City of Bones

Seriously, guys, why did none of you tell me that this book featured a redhead from Park Slope? Had you clued me in, I'm sure I would have read this much sooner... but as it is,I picked up City of Bones because I suddenly felt out of the YA loop having never read a Cassandra Clare book. Overall, I would say that this book (and series in general) gets points for the storyline and certain details, with an added bonus for doing something I haven't yet encountered in a YA novel. The writing itself isn't particularly noteworthy (and at times can be a little lacking), but Clare can certainly craft an epic storyline and carry the reader along with her... so by the time you realize there are some massive plot issues, you've finished the book and have already bought the sequel.

Clary (short for Clarissa) Fray lives a fairly normal life for a fifteen-going-on-sixteen-year-old in Brooklyn -- she goes to school, she hangs out with her best friend, Simon, and she argues with her mother. At the under-age club Pandemonium, however, she witnesses what appears to be a murder -- until she realizes she's the only one who can see both the victim and the assailants, all of whom appear to be quite young and covered in strange tattoo-like markings (including one boy that Clary finds distractingly handsome). She rightly guesses that seeing things no one else can see isn' a very good sign... and in fact, it's the first indication that she's seeing the world clearly for the first time in her life, though this makes life infinitely more complicated.

The paranormal catch to this series is angels -- well, specifically, the Nephilim, which are supposedly the descendents of men and angels and are entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting the world from demons. This involves some complicated politics when there are also vampires, werewolves, fairies, and warlocks/witches wandering about the earth, too, all of which the Nephilim tend to group together as "Downworlders" and treat like second-class citizens (even lower on the totem pole than regular ol' people that are called "mundanes"). Clary discovers that she can now see everything because even though she was raised as a mundane, well, there are things that mom wasn't telling her... and can't, because it appears she's been abducted from their home. Clary is "taken in" by Jace, Alex, and Isabelle, who may be teenagers but they've been fighting evil for years. Jace, the handsome boy who caught her eye, continued to be frustratingly fascinating and Clary's attraction to him causes major issues with best friend Simon. In order to save Clary's mom and discover just what (or who) is behind the recent rise in demon activity in Brooklyn, they must all band together... but along the way, they might just uncover far more unpleasant things about themselves.

All in all, City of Ashes is a fascinating ride into Cassandra Clare's fantasy world, provided you don't look too closely at it. Think of it as a theme park ride -- not quite as quick as a roller coaster but definitely something where you're not encouraged to take a backwards glance. (Seriously, one photograph or detailed discussion with anyone older than eighteen would totally have ruined the course of events in this entire series. The blanket "mechanical things don't work well in the angel city" doesn't quite cut it, I'm sorry.) The sexual issues are rather intense for a YA novel and I'd probably refrain from handing this series off to the younger teen set. The characters themselves seem to be a little young for what they're all dealing with, really. As with all first novels in a series, there's a lot of information being thrown to reader/Clary at a fast pace, but Clary is usually a bit slower than the reader to pick up on things. (PS The author's surname Clare and the main character's name of Clary? That's just a bit too close for me to be comfortable with this author's level of character association.) Clary is sadly a bit too much of a cookie-cutter YA heroine (beautiful redhead but unaware of her attractiveness, far more comfortable in jeans and a hoodie, has an impressive artistic talent, endearingly clumsy, etc.) and she's not terribly bright. Clearly a good amount of work went into this first novel, though, as I feel like the detail given to Clary's life in particular was very well presented (references to Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series did not go unappreciated), even if other details were sadly lacking. Isabelle and Alex might be secondary characters but some thought went in to their backstories -- or at least Alex's as he struggles with his sexuality. Unfortunately, the villain Valentine is very Voldemort-wannabe -- or perhaps Tom Riddle, as we haven't gotten to full-on snake-face just yet -- and I was rather disappointed with him. One doesn't quite get the level of fear that he inspires in the older set (and while I thought this might be a book one thing, it's actually true through the whole series). Jace is slightly too perfect, but at least here one can trust in Clare to add in a good amount of complications to his character, as this is clearly just the beginning for him. I appreciate his snarky and too-quick humor as a way to move the book along, and hinting and his capabilities for self-destructive behavior that will undoubtedly come out in greater force in future books. Clary's attraction to him is incredibly sudden and predictable. Simon's love for Clary is obvious and also predictable -- but even if Simon is the token guy-best-friend-in-love-with-the-girl, he's at least an endearing depiction of one. The twist that comes with this odd threesome is interesting... something the reader will guess quick enough (aka LONG before Clary), but I still found it fascinating, if only because I haven't encountered in YA lit before. It becomes the dark question that will drive readers on to the next book, as the general storyline might not be quite as compelling as that twisty question, even if the rest of the storyline is grand in its scale. Very Star Wars, folks... and Clare even directly references Star Wars earlier in the book, so the savvy reader (who has somehow avoided spoilers for this book) will pick up on that early on.

Fans of paranormal YA have probably all discovered Clare before me, so this is all old hat to you. On the off chance that you're like me and haven't, but enjoy the genre, then I would recommend giving City of Ashes a read. Don't expect too much from it or over-analyze it and I think you'll find that it's quite entertaining and engaging, as Clare has created quite an intriguing world, even if it does require some suspension of disbelief... beyond the usual, I mean, because we're talking about half-angel ass-kicking demon-fighters.

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