Here we are again for yet another heaping helping of the sludge that is City of Bones. Make sure you eat it all, or you don’t get dessert.
Our chapter begins with, well, this:
The dark prince sat astride his black steed, his sable cape flowing behind him. A golden circlet bound his blond locks, his handsome face was cold with the rage of battle, and…
“And his arm looked like an eggplant,” Clary muttered to herself in exasperation.
I apologize for inflicting that on you all, but that’s something you have to see with your own eyes. I know that Clary supposed to be an artist, but I didn’t know she thought in ultraviolet hues.
As you can probably guess, Clary is trying to draw a picture of our sociopathic hero (though I’m sure CC and the fans would dispute that), Jace. Why? No idea. Also, she’s apparently been at it a while, because there’s a whole bunch of crumpled pages from her sketch pad all over her floor. Because Clary is such an obsessive perfectionist, she’s torn out every page when she’s messed up, rather than flipping it over first. She then regrets that she doesn’t have the artistic talent of her mother, Jocelyn, which she describes as “beautiful” and “effortless.”
Here’s a hint, kiddo – keep working at it. Most artistic stuff (visual or literary) don’t come out perfectly the first time. To quote Mur Lafferty’s Rules for Writing (though they could probably be applied to a lot of artistic stuff) “You are allowed to suck.” No one learned anything by getting it right the first time.
Anyway, the phone starts ringing, and Clary pulls out her headphones (and credit where it’s due, CC mentions she’s listening to Stepping Razor, though which one I don’t know) to answer it. It’s Simon, though at first he claims to be one of the “knife-carrying hooligans” from Pandemonium, which does not amuse Clary. Simon’s response?
“Sure it is. You just don’t see the humor.”
Sorry Simon, but I’m going to have to agree with Clary – that’s not funny. You know she was freaked out about that, and you’re making fun of her for it.
Unfortunately, Clary immediately loses any sympathy from me when she starts complaining about how her mother reacted when she got home so late. Simon takes Clary’s side, mentioning that there was traffic (but ignoring the fact that he gave crappy directions), to which Clary says the following:
Yeah, well, she doesn’t see it that way. I disappointed her, I let her down, I made her worry, blah blah blah. I am the bane of her existence,” Clary said, mimicking her mother’s precise phrasing with only a slight twinge of guilt.
Yeah, real nice there, kiddo. You’re in New York City, it was after midnight, on a Sunday no less, and you didn’t even try calling her. I think she has a right to be upset with you.
Simon mentions that one of his band-mates (is it just me or is Simon getting cooler by the minute?) is doing a poetry reading at a local coffee place, and asks Clary to come along. Her initial response is yes, but she immediately changes her mind. Simon, like any male, is confused by this, and Clary rightfully explains that she doesn’t want to piss off her mom. Enjoy this moment of rational behavior from our protagonist, folks, because soon it’ll all be gone.
Simon tells Clary that he’ll come over and ask her mom if she can come along, because Jocelyn likes him, and hangs up.
Clary heads out to the living room and we get what’s probably a page long description of the room, from the furniture to the paintings to the photos on the mantle. This promptly launches into a description of the death of Clary’s father, and how Jocelyn has a box of his belongings marked “J.C.” next to her bed. Remember this – it will be important for much, much later.
Someone opens the front door, snapping Clary and the narration back into active mode, which the narration describes as “[rousing] Clary out of her reverie.”
Weird Word Choice: 1
Seriously, what sixteen-year-old uses a word like ‘reverie’ in everyday speech?
Clary flops down on the couch and pretends to be reading one of her mom’s paperbacks, because she doesn’t want her mom to start yelling at her some more. Isn’t she just so loving?
But it’s not her mom at the door, it’s her mom’s friend, Luke, carrying a bunch of folded-up cardboard boxes. Clary says hi and almost calls him ‘Uncle Luke’, but stops herself because, well, see for yourselves:
He’d asked her to stop calling him Uncle Luke about a year ago, claiming that it made him feel old, and anyway reminded him of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Besides, he’d reminded her gently, he wasn’t really her uncle, just a close friend of her mother’s who’d known her all her life.
