Lessons from Cassandra Clare (on what not to do)

A few nights ago, I couldn’t sleep. So I picked up one of the books I’d checked out at the library and gave it a whirl, hoping it would keep me occupied until I could finally shut my eyes. The book was City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, a New York Times bestseller soon to have the aformentioned book made into a movie. (I’ve seen the preview. It looks relatively neat except Lily Collins looks nothing like Clary and Jace has no snark. What?)

Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series has been a smash-hit among the Young Adult fantasy-loving crowd, and I was curious to know why. It sounded like an awesome idea – I mean we’ve got hunters, Silent Brothers, vampires, werewolves, villains, and the supposedly swoon-worthy Jace. I had heard a lot about Jace.

This book let me down. In fact, it let me drop about a thousand feet from the top of a cliff without a safety rope and with no mattress/trampoline/moss bed to catch me. After everything I’d heard, after all the raving reviews, City of Bones was so bad I didn’t even finish it. Not because the content was so horrid, though I did have a few bones to pick. I didn’t finish it because I didn’t want to. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was a big surprise.

City of Bones was worse than Eragon. It made Eragon look like a piece of classic literature. It made the characters in Eragon look deeper than the Mariana Trench.

Let me break it down for you exactly why I disliked this book so much – and how you can avoid falling into so many of the traps Cassandra seemed to enjoy hanging around in.

– Jace –

The boy every girl was supposed to fall in love with at first sight. The boy who was supposed to sweep the entire female species off their feet. The boy who was said to be as sexy as all get-out. Okay, my first peeve – the guy is sixteen years old. Sixteen. I’m almost nineteen, and having a sixteen-year-old constantly described as hot or sexy or swoony made me feel practically creep-worthy. This book is popular among the 14-20-year-old range, and all I could think about was his age.

Also…um, I got 7/10ths through the novel and Jace never did anything remotely hero-like. He was, in fact, a jerk. The entire foundation of his character was his sarcastic, snarky wit – which he pulled out every time he opened his mouth. Clare tried to give some deepness to him, but it fell flat and he ended up being a smart-aleck teenager who has supposedly had a tough life we’re supposed to sympathize with and who can’t say anything nice. Seriously, the nicest thing he does is take Clary to the greenhouse on her birthday to show her a flower.

Uuhhh. I’m sorry. But Jace’s character had little to no substance. While his snappy remarks were entertaining and funny, a person is not entirely made of rapier-wit. Jace lacked everything but a sharp tongue and gold eyes.

– Predictability –

Excuse me, Ms. Clare, but your plot twist is showing. Or was that supposed to be a plot twist? One thing that super annoyed me about this book was the way she ‘foreshadowed’ things (and I use the term ‘foreshadow’ in the very loosest sense). It was as if she assumed the reader was stupid and could not figure things out for themselves, so she would dangle a five-pound ‘hint’ in front of them and say “HEY LOOK DOESN’T THIS SEEM LIKE *WINKWINKNUDGEWINK* IMPORTANT? DOESN’T IT? HUH? HUH?”

What were supposed to be clever ‘leads’ were actually signposts giving away every plot twist before it happened. Oh, your mother was married to Valentine? That’s nice. Oh, Simon likes Clary? Yeah, we could see that from the first page. Oh, that dude’s a vampire? Really? Shock. No way.

– The Political Correctness –

I should be expecting this more in YA literature, but it the gay-friendly movement still takes me by surprise. Now, I don’t hate gays, neither am I a homophobe. But I do believe that homosexuality is wrong – and so having the good guys be gay irritates me and turns me off to books. Depending on how blatant it is, it even completely turns me off to the novel (I know homosexuals in real life and I enjoy their company. We talk. We have fun. This is a ‘love the person, hate the sin’ situation.) So while I could have dealt all right with a homosexual villain, having one of the main good guys be discovered as a homosexual was a gigantic “Oh, come ON, just NO” to me. It was pretty soon after this little ‘discovery’ that I just put the book down.

– The similes –

I like similes. Similes are cool. I have fun writing similes.

