Book Review: City of Bones (part 5)
To make up for how short the last review was, here, have a long one. It’s long partly because we got a lot of worldbuilding-type info, and partly because I had to nitpick basically everything.
City of Bones: Chapter Five – Clan and Covenant
Clary drifts in and out of consciousness for the first two pages of this chapter. She catches someone saying she’s been asleep for three days. Alec and someone else (most likely Isabelle) chat about how Clary managed to kill the Ravener. I have no idea why they keep having conversations around Clary’s unconscious body — well, aside from the obvious “so that she can overhear them having these conversations” reason.
That’s one of my main problems with this book; the authorial puppet strings are all too visible. A lot of it is minor things like this that do make sense from an economy-in-writing standpoint, but these things add up. It’d be simple to get this information across by having Clary ask about it when she wakes up, for example, instead of having her conveniently overhear things.
I haven’t pulled quotes in a bit, so let’s look at a questionable simile, since the author seems to specialize in questionable similes:
All her thoughts ran as thickly and slowly as blood or honey.
Honey’s appropriate for this simile, but blood? Blood isn’t a thick, slow-flowing liquid, as anyone who’s ever had any interaction with the stuff (that is, everyone on the planet) ought to know. It might ooze out of a wound slowly, but that doesn’t have to do with the viscosity of the liquid; that has to do with where on the body the wound is. You try severing an artery and see how thick and slow the blood comes out.
I’m noticing a trend here with the author undermining her own similes by using two examples instead of just one (the spring grass/antifreeze thing in chapter 1 comes to mind). Only two words need to be cut from this sentence for it to make sense. Why did no one catch this?
Clary has a bunch of symbolic dreams while she’s asleep, because why not:
She saw her mother lying in a hospital bed, eyes like bruises in her white face. She saw Luke, standing atop a pile of bones. Jace with white feathered wings sprouting out of his back, Isabelle sitting naked with her whip curled around her like a net of gold rings, Simon with crosses burned into the palms of his hands. Angels, falling and burning. Burning out of the sky.
Whoa. Whoa, okay, one of these is not like the others. We have all this pseudo-biblical imagery and then Hot Girl Poses Nude With Whip right smack in the middle.
I love symbolism, myself. Good symbolism. Which this is not. This is word vomit. There’s also no reason for it to be here; Clary doesn’t even know half these people yet. Unless she has precognitive powers, or something, it makes no sense for her to be having all these super-symbolic dreams. They’re crap if you take them individually, too. I mean:
- We don’t have a damn clue what happened to Clary’s mom. Imagining her in the hospital is a bit of a stretch when, again, we have no idea what happened. We don’t know if she’s alive, if she was wounded, if she was kidnapped, if she fled, etc. — the hospital image is too specific at this point. It does suggest to the reader that Clary’s mother is wounded but alive, though, which makes me wonder why you’d want to give the readers that impression at this point instead of simply leaving them in the dark. The latter seems like a much better way to build suspense.
- Jace with wings. Okay. And? I mean, angel stuff aside, this is a totally random image.
- If you take the Isabelle part on its own it sounds like part of a wet dream. Even shoved into the middle of things, it’s pretty gay. Reminder that Clary’s only met Isabelle once, incidentally.
- Simon with… crosses burned into the palms of his hands? What? This is probably the most glaringly out-of-place one, besides Isabelle’s; I mean, Simon doesn’t have any involvement in the Shadowhunter stuff yet. There’s no reason for Clary to even be imagining him in this context, let alone with crosses burned into the palms of his hands, whatever the hell that’s supposed to symbolize.
- The last bit about the angels is 100% there because the author liked the way it looked on paper. It has no bearing on anything. Nothing related to angels has even happened yet in this book.
When Clary awakens, she feels like her eyelids have been sewn shut. Rather than embracing this feeling and using it in order to better synchronize with her Three-Star Goku Uniform, she opens her eyes, and we get another weird sentence:
She imagined she could feel tearing skin as she peeled them slowly open and blinked for the first time in three days.
She didn’t feel tearing skin, she just imagined she did. Which kinds begs the question “why?”, and also doesn’t let us know what she was actually feeling, but okay.
Clary’s in some sort of infirmary. Judging by the traffic sounds outside, she’s still in New York somewhere. Isabelle is sitting on the next bed over, apparently just waiting for Clary to wake up. (Can I ship them?)
