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Reading: City of Bones

City of Bones
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Christmas Book Number: 10

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series has led to a huge surge in popularity for a certain kind of fantasy story, bookstores setting aside shelves purely for ‘dark romance’ or ‘vampire romance’ novels aimed at the young adult market, particularly girls. City of Bones falls into that general category and has a glowing recommendation on the cover from Meyer herself, which is almost guaranteed to deter people who (somewhat accurately) think of the Twilight series as a bad thing.

Being the first novel it follows a fairly standard pattern to its opening chapters. Clarissa Fray is a normal teen girl in New York City, living a normal life of friends and school. At a club she witnesses a murder that nobody else seems able to see and clearly isn’t normal even for a murder, and soon her mother has disappeared and Clary is attacked by a strange monster. That leads to her being properly introduced to the paranormal world, which is where Cassandra Clare gets to branch out from convention a little more.

This is young adult fiction so obviously the story revolves around teens, making them the most important people in the world and making them essentially the equals of much older adults in terms of knowledge and skill, sent out on their own on missions of great importance. That’s all part of the territory so just has to be accepted, and is at least a little justified by the nature of the setting.

City of Bones avoids most of the notable criticisms that have been levelled at the Twilight series. Clary has her own goals and motivations that actually run counter to or undermine those of her new allies, and slaps somebody for taking a risk with her life instead of just being impressed by his daring. She doesn’t end up tagging along through coincidence and accidental connections, she’s significantly and personally involved in what is happening and essential to stopping the villain’s plans. Nor does she abandon her ‘mundane’ friend in favour of her new life, she makes a real effort to involve him.

Romance is another theme, and the teen focus means infatuations are given a lot of significance, enmities borne over shared affections. Indeed, for the majority of the book such things define Clary’s relationship with two of the other main characters. It makes sense within the setting though. In spite of all that’s happening Clary has still spent many years as a normal teen girl and still thinks and feels like one, her ‘female gaze’ causing her to notice things like the eyelashes and bone definition of the boys she spends her time with.

As the book progresses it’s easy to make certain obvious assumptions. These two will be the main love interests. This person loves that person but will probably end up with this other person. This person and that person will likely be revealed to be more closely connected than they realise at the moment. To Clare’s credit she doesn’t always go the obvious route and comes up with some genuinely surprising developments.

The story moves at a good pace, fleshing out the world while advancing the plot, save for one major detour that didn’t seem to serve any purpose beyond delaying the story and splitting the team for no reason (and considering the types of supernatural creatures involved it could almost be seen as pandering to the Twilight audience). It was retroactively made more significant thanks to later events, but still feels like a lot of time spent for little gain. That’s only one section though.

City of Bones is a fun novel with an interesting take on the supernatural world, pushing against expectations even as it follows a fairly comfortable path. It has some good characters and develops them well across the story, and I’m looking forward to reading the next entry in the series.

View all my reviews

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  1. January 28, 2012 at 19:09

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