I do not stick them in. every. bloody. paragraph. in. which. a. simile. could. possibly. be. squeezed. in.

– The spiritual side of things –

So I was okay with the demon thing here, because the demons weren’t actually demons. In this novel ‘demon’ is a term given to any creature that is not human – any dark creature that the demon hunters like Jace and Isabella are supposed to track down and kill/send back/what have you.

But then you go and find out that the demon hunters are supposed to be part…angel? And there’s a Cup you can drink of that had angel blood in it with which you can make more demon hunters?

…Whaaat? Okay. I can see the author was just trying to be creative but as a Christian, this was just too incorrect. And then Jace, who is supposed to be part angel, says he doesn’t even believe in God.

….I’m trying to compute this, but I suppose it’s the way a liberal author deals with angels and demons without wanting to mention or give credit to their Creator. Definitely seems like the hard way to go about things, but maybe that’s just me.

*rubs temples and sighs*

This book was, as I said, a disappointment and I’m fairly surprised that so many people love this series. The writing style itself wasn’t bad – in fact, it had some very nice moments – and the snappy dialogue was entertaining. But City of Bones read more like something fresh out of NaNoWriMo – unpolished, lacking plot, dialogue-heavy, and by all means unfit for publication – than a real hot-off-the-presses novel. I don’t hate the author or anything like that. And I do completely adore the covers for her books – seriously, they’re pure eye candy and they’re some of my favorite book covers in YA literary history. I know this post probably came across as a bash-fest for Cassandra Clare – and honestly, I think she could do better. A LOT better. But I don’t hate her.

I hope that one day she will improve, and I hope that other writers can learn from her mistakes. Thank you, and goodnight.

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30 thoughts on “Lessons from Cassandra Clare (on what not to do)

  1. You couldn’t sleep and you didn’t talk to me?! Jk. I’m laughing through your review and yeah, she needs a lot of work. And Jace? Wow. Totally terrible character. Thanks for alerting me not to read this book. Jack Reacher is slightly more realistic. Stress on slightly. 🙂

    • *laugh* I know, shock!! But I didn’t want to go on the computer; it seemed like a hassle at 2 o’clock in the morning 😄 I know. Jace was terrible. Jack Reacher is better. 😄

  2. you’re comment on Eragon made me laugh. But thanks for this review, a friend told me this book was amazing and I was thinking about reading. Now I will not waste my time. 🙂

  3. I’ve never personally read City of Bones, but I had heard about the movie. Just a thought, but isn’t it rather sad how a lot of popular YA novels are stupid? I think a lot of teens today haven’t grown up reading the classics, so they don’t have anything to compare to.

    • I KNOW! I myself am not usually a huge fan of classic literature – the majority is heavy and depressing, but having been raised on more classic things I have an appreciation for well-written modern books.
      This wasn’t one. 😄

  4. Believe it or not, I was just about to pick this up from the library on my way home, Mirriam! So thanks for the warning! From the sound of things…I hope Cassandra learns, too.

    ~Stephany

  5. So glad I read this!! Very well put. I had been considering picking up the book, but I really couldn’t decide… Definitely making room for other novels now!! ❤
    -Haley/tinydancer

  6. Love the post! Hehe, I had actually seen this book at the library and was thinking about it not long ago. 😄 Thou hast saved me!!! *hugs you* BTW, did you get the pics I sent you?

  7. Maybe I’m being nonconformist again, but I actually didn’t think City of Bones was THAT bad…

    Ok, well, scratch that. It was like a book with nothing but filler…which is never a good thing…Plus, I was reading it when I was 14-16, and a “sexy 16-year-old” was like the epitome of awesome. (Of course, now I’m 17, and 16 seems so young x.x)

    The characters do end up getting deeper and more developed as the series goes on (Jace is supposed to be an anti-hero anyway, that’s his thing), and where Clare fails at the foreshadowing of Valentine being married to Clary’s mother and Simon liking Clary, well, that wasn’t really supposed to be secret. The other things she keeps hidden? I didn’t even see them coming. Or maybe I just didn’t pay attention, being 14 and everything. Who knows?