Because only people who are related get to use familial terms. Never mind that children calling close friends of their parents ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ isn’t that uncommon. And that whole Uncle Tom’s Cabin thing is just completely out of nowhere.
Clary asks what the boxes are for, and Luke explains that Jocelyn wants to pack up some things to make some space. This makes sense, since what with living in an apartment in New York, space would probably be at a premium. Luke checks out what Clary pretended to be reading. He quotes the following:
“The world still teems with those motley beings whom a more sober philosophy has discarded. Fairies and goblins, ghosts and demons, still hover about-”
It’s from The Golden Bough , a book by Sir James George Frazer comparing various bits of religion and mythology found around the world. It was first published in 1890, so you can easily find a copy for free online. That particular excerpt comes from chapter 56: The Public Expulsion of Evils. What Frazer is referring to is the fact that “the savage” (hey, it was the late 19th century) lives in a world where anything that isn’t obviously the work of someone else is perceived as the work of some spiritual entity. Of course, CC probably put that in because it fits so well with the Urban Fantasy setting. Which it does, but she’s still ignoring the context.
Luke asks Clary if she’s reading that for school, and she explains that school doesn’t start for another two weeks. That’s the first and last mention of school we’ll be getting, folks.
Clary tries to tell Luke her experience at the club, namely that she could see the Psycho Trio, but no one else did. She admits it sounds crazy, but Luke reassures her by telling her that, since she’s an artist, she sees the world differently than most people, including the phrase “the beauty and the horror in ordinary things.” Well, that’s all fine and wonderful, Luke, but there’s a difference between seeing the beauty in the mundane and seeing something that isn’t there. The first makes you unique; the second makes you crazy.
Instead of explaining what she meant, Clary remembers what she saw at Pandemonium, specifically Isabelle’s whip, Blue-hair’s death, and Jace’s eyes, and thinks about the phrase “beauty and horror”. Because that’s what the focus should be there – the fact that Jace was “sooo hawt” rather than the fact that he, you know, murdered a guy. Clary, you have all the depth of a parking lot puddle.
Clary’s mom then shows up, and we thankfully get a real description of her instead of something vague, such as “like Clary, only older”. We also finally get some description of Clary, namely that she has red hair, like her mom. And, if I’ve learned anything from watching South Park, it’s that ginger kids have no souls. The fact that CC is also a ginger may or may not have anything to do with this, but it certainly doesn’t help to distance this work from its fanfic origins. The narration tells us that Clary does look a lot like her mom, but that Clary doesn’t see it herself. Though judging by the description, it has more to do with the fact that Clary’s still a teenager than anything else.
Also, I feel that this comparison needs to be shared:
Jocelyn even had a graceful way of walking that made people turn their heads to watch her go by. Clary, by contrast, was always tripping over her feet. The only time people turned to watch her go by was when she hurtled past them as she fell downstairs.
I just like the image of Clary falling down a flight of stairs. Does that make me sick? Well, you’ll soon feel the same way.
Also, much like almost every flaw in a female paranormal YA fantasy/romance, this flaw will never be mentioned again, and will never impact the plot in any way whatsoever.
Plot Hole: 1
We finally come out of descriptive narration as Clary asks her mom what all the boxes are for. Jocelyn doesn’t answer. Clary asks if this has anything to do with her getting home late, Jocelyn says sort of, and that Clary should know better. Our heroine points out that she’s already apologized, and if Jocelyn’s going to ground her, she should just do it already. Jocelyn says she isn’t going to ground Clary, and finally explains what’s going on: they’re going on vacation to Luke’s farmhouse in upstate New York for the remainder of the summer. How does Clary respond? By loosing her shit.
