Aparna (inspirethoughts) wrote,

Book Critique – #331: The Mortal Instruments I - City Of Bones

For review of all books in this series: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5
My Recommendation: Despite the flaws it is an interesting read if you care to overlook them.
Note: I anted up the rating for the book in my review this time around.

I had written a review on City of Bones, the first installment in this series earlier. You can find the review here. My opinion at that time was that I did not believe that this series should be catered to teenagers although it includes teenagers as the characters. And also had given a very low rating. It was a bit hard for me to pick up the second book in the series after the first one.  However, someone had mentioned to me that the series is not as bad as I thought it was and asked me to re-read the first book again to see if my opinion would change. And so I did and thus my review of the first book in the series again.

City of Bones is an urban fantasy novel by Cassandra Clare published in March of 2007. This is the first installment of The Mortal Instruments series. The novel is set in modern day New York but in an alternate world where humans, vampires, werewolves, magical fey, demons and shadow hunters co-exist.

It was a very normal evening for fifteen year old Clarissa “Clary” Fray and her best friend Simon Lewis at the Pandemonium Club until Clary witnessed a group of three teenagers – a girl and two boys – lure another boy into a storage room. Her curiosity took the better of her and she followed them into the storage room despite Simon’s denial about seeing the boys following the couple. That was her first encounter with The Shadowhunters who would keep this world safe by getting rid of the demons – Isabelle "Izzy" Lightwood, Jace Wayland and Alec Lightwood. Before she could share her experience with anyone and find out why she could only see those three Shadow Hunters, Jocelyn Fray – Carly’s mother – goes missing leaving behind a trail of demons who are hot in pursuit of Clary. Why would anyone want to pursue her, a mundane "mundane"? Who has taken Jocelyn? How is it that Clary suddenly acquired the power of Sight?

Who is interested in mundanes like Clary and her mom? Where has Jocelyn disappeared to? Why is someone after her and her family? Thus begins Clary’s unexpected and adventurous journey into a world of Shadowhunters that she had never known existed. She is pulled into the realms of Shadowhunters that gives her glimpses into their covenant and lives, Downwolders – consisting of vampires, werewolves, faeries and warlocks aka half-demons - who are at constant battle with the Shadowhunters, into the inner chambers of the Clave, Covenant and the Silent Brothers. And unravels more secrets that she ever could have imagined to be hidden from a 16-year old. What she finds not only amazes the reader but also shocks them.

Although Cassandra has done a good job, I did see some flaws which I could not ignore. There are several instances, incidents, plot parts, things and characters that reminded me of other authors’ works or movies. Makes me wonder if Cassandra had taken bits and pieces of these from different works – either movies, books or plays – and filled in some of the blanks with grout and made a tiled backsplash for her Mortal Instruments series to give it a complete picture. But one thing I should give credit to Cassandra. She has created her demons and half-demons so vicious and ugly looking that just reading about them got me goosebumps all over. She also uses elaborate description of scenes and repeats them. Repetition is not as much as I know one author who does, but the elaborate scenes and some of the descriptions sounded silly, some aloof, some unnecessary and some didn’t make sense at all.

For instance, couldn’t she simply had said “…I’m having second thoughts about letting you give me a makeover” instead of “…I’m having second thoughts about letting you make me over”. I had to re-read twice or thrice to make sure she meant what she meant.

There are conversations that occur talking about something happened in the past chapters. But I went back to read through old chapters and couldn’t find them. Clearly there is some disconnect here. Also having her last name as Clare and the lead character as Clary created a confusion for me while writing this review on the book.

As for the characters, Jace comes of very aloof and detached except when it comes to hunting of daemons and rogue vampires. But what will he be when his polished veneer is removed is something keeps the reader moving through the plot – ever turn of page he evolves more. Clary for me is more of a rotten spoiled school girl but gives her all when she is trying to find her mother. That one redeeming factor in her kept me going from reading the book. It would have been much better if the author had made her a bit more strong than just one of those characters who would be of no use when the time of need arises. May be she evolves in the future books. I have reservations on who Isabelle would become but she is one I am guessing can easily turn to the wrong side of the coin if she thinks that it will help in the long-term. Will have to wait and see how she turns out. Alec is a wild card for me for now although all he was portrayed was that of a jilted lover which he wore well. Of all these Simon has my heart set on. I would love to see his character evolved more and be better than Jace, which I am guessing what Cassandra would do in the end. He is one that would be best of all even though Jace and Clary are lead characters.

The story plot is very interesting as I noticed the first time around when I read it. However it still bothered me that Cassandra introduced the concept of incest in characters who are teenagers. I could accept love – be it gay or straight – at that young age even though I don’t approve of it, but incest is a line that I would not want to cross. But I must say that second time around the series piqued my interest despite that fact. I am curious to see what would happen to Jace, Alec, Simon, Clary and Isabelle in the next book and what new twists and characters will Cassandra introduce.

Budding love, Heartbreaks, Forbidden affection, Love triangles within triangles, Magic and Long-festering Feuds consist the beginning of the Mortal Instruments Series that is very intriguing enough for the reader to continue. And I am still going to read the rest of the books for the sake of principle that I have and also hoping that Cassandra would have redeemed some of the characters.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) Cassandra Clare mentions about warlocks who are half-demons and children of Lilith. That very name reminds me of Nora Roberts character Lilith – centuries old vampire – who constituted the central figure of the plot. The first book in that series was published in 2006, exactly a year before Cassandra Clare’s book was published. I wonder if Clare picked it up from Nora’s character. My review of the book in The Circle Trilogy can be found here.
2) There is mention of a Mortal Cup drinking from which one can become a Shadowhunter or beget Shadowhunter children. This Mortal Cup reminded me of the Holy Grail that Indiana Jones hunts for in his third adventure the 1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade film along with his father. Makes me wonder if Clare got the idea of Mortal Cup from this film. As for my review of the movies in the Indiana Jones series, go here to read.
3) I am wondering if the author will write a book or plot for Simon. He seems kind of a cute character.
4) Very few authors I have read (apart from those that are Indian origin), I rarely see something about India being mentioned. It gave me a jolt when Cassandra uses the word "Urdu" in a conversation between Isabelle, Alec and Clary. Interesting, very interesting.

