feelings aren’t anything new, either. And that’s pretty much Jace in a nutshell: nothing new. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t work for his intended purpose, which is to be a foil and romantic interest for Clary, but … I dunno. Maybe if I was into guys I’d get it.
Simon, however, I do get. He’s pretty cool.
Unlike most other Romantic Third Wheels I can think of off the top of my head, he’s actually quite cool. He even gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome that was … kind of lazy in its build-up, but the execution made up for it, because not only was it awesome but it was also an actual contribution to the plot. Basically he sees Alec’s bow and offhanded mentions that he’s done six years of archery while driving the Shadowhunters to Clary’s apartment to get the Mortal Cup, which seems like a throwaway line other than the fact that it’s also the first time the Shadowhunters start to treat him like something other than vermin (with the possible exception of Isabelle). And then he’s left to guard the van so it doesn’t get towed, and also because demons won’t come to get him there, because the sun kills them. And then in the next chapter when Madame Dorothea turns into a demon, Simon comes in and saves the day by using Alec’s bow and arrows to shoot the skylight in the apartment and banishing Abaddon, saving everybody’s life.
Ideally, Checkov’s Archery Class would have shown up much earlier in the book just so that it didn’t feel like it came out of nowhere. It still works, because nobody has shown any interest in his life over the course of the whole book, so he hasn’t exactly had the opportunity – or desire – to share it. Like seriously the Shadowhunters are dicks. I get the feeling Clare is a devoted Slytherin, too, because they’re never called out on it, not effectually anyway. Clary does actually tell Jace off every now and then, but it’s not quite the same as defending Simon or telling Jace to, like, stop. But I digress. Simon is cooler than all of the Shadowhunters combined, thus far anyway, because he’s actually a somewhat original character.
And part of that is that while he is the Romantic Third Wheel, he’s also not a jealous manipulative toolbag like, for instance, Jacob Black. Clary – well, she doesn’t say no, but he gets the message, and he doesn’t dangle it over her head trying to guilt her into making out with him or anything, instead remaining supportive and considerate, while also being allowed to be upset about not having his feelings reciprocated without either him or Clary being made to feel ashamed of it. He’s actually a good friend. He’s actually a nice guy. And he’s cool, and his geekiness is never played stereotypically that I can tell. He’s just kind of normal, only slightly cooler. It works for me.
Isabelle – she’s kind of like Jace in that there just isn’t that much to her, but I have a bit of a soft spot for the Bitchy Rival Girl archetype. Hence why Johanna Mason is one of my favourite characters from The Hunger Games. She didn’t really get a lot to do in this book, even less than she does in the film actually, and in the book she is much more played-up as the flirty, sexually confident foil to our lead’s virginal purity and whatnot. The word ‘flounce’ is used to describe her movements, twice, in the same chapter. She’s a bad cook. And Simon (or Clary, on Simon’s behalf) is warned that Isabelle will ditch him once she gets bored of him, as she does with all boys. She’s that kind of character. And yeah, also she’s … romantically? involved with Simon in this book, which was another kinda big change, though he’s doing it to try and make Clary jealous/notice him and she’s doing it because she’s … bored? Intimidated by Clary? I don’t know and it really doesn’t go anywhere so I don’t have to care, either. She’s fine, just not particularly interesting.
Alec is, sadly, almost negligible. He seems like a character I could like if, for one, he wasn’t a violent jackass, and if he actually did anything. I assume both of the Lightwood kids will get bigger roles as the books go on, but … well, I’ll get to that later.
Who else is there … ah yes, Lupi – uh, Siri – no, Luke. That’s the one. Luke. Not either of those other two characters huh what who said that Luke is totally original and unique and HIS REAL NAME IS LUCIAN FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. What lupine shape-shifter from recent popular media is he not ripping off?
The one somewhat original aspect of Luke as a character is also the one that puts me off him the most: he kills – as in murders, in cold blood – a werewolf pack leader so that he can take over, in order to raise an army to fight Valentine, because it seemed ‘quick’. And Clary, who he tells this to, doesn’t really seem to care. This is something of a theme with this book, actually, highly questionably and even outright evil acts and attitudes being expressed by the main characters without anybody so much as coughing nervously. I mean sure, it’s kind of refreshingly pragmatic if you’re looking purely at tropes or cliches, but … really? Murder? Because it’s ‘quicker’ than, I dunno, trying to work together by convincing Downworlders that it is in their best interests to kill somebody who wants to exterminate all Downworlders, and tried to do it before?