For the rest of the summer?” Clary sat upright with indignation. “I can’t do that, Mom. I have plans – Simon and I were going to have a back-to-school party, and I’ve got a bunch of meetings with my art group, and ten more classes at Tisch–”
Now, admittedly, I can understand a teenager getting upset about sudden things like this, but here’s the thing: how much time is left before school starts again? Two weeks. Clary’s reacting like she’s going to be gone for months.
Plot Hole: 2
And I’m assuming the Tisch she’s referring to I the Tisch School of the Arts, part of New York University. So, points to CC for picking an actual school in New York. However, I’m not certain they would admit a high school student into a class, even a summer one.
Jocelyn tries to placate Clary, but like a typical teenager, she just goes on about how it just isn’t fair. Clary tries to get support from Luke, but he’s with Jocelyn. Clary then tries to find out why the sudden change of plans, but her mother’s a bit cagey, talking about how she needs peace and quiet to work, and money’s getting a bit tight, etc. etc.
Clary doesn’t buy it though, saying that her mother should just sell more of her father’s stocks if they need money, and that Jocelyn can go to the farm if she wants, but Clary won’t, even saying she’ll get a job if she needs to. But Jocelyn is set on Clary coming along, and that something bad could happen if she’s left alone, though again Clary doesn’t believe her.
Now, I’m sure Jocelyn is supposed to look like the bad guy here, what with barging in and deciding that they’re leaving town with no warning. But with the fact that Clary’s mom seems that insistent, even saying she’ll pay Clary back for her art classes (no small thing, if you’ve ever taken a university course), all I’m seeing is that Clary is being a bit of a brat.
The genre of this book doesn’t help either. If this were some generic piece of YA non-genre fiction, I might accept Clary’s reaction. But it’s not – it’s Urban Fantasy, a fact made pretty clear in the previous chapter. There’s nasty things out there, which Clary has had a first-hand glimpse of, but she’s more worried about how this sudden vacation will ruin her plans.
She’s such a wonderful character, isn’t she?
Luke, being sensible, has decided he’s had enough of this shit and leaves. Wait! Please! Take me with you!
Jocelyn manages to grab him before he leaves, and the two adults have a hushed conversation, which Clary eavesdrops on. Because that’s not rude or anything. Jocelyn mentions she’s been trying to contact someone named Bane (though sadly not the Batman villain), and Luke doesn’t like that and says that “Clary isn’t Jonathan,” which confuses the heck out of Clary. Luke rightly points out that Clary is a teenager and that Jocelyn should just talk to her, and then this happens:
The door flew open. Jocelyn gave a little scream.
“Jesus!” Luke exclaimed.
“Actually, it’s just me,” said Simon. “Although I’ve been told the resemblance is startling.”
Yay! Simon’s back! And potential blasphemy aside, that wasn’t the best line you’ve given. Still, yay!
Jocelyn asks if Simon was eavesdropping, but he says he just arrived. Having a fully functioning brain, he notices the tension in the room and asks if he should leave. Luke tells him not to bother and promptly leaves himself. Simon again offers to come back later, but Clary decides it’s time for her to go as well. Jocelyn says they need to talk, but Clary just throws back the whole ‘vacation’ thing and promptly storms out, dragging Simon with her.
And Simon is still nice enough to say goodbye to Jocelyn. Seriously, this guy is great.
There’s a scene break, and we come back about fifteen seconds later, to Clary and Simon heading down the stairs. That’s something I’ve noticed with CC’s writing – the unnecessary scene breaks. Clary and Simon haven’t even left the building yet, but we got a break anyway.
The two finally stop when they reach the bottom of the stairs, and we get some more details about where Clary and her mom live. It’s one of those old multistory houses converted into separate apartments, with Clary and her mom living on the second and third floors (I assume, as there’s only mention of one other person living there, and she lives on the first floor). We also find out what where they live – Park Slope. Well, it’s nice to have an actual neighborhood. Unfortunately, this raises some issues.