They have a brief chat, mostly regarding where they are (the Institute, though we still don’t know where that is), before Clary doubles over in pain due to not having eaten for three days. Isabelle pours her a cup of something, which she says is a “tisane” that Hodge, whoever he is, made. A tisane is a type of medicinal herbal tea. I would think that in this situation Clary’s most in need of some actual food, but the tea seems to do the trick, so maybe they’re magic herbs. The book doesn’t bother to explain, anyway.
Isabelle and Clary introduce themselves — we learn that Isabelle’s last name is Lightwood — and Isabelle asks about the Ravener. She’s surprised that a mundie like Clary was able to kill a demon. Clary doesn’t explain about the Sensor.
Apparently Clary’s old clothes had to be burned, as they were covered in blood and Ravener venom. This raises the question as to what the hell Clary is wearing right now. Isabelle offers Clary some of her old clothes to change into.
Clary asks Isabelle if Jace is always rude, and Isabelle says yes, he is, and that “it’s what makes him so damn sexy.” Uh? Clary is confused because she assumed Jace and Isabelle were siblings, but, as it turns out, they aren’t. Jace’s parents died when he was younger — his mother when he was born, his father at the hands of demons when he was ten. I’m not really sure why Isabelle is telling Clary all this, as that seems like awfully personal information to be divulging about someone else, but okay.
We get another description of how Clary is Definitely Not Attractive (Except She Secretly Is) when she goes into the bathroom to change into Isabelle’s clothes. Of course, since Isabelle is taller and curvier than Clary, the clothes don’t fit right. Clary feels that she looks ridiculous in them. So what.
Look, Clary, now really isn’t the time for small talk, or for worrying about how you look in someone else’s clothes — your mom is missing, you don’t know where you are, you were asleep for three days after being attacked by a demon in your own apartment, etc. There are way bigger things for you to be stressing about.
She heads out into the hall. Someone is playing piano. She follows the sound, and of course it’s Jace. For once, can I read a bad book where the good-looking asshole boy doesn’t play piano? We also get yet another bizarre sentence:
Watching the quick, sure movements of his hands across the keys, Clary remembered how it had felt to be lifted up by those hands, his arms holding her up and the stars hurtling down around her head like a rain of silver tinsel.
The use of “tinsel” in the simile makes the whole image sound cheap and artificial. Certainly it weakens the hell out of the image of having stars hurtling down around one’s head. Maybe the author was, for some reason, intending this to sound underwhelming, but her constant failed similes suggest otherwise to me.
Also, I’ve fainted before, and there were no weird visual effects involved except loss of vision. I started to lose consciousness, and as my consciousness faded so did my ability to see. It’s kind of the opposite of dramatic, at least from the perspective of the person actually doing the fainting.
After a bit of small talk, in which Jace continues to be a bit of a dickhead, they head off to see Hodge. There’s some description of the Institute along the way:
The Institute was huge, a vast cavernous space that looked less like it had been designed according to a floor plan and more like it had been naturally hollowed out of rock by the passage of water and years.
You got that image in your head? Good, because the next sentence is going to destroy it.
Through half-open doors Clary glimpsed countless identical small rooms, each with a stripped bed, a nightstand, and a large wooden wardrobe standing open.
God, this author can’t do description to save her life, but it’s not even in the normal sense of “utterly fails to describe things.” Instead, she gives contradictory descriptions. First, she describes the Institute as looking like some sort of naturally-formed stone cavern; one sentence later, she describes the “countless identical small rooms” that make it up. These two images are not compatible. You don’t get tons of small identical rooms in a natural cavern.
To top it all off, a page ago she was talking about the Victorian wallpaper and the rose-shaped glass lamps lining the corridor. Author, which is it gonna be? You can have the Institute be some grand, faded old Victorian, or you can have it be a fucking rock cavern, whatever — but, for the love of god, you can’t do both.
Clary asks about all the bedrooms, and Jace explains that they’re in the residential wing, which can house up to two hundred people. They’re pledged to give safe lodging to any Shadowhunter who needs it. (This actually raises several more questions regarding how many places like the Institute are out there, and exactly how many Shadowhunters there are in the local area/in general, but Clary doesn’t ask.) Most of the time, the Institute is home only to Alec, Isabelle, Max (Alec and Isabelle’s little brother), their parents, Jace, and Hodge. At present, Max and his parents are overseas, visiting the “Shadowhunter home country,” Idris.
Okay, I know this review is already getting long as hell, but you have to suffer through another couple rants about Idris. This place makes no sense. Quote from Jace:
“Mundanes don’t know about it. There are wardings—protective spells—up all over the borders. If you tried to cross into Idris, you’d simply find yourself transported from one border to the next. You’d never know what happened.”
