Book Review of City of Bones (Mortal Instruments, Bk 1)

City of Bones (Mortal Instruments, Bk 1)
reviewed on + 108 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1


Warning: Spoilers and Ethical Dilemmas Ahead!

I had a really hard ethical dilemma about reading this work. I was familiar with Cassandra Clare when she was writing Harry Potter fanfiction focused around Draco Malfoy under the name Cassandra Claire. Years later, I went back to read some old stories in the fandom at large and discovered that Id apparently missed out on a whole plagiarism debacle. After reading the extensive evidence by Avocado at http://www.journalfen.net/community/bad_penny/8985.html (you can also check out fanlores page on Cassandra Claire), I had serious doubts and concerns about reading a series that Id otherwise had on my radar to check out. I also read several Amazon reviews, both the negative and positive, and came away with the idea that her published works are strongly influenced by Harry Potter but are generally well-received. Id hope plagiarism would be harder to squeak by in a published work, but who knows? So, not wanting to assist the career of someone who had plagiarized extensively in the HP fandom and prevaricated about it, I decided I would ban myself from reading, and thus supporting, her books.

That lasted about a couple of months. The thing about having a book banned from you, even if it is self-inflicted, is that it looms ever larger in your mind like you crave chocolate cake when you are on a diet. Plus, I had an inkling that, having borrowed extensively from J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter and fandom Harry Potter, even if her work was hardly original, Id still probably like it. I have a thing for Draco Malfoy and I know that Cassandra Claire did too, and was known for writing and shaping the way he was perceived by fandom. Plus, I wasnt sure how fair it is to judge her current work on past foibles. Its possible that she could be a changed and better person. I have no illusions that she didnt plagiarize her HP fanfiction from several sci/fi and fantasy sources as the evidence is pretty damning if you take a look at it. However, I thought maybe shed learned from that experience and evolved past the point of using the works of others as a template for her own writing. I decided to eventually read at least the first book in the series but only if I could find it at the library or otherwise get it without directly benefiting the author, because the plagiarism aspect still bothered me. If I found it original and well-written then I wouldnt worry about buying the rest of the books. And Id finally be informed about whether the new books were just poor copies of Harry Potter.

Well, I must have been even more curious about these books than I thought because the Universe quickly made available to me all three books in the series in ways that I found palatable from an ethical standpoint and from the standpoint of a curious, hopeful reader.

Ive only read City of Bones so far, but I think its safe to say that Cassandra Clare was and is still very much influenced by J.K. Rowling. I both hate and like this. Mostly I dont like it because I keep getting jarred out of the story because something feels just a little too familiar about different scenarios, dialogue, and characters. Valentine is a poor mans Voldemort who is collecting the three immortal instruments (Deathly Hallows anyone?), the Circle is a combination of the Order of the Phoenix and the Deatheaters, Lucian reminds me way too much of Lupin with a sprinkling of Snapes unrequited love for the main characters red-haired Mom, Jocelyn is a Lily who didnt die but otherwise sacrifices everything for her child, mundanes are muggles, and the concept of the evil dark lord who comes back from the (not really) dead is an important plot point, even the flying motorcycle has been done in Harry Potter. The demonology of the world is hardly new either. Ive read several paranormal romance and science fiction/ fantasy books that depict a similar world right down to the same utilization of runes and Latin and the wars between werewolves and vampires. Even the religious aspect of demons vs. angels is done better, more extensively, and first by Meljean Brook. So yes, I dont think Cassandra Clare is ever going to be a truly groundbreaking or original writer. Her gift seems to be to synthesize and borrow from many works to create something that is very indicative and hot for the times. Her writing still seems a bit unfinished or unpolished. There were moments when I read voraciously, mostly when she was writing just the interactions between the kids, i.e. Jace, Clary, Simon, Alec, or Isabelle. But there were moments when I found myself discomfited by the incompleteness of characters like Valentine or Hodge.

What I really liked were her characterizations of and interactions between the aforementioned kids and Lucian. At first Jace and Clarys relationship felt forced and I was more a fan of her and Simon, but it actually progressed to a point of believability and even eloquence. There were several little touches in some of the lesser characters, such as the flaming Magnus Bane, that were endearing and something I never would have felt was lifted from Harry Potter. Most importantly, despite initially finding his character annoying and forced I grew to like Jace. He is totally a version of wise-cracking, sarcastic fandom Draco, but I was expecting and hoping for this. There were a couple of lines of dialogue between him and Clary that I would swear Ive read before, probably in fanfiction, so I wonder if she took some of her dialogue from her earlier works and put it into her published works. I dont have proof of this, just a strong sense that Ive read some of this before. It is very prevalent in fandom to have Draco be witty, sarcastic, and striving for aloofness so its not necessarily an indication of wrong-doing on anyones part.

I will continue to read the series as I think it has potential to grow into its own. I hope it sheds more of the Harry Potter trappings to focus on Cassandra Clares own unique voice, if she has one. But, I will always acquire the books through PBS, the library, or used because I think the author still gets away with just a little too much borrowing.