Using a real location, especially in a modern setting, means you have to do a good bit of research before hand, since there are real people living there and all. One big problem is the whole rent issue. City of Bones was published in 2007, so it’s probably safe to assume it’s set around the same time. Since there’s no mention of Clary and her mother living anywhere else, we can assume they’ve lived there all Clary’s life, so let’s say since the mid-90s. Not unsurprising, as quite a few people were moving to Park Slope at that time. But here’s where the real problem comes in: the rent. Judging by the Wikipedia article (not a scholarly source, I know) the rent on their apartment could be pretty high, at least compared to their neighbors. Probably not the best place for a single mother, who makes her living as an artist no less, to live.
Anyway, on the way out, Clary and Simon pass by the door of Clary’s downstairs neighbor, Madame Dorothea. She’s a fortune teller, if you couldn’t guess. And Simon, being Simon, has to comment.
“Nice to see she’s doing a booming business,” Simon said. “It’s hard to get steady prophet work these days.”
Aw, Simon, what the heck was that? ‘Prophet work’? I expect that kind of thing from people naming episodes of Star Trek. You’re slipping, man.
Clary also doesn’t find that funny, but probably more because she’s just mad than because it wasn’t all that funny. Simon, nevertheless, is taken aback by her response, saying that she thought she liked it when he’s “witty and ironic.”
Simon, while that just barely qualifies as witty, it was not, in any sense, ironic. You made a pun. That’s all.
Clary is about to respond when some guy comes out of Dorothea’s place. Clary swoons for a second, but doesn’t fall down, thankfully. Simon asks if she’s okay, and Clary says she’s fine, but only remembers seeing Dorothea’s cat.
Clary also says that she hasn’t eaten since the day before, they go off to get something to eat, and I have to stop. At a guess, I’d say it’s probably some time in the late afternoon or early evening (or “prevning” if you watch Big Bang Theory), and Clary hasn’t eaten for the whole day. The heck? It’s not like she was just that busy that she couldn’t eat – she was drawing a picture. Now, I understand getting lost in a book or a game or a project and losing track of time, but eventually you have to stop, if only to go to the bathroom. At which point you’d probably notice the time. So CC’s claiming that Clary was just so busy she forgot to eat? Really?
Another scene break, this time with an actual purpose. Simon and Clary are now at a local Mexican place, with Clary whining some more about how tough her life is. Oh, Clary, you have no idea. You’re maybe in high school and your mom didn’t ground you for staying out after midnight without so much as a phone call. You can bet if I did that when I was that age, I’d have gotten in a lot of trouble.
Still, Simon tries to calm Clary down and convince her that her mom will change her mind, but Clary is skeptical. The conversation then turns to the fact that Clary knows absolutely nothing about her mother’s life before she was born – there are no photos, no visits with grandparents, no stories about how Jocelyn and her husband met, nothing. Which is, admittedly, pretty weird. It gets even weirder when Simon mentions all the little scars Jocelyn has along her back and arms, but Clary doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Their conversation is interrupted when Clary’s phone rings. It’s her mom, and Clary, rather than answering it and maybe talking to her mother, shoves the phone into her bag. Her excuse? She doesn’t want to fight with her mother. Because that’s a good strategy to avoid a confrontation. Oh, and Clary feels guilty about ignoring her mother. We know this because CC tells us so.
Simon offers to let Clary stay at his house, which I’m sure both their mothers would be so happy about. Clary listens to the message Jocelyn left – she’s sorry for the sudden change of plans, and wants to talk. The two kids discuss how Clary feels about this offer, and set off for the aforementioned poetry reading.
Along the way, they talk a bit about Simon’s band, again demonstrating that Simon is a way more interesting character. At the moment, they’re discussing band names:
“We’re choosing between Sea Vegetable Conspiracy and Rock Solid Panda.”
Clary shook her head. “Those are both terrible.”
“Eric suggested Lawn Chair Crisis.”
“Maybe Eric should stick to gaming.”
“But then we’d have to find a new drummer.”