There are so many reasons why this wouldn’t work, but even setting aside a lot of the more minor ones — is there also a spell to ensure the weather matches on both sides of the border? what about the landscape? how do people not realize they’ve skipped a chunk of land the size of an entire country? — you’re left with the most glaring issue, which is that this leaves a country-sized chunk of the planet unaccounted for. Cartographers would notice this. Hell, I don’t know why this country isn’t showing up on satellite images, or whatever, and why — even if there’s some sort of magic in place keeping Idris from being spied on — no one noticed that things weren’t matching up.
Continuing from the last quote:
“So it’s not on any maps?”
“Not mundie ones. For our purposes you can consider it a small country between Germany and France.”
“But there isn’t anything between Germany and France. Except Switzerland.”
“Precisely,” said Jace.
I was positive this was bullshit, so I had a look at a map. Belgium is also between Germany and France. For that matter, so is Luxembourg.
Jace says he grew up in Idris, and that most Shadowhunters do; even the ones who don’t consider it “home” in a spiritual sense. When Shadowhunters from Idris grow up, they’re sent wherever they’re needed to fight demons.
They reach the library. A blue Persian named Church is hanging around outside. I don’t know if the cat is going to be relevant at all, I’m just mentioning him in case he is.
Hodge, who turns out to be an elderly white guy (are these sorts of fantasy mentor figures ever not elderly white guys?), immediately pegs Clary as a book lover, because she has a look of awe on her face as she views the library. For the record, the library got a three-paragraph description, and I can assure you it’s no ordinary library from said description (if you want a little detail, it’s in a tower, the books have leather bindings, metal clasps, and jewels on their spines, the floor has a constellation pattern inlaid into it with semiprecious stones, and even the desk in the center of the room is described as “magnificent”); she has plenty of reasons to be staring besides a love for books.
He’s right anyway, though, because fuck making sense.
Hodge has a pet raven named Hugo, whom Clary somehow manages to mistake for a hunchback. I don’t know. Also, Hodge’s last name is Starkweather.
Clary gets praised a bit for having killed the Ravener; Hodge seems very impressed. Even when she explains that she shoved Jace’s Sensor down the thing’s throat, Hodge praises her on her “quick thinking.” Everyone knows Clary is a mundie, right? How do they expect her to have any tactical knowledge on how to fight demons? Why doesn’t anyone recognize that she beat the thing due, essentially, to luck?
Alec is revealed to also be in the library, and it turns out that he just doesn’t believe that Clary killed the Ravener at all. He says it’s impossible, seeing as she’s a mundie and a “little kid.” Clary protests that she’s almost sixteen, and Hodge adds that Isabelle is the same age.
“Isabelle hails from one of the greatest Shadowhunter dynasties in history,” Alec said drily. “This girl, on the other hand, hails from New Jersey.”
“I’m from Brooklyn!” Clary was outraged.
Okay, so Clary says more after that, but I cut it off right there because it’s much funnier if you read her line as New Yorker outrage at being taken for a New Jersey resident.
Clary calls Alec a dickhead, which pisses him off. He gets even more pissed off when Jace finds the whole thing funny and doesn’t jump to Alec’s defense. They have an uninteresting, page-long argument about whether or not Clary killed the Ravener.
The conversation then turns to something plot-relevant; why the demon was there in the first place. According to Alec, warlocks and demon lords use Raveners as search-and-destroy machines, and they’d have no reason to target a mundie household. Clary suggests that they might have been going after Madame Dorothea, the downstairs neighbor who runs a fortune-telling business, but Jace says he looked into it and she has no actual magical ability.
Jace and Hodge argue for a bit over whether or not to inform “the Clave.” Hodge says they have to because Clary is a mundie. Jace counters that she isn’t. He knows because of the rune he put on Clary’s arm the night she was attacked by the demon; if she’d really been a mundane, the mark would have killed her, or “turned her into a Forsaken,” whatever that means.
Hodge and Alec yell at Jace for being reckless, but not because she might have died — she would have if he didn’t use the rune to hide her, too. They’re worried about the Forsaken thing. We don’t get an explanation on that yet.
Jace asks Clary about her parents, but from the little info she’s able to give it’s difficult for anyone to guess whether her mother, father, or both were Shadowhunters. The talk of her family reminds Clary that she has to call Luke, and, after asking to use the nearest phone, she does.
Luke hasn’t heard anything about Clary’s mother. She tells him she’s in the city, with friends, and that she could take a cab to his place if he wants. He tells her to stay put, that it’s too dangerous. He’s short with her, telling her not to call him again as he has his own problems and doesn’t need to be bothered with hers, then hangs up. She dials back, but it goes to voicemail.