    I didn’t agree with the way she took angels and demons and such, but then, it wasn’t geared for the Christian market in the first place. As a Christian, I had a problem with it. As a reader, it was just something that tied everything together. (Later she gets even more sacrilegious, but I think she was using something other than the Bible for her angel references.) There were several other things that I was uncomfortable with as well, mostly with the whole incest plotline. I was also uncomfortable with the homosexuality, but Clare writes for the masses, and brings in a VERY diverse cast of characters to cater to everyone. Which is probably why so many people like it.

    The Mortal Instrument series is okay, it’s nothing special. I prefer the Infernal Devices, really. Which sounds backwards, since it’s Clare…but I guess it appeals to my steampunk-loving nature. Anyway, dissenting rant over, sorry! ^^;

    • ‘Nothing special’ describes just about how I felt, but I might try the Infernal Devices. More steampunkish appeals to me anyway, and there isn’t the problem of homosexuality. And I know Jace was an antihero, but he was an antihero totally lacking substance – at least in book one.

      • Yeah, he definitely lacked substance in book one. He got some more over the series, but I don’t think you’d want to continue it…

        However, Will and Jem in the Infernal Devices are MUCH better. Will is KIND OF like Jace, but better in so many ways. Jem’s just plain amazing.

  8. Hmmm…I just got out City of Bones, but haven’t started it. Her Clockwork series is pretty good, though.You might try that if the whole demon hunter thing doesn’t bother you too much. It’s set in Victorian times, and there isn’t any homosexuality in it. And the characters are *much* deeper, judging by your review.
    Anyways. I’ll reserve judgement until I read it myself. Thing is, I never notice obvious plot twists because I read too fast. Everyone else is, “I totally saw that coming.” and I’m all, “You DID??” xD

    • I still think I”ll try the Infernal Devices series (plus those cooovveerrrsss *swoon*) because it sounds quite a bit better and deeper, apparently! WOOOT! The thing is, I read fast and I STILL noticed the plot twists. A mile before the ytwisted. 😄

  9. “Worse than Eragon”?! I love the Inheritance Cycle (though not so much the last book)!! But I’ve tried this book before and couldn’t even get halfway through. It was kind of weird, even for my tastes, and really awful. Thanks for the heads up, though I wish it had come sooner :-/

    • I DID love the Inheritance Cycle. Then I realized it plagiarized from a zillion other books, and then the Eragon/Arya thing was pathetic, and it was predictable, and the only remaining things I liked were Murtagh and Blodgharm. And I Oromis, before he died. *sigh*

      • Well, yeah, there is all that, and I totally agree with you. I don’t know what it is about the Inheritance Cycle that I love so much, given all its shortcomings, but it will always be one of my favorite series, nonetheless. Maybe it’s the way Christopher Paolini writes the different non-human races — my favorites being elves, dragons, and werecats — that I love. I don’t know. Murtagh, Blodhgarm, Oromis, Brom, Solembum, and Angela are pretty much the characters I remain loyal to.

        Oh, while we’re on the subject, did you know that Paolini admits that Angela is in a way one big, somewhat subtle, reference to Doctor Who? Among many other references and similarities seen throughout the books, she is seen knitting a hat at the end of Inheritance with the beginning of a word on it, and so far she has the letters “Raxacori”. The completed word would be “Raxacoricofallapatorius”. Anyway, I thought you might be interested in such information.

        • I knew the ‘bigger on the inside’ reference but I didn’t know about the Raxacori one!!! *cracks up* That’s brilliant. I DO appreciate things like that, kekeke. I do like Solembum and Angela, but Angela directly plagiarises Gandalf when she says “Two eyes, as often as I can spare them” and that more or less frustrated me with her character. X_X

    • Okay – Anybody care to clarify on why Eragon is so awful? I loved that story, and the character, and the dragon. (Until it ended.) I thought it was well written, and the plot intrigued me. I’ve given it to several different people as gifts. SO… wassup?!

      • I didn’t care for the characters at all…and the plot didn’t intrigue me. It was a copy off other books I’d read before.

        But Mirriam was right, it was lot better than The Mortal Instruments.

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