5) Cassandra wrote the book in three parts with an Epilogue having its own title. What was interesting was that there is a lot more behind the name of some of the titles:
a. The book opens with a quote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
b. Part I is titled Dark Descent and has a quote from Paradise Lost by John Milton. The title is a direct lift from this quote. This part introduces the reader to key characters and leads the path that sets Clary on her journey.
c. Part II is titled Easy Is The Descent and has a quote from the Latin epic poem The Aeneid written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC. Interesting to note that one of the line from the poem "Facilis descensus Averno" meaning "The descent into Hell is easy" is used as the motto for the Nephilim aka Shadowhunters. Although Cassandra uses the word "Averni" instead of "Averno". More about the poem here. This part takes us through the journey of Clary with the Shadowhunters giving the reader more glimpses into their lives and their purpose.
d. Part III is titled The Descent Beckons and has a quote from The Descent by William Carlos Williams. The title is a direct lift from this quote. This part tells us the tale about The Mortal Instruments and when it all first began.
e. Interestingly enough Cassandra names her Epilogue too almost giving it a Part IV. It's called "The Ascent Beckons" which is again a form of the quote by William Carlos Williams from The Descent. The original line goes: The descent beckons; as the ascent beckoned.
6) Other books author mentions in the plot:
a. Author mentions the book The Golden Bough written by Sir James George Frazer being read by Clary and her mother Jocelyn in the plot. Hadn't heard that name before and when I looked up on it I was surprised to find that it was a comparative study of mythology and religion.
b. The Chronicles of Prydain by American author Lloyd Alexander. Hadn't heard about this before either.
c. Jace quotes William Blake in a conversation with Clary “Then you’ll see the world as it is – infinite”. I have no knowledge on William Blake’s works but the conversation between Jace and Clary that follows this statement wanted to me to look up on the quote and here is what I found:
i. The statement is a line from William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It is a series of poems or texts imitating biblical prophecy with William Blake’s beliefs intertwined. It was composed between 1790 and 1793.
ii. The actual lines are:
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite
For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
iii. More about William Blake’s book here.
iv. Incidentally Aldos Huxley, a British novelist and philosopher used the words “Doors of Perception” as a title to his book published in 1954. More about this book here.
v. An American rock band that Clary mentions in the conversation indeed exists and calls them “Doors” – again using the word from the above lines by Blake. The Band was formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, with vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore. More about the band here.
d. Clary remembers another poet’s quote “After the first death, there is no other” while she is trying to rescue her mother. Although she doesn’t remember the exact lines, the text urged me to find the poet who would have written such morbid lines. Turns out to be they are the last lines of the poem titled “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Such a dark poem it is once I read. More about the poet here.

7) Places we visit along with Clary through this journey:
a. Golden Carriage Bakery in Chinatown in New York that was frequented by Luke truly existed, at least at the time this book was written. Unfortunately this is closed permanently now
b. Clary Fray is supposed to be going to NYU Tisch School of Arts for her summer art classes. How cool that must be. More about the school here.
c. Simon goes to B’nai B’rith summer camp as a kid and I wondered if it was real. It indeed is for real, seems like a wonderful camp for kids and teens. More about it here.
d. Clary goes to Renwick Smallpox Hospital – an abandoned one – in Roosevelt Island to look for her mother. In fact this hospital still exists although abandoned and is forbidden to enter until the ruins are repaired for public visitation. It is the only ruins in New York to get a designation of a Landmark. More about the hospital here.

8) Clary's Sights: Several scenes in the book described clearly shows that Clary had acquired the power of "Sight". However I have a feeling that we will be seeing these scenes either in this book or in the future books following this in the series. I am curious to see if they come true.
a. In a scene, Clary dreams of Jocelyn, Luke, Jace, Simon and Isabelle in various situations and positions . Here is what she sees:
i. Jocelyn in a hospital bed with eyes like bruises on her face.
ii. Luke standing atop a pile of bones.
iii. Jace with white feathered wings on his back.
iv. Isabelle sitting naked with her whip curling around her.
v. Simon with crosses burned into his palm.
vi. Angels falling from the sky and burning. This particular sight reminded me of Nalini Singh's Archangel's Legion - sixth book in The Guild Hunter Series. That plot focuses around incident called The Falling where angels fall from the sky and die. Although Nalini Singh's book was published in 2013, a good 6 years after this Cassandra Clare's book was published. My review of that book can be found here.
b. She sees a vision where she is in the Glass City with Simon and Jace, and something about Simon that I want to see if it is what I think it is. (Described in Pg. 120)

9) New words - at least for me: Although I have to congratulate her for using the most complex and unique words I have ever come across in any book by any author so far.
a. Never knew that fortune-telling or art of predicting a person’s future had a different term called Chiromancy.
b. Ruminatively
c. The art of using light and shadow in drawing and painting is called as chiaroscuro – a word very new to me. Perhaps it applies to the art of using light and shadow in photography too, I wonder.
d. Supercilious
e. Inimical
Tags: books, critique by amateur, mortal instruments, reviews

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