Hodge asks the boys to leave so he can talk to Clary alone. They oblige, Jace reluctantly so. Hodge asks Clary about the demon encounter, and about her mother. Clary explains that her mother had no interest in anything fantastical, hated Disney movies, and didn’t even like Clary reading manga. Somehow, Hodge fails to recognize this as a probable symptom of someone who has had bad experiences with the supernatural.
He asks about what the demon said to Clary, and if it mentioned anyone’s name. Clary says that it mentioned someone called Valentine. Hodge reacts in shock. He explains that Valentine was a Shadowhunter, but that he’s been dead for sixteen years. (Clary’s dad. Calling it right now.)
Hodge suggests that maybe someone was using Valentine’s name as a means of sending a message, because some sort of peace negotiations are taking place. It’s all very vague.
We get an information dump here, which I’ll try and relate briefly. Legend has it that the Shadowhunters were created in response to a demon outbreak “over a thousand years ago,” which is kind of a vague time period (how much over?) but okay. An angel — Raziel, if anyone knows their angels — was summoned by “a warlock” (defined as a half-human, half-demon); some of the angel’s blood was mixed with human blood in a cup, and given to those humans to drink. Those who drank the blood became Shadowhunters, as did their descendants. No one’s quite sure if the legend is true, but the cup from the legend exists — or it did, until Valentine destroyed it in a deliberately set fire that also killed him and his wife and child.
Valentine, it seems, was an extremist who believed in slaughtering Downworlders; warlocks, vampires, werewolves, faeries, and the like. The official Shadowhunter stance on the matter is that alliance with Downworlders is necessary to drive off the demons for good, but Valentine disagreed. He and his group, the Circle, rebelled in what was basically a Shadowhunter civil war. The Circle was defeated, but only just; on top of that, Valentine ended up hurting his own cause, since the whole thing basically proved to the Downworlders that the Clave (Shadowhunter government?) was willing to fight against anyone who threatened genocide against Downworlders.
Hodge wraps up his story, and Clary asks if she can go home, to see what’s left there. Hodge consents, reluctantly, on the condition that Jace accompany her.
Clary turns as she’s leaving to see Hodge bent over a piece of paper:
Sending a message to the mysterious Clave, she guessed. They didn’t sound like very nice people.
Wait, why not? We’ve had very little on the Clave; the major bit of information we’ve gotten was that they were willing to fight in defense of Downworlders. How do you get “not very nice” from that?
Perspective switches to Hodge for the end of the chapter, just so we can get about half a page on memories he has of the war. Not worth relating.
Thoughts So Far:
For how far we are in the book, I think the amount of info we’ve gotten is more or less appropriate. I’m a fan of not doing big info dumps, but there is a plot justification and Clary hasn’t been told much beyond what’s directly relevant to her current situation, so, okay, cool.
On a page-by page level, there’s nothing that wrong with this chapter (save, of course, for what I’ve already pointed out). The big, glaring problem is that, holy shit, Clary is borderline unconcerned about what has happened to her mom. Oh, sure, she puts in the phone call near the end, and has a cry over it afterwards, but the majority of this chapter has her passively listening to everybody’s exposition.
I think you guys, if you’re regular readers of this blog, are all used to characters whom the plot revolves around. They’re staples of bad/amateurish writing. What we have here is basically the opposite; Clary does whatever the plot requires her to do. If the plot requires her to keep quiet for one chapter while we get an info dump, then so be it, and fuck the proper human emotions she should be experiencing at this point. Even if she’s so numbed out by the shock and trauma of what’s happening that she’s unable to do much, which would be very likely given all that’s happened to and around her, then we should get some sense of that through her behavior and through the narration.
On top of that, the entire Valentine thing is blatantly Harry Potter (come on, the dude is basically Voldemort), and there are parts of this that also reek of Buffy. I’ve been basically picturing Hodge as Giles the whole time. The library setting doesn’t help.
Positive note: The relationship being set up with Isabelle is better than I expected. Female characters tend to be given female rivals, and they’re usually rivals over petty things like beauty or men; I expected Isabelle to be that for Clary. Instead, though, it seems that she’s got some genuine respect for Clary and isn’t above showing it; though she comes off as standoffish and a little uppity, she hasn’t been mean, and I do expect a certain amount of standoffish, uppity behavior from Hot Whip Girls.
No, instead the one who hates Clary is Alec. Which I suspect is because he is gay for Jace. Still a somewhat refreshing change of pace, I guess.