City of Bones

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare was first of interest to me because Clare's career started as a Harry Potter fan fic writer.  See here for a brief list of the various scandals (proving that there is always someone staying up too late because someone is wrong, plagarizing, or being mean on the internet).   I've had longstanding criticisms of the Harry Potter series, beginning with the extreme length of book four (Goblet of Fire) and the fact that 100 pages pass before we actually see Harry.  I had similar problems with the rest of the series, and this is relevant here because Clare really is writing in a similar vein.  Clare's City of Bones is plot-driven bestseller fantasy, which frankly is perfectly enjoyable as it is.  But great works of children's and young adult fantasy, in my opinion, are those that received the extensive editing that both Rowling's later works and this book by Clare lack.

City of Bones follows the extraordinary revelations that follow with our heroine Clary's mother suddenly disappears, her mom's friend Luke apparently abandons her, and demons appear in her apartment.  Fortunately, she has just met the Shadowhunters, teens like herself who live in NYC and fight demons in their spare time.  Clary isn't one of them, but she's oddly able to understand and tolerate runes in ways that most "mundanes" are not.  (Note the similarity between "mundane" and Rowling's "muggle").  Although the story bogs periodically bogs down in details of both cute outfits and unnecessarily complex architecture, the main plot is thrillingly suspenseful at times, and Clary is a sturdy and believably sympathetic protagonist.  There's plenty of magically-aided violence, mysterious questions about Clary's identity, and other tropes that do make this a good counterpart to the Harry Potter series.  There's something interesting about a fanfic writer turned novelist, and the fact that the novel is a fun read keeps on troubling those assumptions in ways that are good to think about.

However, I was cringing at racial slurs in the book (a generally insensitive character uses "chico" for a Latino vampire on p. 263, another more sensitive character makes a Jewish joke on p. 304 (though the character making the joke is revealed to be Jewish himself on p. 357 and possibly earlier), and "she's got nixie eyes" which admittedly is a fantastical "race" and so only loosely related). I later realized that Clare is not entirely unconscious of the first and third slur, and in fact they partially serve to set up a reversal when the looked-down-upon magical Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, etc.) turn out to be key to triumph in the end over the evil Valentine and his Circle.  Still the Latino slur and Jewish joke are not addressed as part of the magical prejudices, and the idea of racism--magical or otherwise--as a personal attitude problem rather than a systemic cultural problem rests unexamined. 

There's a fair amount of Star Wars here too, as when highly attracted teens turn out to be siblings, and the villain turns out to be father to them both.  Still.  Some folks will love the sprawling nearly-500-page world that Clare creates here precisely because it works from familiar tropes that they have thoroughly enjoyed elsewhere.  If you like bestseller fiction generally and/or were a big fan of the later Harry Potter or Twilight books, this might be a great read for you (ignoring the ethnic slurs).  Personally, I did very much like the poetry quotations throughout the novel (they set up various sections) and those led me to explore and re-explore a couple of poets, including William Carlos Williams and his poem The Descent which I'd recommend (p. 387, first page of Part Three).  Clare may not achieve the grandeur she strives for, but she hits grand notes occasionally, and the result is a fun fantasy read (first in a trilogy).

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