Jun 3, 2012

Book Review: City of Bones

Ever since Harry Potter created a stir with its unusual blend of magic and maturity, the children’s books that came out after it have been trying to do better than this formula by making their stories more magical and more mature. Twilight is a prime example of this phenomenon, a magical story that has pretensions of being mature. City of bones is another book in the same vein, much influenced by Harry Potter. However, it carries its influences off with much more élan than most of the flotsam and jetsam of post Harry Potter literature. First of all, like Harry Potter, it has done away with boring descriptions of a new magical world. The fantasy books of an earlier generation would be full of pages and pages of description, but today the information is provided only when the reader is clamoring for it, so that the reader really understands what’s going on rather than being overloaded.

The Harry Potter effect starts off quite early, when the protagonist Clarissa starts seeing and hearing things that others can’t. Remember the boa at the zoo, anyone? Clarissa is then pulled suddenly into the conspiracies of a worlds she has never heard of. These conspiracies include a man rumored to be dead for sixteen years who had a band of followers called “The Circle”. This circle’s main mission was to maintain the purity of their blood. Any resemblance to He who must be not be named and his death eaters? And wait, the man is now searching for something called a mortal cup, which will help him to make a new army – anyone remembers Voldemort wildly searching for the elder wand? And then the writer further increases the similarities by squarely dumping unpleasant facts about Clary’s parents.  There is also Madame Dorothea, the squib in place of Mrs. Figg, who is Clarissa’s neighbor. Even the ordinary people are called mundies, short for mundane, which is very similar to muggles, which means kind of foolish.

The book follows the structure of Harry Potter in many other obvious and subtle ways. Sudden plot turns? Check. Unexpected characters suddenly turning up in weird situations? Check. Secrets hidden in parents’ love life? Check. Division of secret community? People going over to the other side? Coming back and having to prove their fidelity? Check, check, check.

Remember, this woman used to write Harry Potter fan fiction. But despite having so many elements similar to Harry Potter, this book has a lot going for it. The City of Bones weaves the web of lies and deceit even closer to home. It even deals with the one thing that Harry Potter doesn’t – betrayal. The web of loyalty, faith, love, and lust are drawn very very tight in this book, as everything revolves around the protagonist Clarissa’s family. And the in the effort to make it more “grown up” than Harry Potter – it plunges headlong into the one thing that Harry Potter stayed clear of – sexuality. From early on, the characters make jokes about who wants to sleep with who. As you are thinking that this may be a little too much for a children’s book, the writer dumps some shocking nuggets of family history that has the main characters reeling.

Unlike Harry Potter, which is intensely emotional right from the first page. The emotions come only in the last half of city of bones. The emotional punch is there, but quite feebly. Clarissa merely draws our interest, and not our sympathy, throughout most of the book. That is because the writer handles the book with a lot of blaseness that has become today after Harry Potter  - addressing magic as normal. When Izzy and Alec and Jace decide to go hunting demons, they all agree that it is going to be fun, even though they all know that their life is in danger. Now, this kind of language is the language of superhero movies, where a cocky, smart-aleck guy kills demon after demon without seeming to raise a sweat. Fun read, but not very emotionally connecting. Remember how Harry is terrified about facing the dragons in the fourth book, and about going to face Voldemort in the sixth book – well, there is no such emotional connection with the characters here – they are all insanely beautiful and witty and smart and seem to waltz around in a shadowhunter glow of their own.

What keeps the book sparkling, despite the super easy fights, is its wit. Jace, specially, is very amusing. Clarissa asks him a question about a Latin inscription in their institute which is the home of demon hunting shadowhunters dressed in black. – “Shadowhunters, looking better in black than the widows of our enemies since 1243” says Jace with a wink. A tight plot gains a few more brownie points.

All in all, a smashing good read for the lovers of fantasy. Read only if you like fantasy.

P.S. I wrote this review after reading the first book of The Mortal Instruments series. After reading two more books, my respect has grown. The writer has shed her HP influences and just grown and grown. The action is extremely fast, and story becomes emotionally gripping. Most of all, it introduces intellectual ideas and themes that are by no means childlike. The villain Valentine Morgenstern might be one of the most interesting characters I have seen, and certainly the most attractive villain.  Double thumbs up, one of the best of Post HP plethora.


Richa Bhattarai said...

Felt every bit as you did, especially the parts about muggles, unspeakables, horcruxes. But yes, the novel was interesting while it lasted, and the language sparkles, too, witty and racy.

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