No, that’s crazy talk. No self-respecting Slytherin would ever do that.
Valentine is dull and predictable and VOLDEMORT. He is Voldemort who has, at some point in his life, experienced sexual desire for other human beings, and acted on it. Consensually, even. Voldemort is not a particularly fantastic villain (Tom Riddle, on the other hand …), just in terms of originality, and Valentine is even less interesting, because he’s slightly more original. Where as Voldy is just straight-up Big Bad material, Valentine has the whole family angle to play on, and while it makes Jace a bit more interesting when we see his reaction to it, Valentine doesn’t really benefit from it.
And Hodge is … not bad. He’s not the redemptive character that he is in the film, and in fact the entire third act of the book differs in a few significant ways from the film, including the fact that Hodge just up and leaves instead of helping to save the Institute – also the final climactic battle doesn’t take place in the Institute, and the final showdown is between Luke and Valentine, not Jace and Valentine, and the whole ‘I am both of your father’ thing actually feels more convincing because it’s explained a bit more, and there’s no mystical water-portal thingy for Clary to use, and there’s no fake Cup. It makes me wonder what exactly the next film is going to do if it’s already screwed with the canon that much. But maybe it’s not important.
And to be perfectly frank, I don’t know if I can be bothered finding out.
Beyond writing and characters, the only thing of note I can think of to talk about is the ridiculous number of times I picked up on ‘similarities’ to Harry Potter. The end of the book has Jace making a choice between seeing his heart’s desire in a reflection; they make a big deal about how the stuff they do with their little not-wand thingies is so totally not magic you guys for serious; they have a genocidal cult leader as the main villain (whose name begins with a V) who convinced some like-minded idealists that it was for the greater good; there is some serious disdain for non-magical people that is mostly played as a joke; the plot is centered around finding and protecting a fabled magical object that produces a magical elixir; there are more sub-plots of unrequited love than you can shake a Snape at; the main character has been lied to her entire life about her past and her parents; her father-substitute turns into a giant canine at will; there are flying motorbikes; there’s a case of mistaken identity and awkward physical boundary issues involving a shape-shifted rat …
Hey, witchlights are the Light of Earendil! It’s not all Harry Potter, see?
I don’t care.
I will go and see the next film, though, if and when it comes out, because the sheer amount of joy I took in the corniness of the first one is something I long to repeat. I will see it once, and I will intentionally turn up 5 minutes late so that I’m left wondering what I missed and it seems more interesting.
And who knows, I might actually buy the other books, but the fact that it was meant to be a trilogy and was extended into a six-part series really puts me off. It’s either bad planning or looking to make more money, and given the very strong Slytherin vibes I get from this book …
Well, it’s all speculation. I only know what I know. And I would recommend this book for anybody looking for a bit of fun, as well as fascinating look at how fan fiction has shaped our literary landscape. It’s often funny, the pacing is exactly right for a casual but engaging read, it’s quite clever and self-aware in a lot of ways, Clary is a pretty neat protagonist, and it certainly captures that glee of imitation that I so desire to reclaim myself. Though perhaps a little too much in places.
Because seriously, that Changeover steal is … I mean I guess maybe it was a ‘tribute’? Because I can’t exactly fault any book for paying tribute to The Changeover. And it was worded differently. Or maybe it’s really just coincidence.But still.
Seriously, go read The Changeover. I recommend it over this book.
I also recommend getting writing done, which I did do today – and I wasn’t meant to; I was meant to read. And take notes. And I did, but I rewrote as well, and I’m not sure now whether it’s worth going through the long and painful process of letting myself obsessively ‘correct’ my manuscript before taking a break and then coming back to it later to analyse it a bit more objectively, or if I should try to do the skim-read now and go in-depth later on.
Or just … leave it for a while. Much as I don’t want to.
But I kinda do.
It’s good to be Writing again.