“Oh, is that what Eric does? I though he just mooched money off you and went around telling girls at school that he was in a band in order to impress them.”
See what I mean? From that brief snippet alone, I’m far more interested in what’s going on in Simon’s life than anything Clary’s up to.
Simon corrects Clary, explaining that Eric actually has a girlfriend now, and that they’ve been dating for a few months. Clary is unimpressed.
And now we get to a bit that brings me both joy and despair, and I’ll explain in a minute. Clary sees a couple pushing a child in a stroller, and the little girl has a pixie doll. And for a split second, Clary thinks she sees the doll’s wings move.
First the joy: this is a good bit of writing. This is an Urban Fantasy story, so the fantastic elements have to fit in a modern world. That means they can’t be big and flashy like in other fantasy genres. Having the supernatural elements always being just around the corner or out of the corner of a character’s eye is a great way to do that. The supernatural is right in front of you, you just can’t see it. It also helps to show that Clary is entering into a wider world.
And now the despair: this one bit of good writing makes the rest of it that much worse by comparison. This shows that CC can write good Urban Fantasy, but she just chooses to turn it into crap.
Simon drags Clary back to the present by noting that he is now the only member of the band that doesn’t have a girlfriend, which was the whole point of starting a band in the first place, as any heterosexual male will tell you. Now it’s Simon’s turn to feel sorry for himself. Clary decides to make a suggestion:
“There’s always Sheila ‘The Thong’ Barbarino,” Clary suggested. Clary had sat behind her in math class in ninth grade. Every time Sheila had dropped her pencil – which had been often – Clary had been treated to the sight of Sheila’s underwear riding up above the waistband of her super-low-rise jeans.
Methinks CC is still a bit bitter about high school. And the worst part? This character? Never mentioned again. She’s brought in to be slut-shamed, and then is promptly dropped.
Simon, ignoring Clary’s obvious distaste, explains that Sheila is the girl Eric’s been dating. I say good for him. Drummer Eric apparently also advised Simon to just pick a girl (with the “most rockin’ bod”) and just ask her out. Clary says that Eric is a sexist pig.
Again, I have to stop. Now, I’ll admit that the “rockin’ bod” comment wasn’t exactly PC (not to mention probably out of date – I graduated high school a year before this was published, and I never heard anyone use the phrase “rockin’ bod”, but then again I’m not from New York), but I don’t think that makes him sexist. Shallow? Absolutely – he’s a teenager, what do you expect? I’m impressed that he’s been in a steady relationship for three months. But besides that one thing, Eric’s advice is good. What’s the worst that could happen? Simon gets turned down. Oh well. Move on.
Clary’s mom calls again, and is promptly ignored again. Clary then thinks about how lonely she’ll be after she leaves (IT’S TWO FRIKKIN’ WEEKS!!!), and the chapter promptly ends.
Plot Hole: 3
Little note before we end this – for a chapter called “Secrets and Lies”, there weren’t that many secrets or lies. Sure, they’re more apparent in retrospect, but on a first read through? Not so much. That’s a bad thing to do, CC. What we got instead was great big info dump about Clary’s home life.
Now while it’s nice to establish what the protagonist’s life is like before the action ramps up, there’s a bit of a problem here, at least in my opinion: this chapter and the following are the only ones that deal with Clary’s life before the plot starts moving. Personally, I’d like it more if things went a little more slowly – two or three chapters of Clary going about her life, being a teenager, going to school, maybe even forgetting about what happened at Pandemonium. Maybe she starts to notice some odd things, but brushes them off.
And then, out of no where, everything comes crashing down and Clary is dragged into the hidden supernatural world. (See Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere for a good example of this.) But again, this is just my opinion.
Not a lot of counts this time, because not a lot happened.
Weird Word Choice: 1 (Total: 10)
Rapier Twit: 0 (Total: 2)
No Shit Sherlock: 0 (Total: 2)
Plot Hole: 3 (Total: 10)