My March and, thus far, April should probably be dubbed Young Adult Reading Months from here on out. This is the busiest, most stressful time of year for me at my job (no I’m not a tax preparer, thank god), and so I’ve been attracted to the straightforward, suck-you-in stories prevalent in the Young Adult – Fantasy genre. After finishing The Diviners, I ran across City of Bones while looking for my next young adult audio read in my Library’s catalog. It looked interesting and had a high rating on Goodreads.
I really enjoyed it. I mean REALLY enjoyed it. So I was surprised when about 2/3rds of the way through the book I checked out some of the reviews on goodreads and there were a lot of them that were seriously brutal. The biggest complaint seemed to be that the book’s plot was derivative which was puzzling. It’s a legitimate complaint for sure but I think derivative plots can be enjoyable and serve a purpose and quite honestly it seems that well-worn themes are kind of a hallmark of YA literature. Granted, I don’t read an over abundance of Young Adult literature but when I do it’s because I’m looking for the comfort of the derivative plot, the well-worn tropes that exist because they resonate so well with people. Sure it’s more fulfilling to see these common themes presented with an original twist (in my, admittedly limited, experience Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is a recent good example, and I think Garth Nix can almost always be counted on to do something imaginative) but I’m fine if they are just done well. And I think City of Bones, does its job pretty well.
A lot of reviewer’s complained that this book was just a rehash of Harry Potter and Star Wars. Well I love both those stories so it is fine by me that City of Bones has a lot of the same themes, story elements and archetypal characters. Maybe it would bother me in if I had a bit more brain power to devote to my reading and was wanting a more contemplative and original read but City of Bones, at this moment in my reading life, didn’t hit me over the head with its literary borrowing and it gave me just the sort of comfort and escapist adventure for which I was looking.
And there were some things by which I was pleasantly surprised. First, the characters. I am a reader who is very easily annoyed by female protagonists, particularly those that are teenage and who are lusted after by more than one hot guy. But for whatever reason I was all right with this book’s protagonist, Clary Fray. She’s a little mopey, (which may have been accentuated by the narrator) but not to the point of annoyance except perhaps towards the end and she was a pretty fair mix of brave kickass and in over her head. Her reactions to most things was pretty authentic and I liked that despite her developing crush on Jace, it didn’t stop her from being justifiably annoyed by him and showing it.
Towards the end, she did seem to get hit with the dumb stick a few too many times, particularly in her initial dealings with Luke, and she developed a very bad case of the “I’m 15 years old so obviously I know better then you grown up folk who are impossibly corrupt and stupid” self righteousness. This does make me a little nervous for the sequels - that the Clary irritation factor may become an issue.
However, it is worth noting, that I was surprised by some injection of Clary being called on her shit as well. Since the primary audience for books like this is teenagers they are often validated to the point of annoyance for me as an adult. And yet in the initial scene with Magnus Bane, he pretty much puts her in her place and tells her to give her mom a break – that life is more complicated and messy and full of questionable decisions then Clary has the experience to judge quite yet. The author does this pretty deftly without making Clary seem overly unreasonable while also not letting the teenage self-indulgence run rampant.
And speaking of Magnus Bane he was a pretty great tertiary character.
Finally, you can’t leave the discussion of character without talking about Jace Wayland who is probably the most interesting male lead I’ve encountered in a young adult book in a while. He’s got some legitimate emotional issues which he deals with in a properly sarcastic and suppressing manner. He’s hilarious and arrogant in a deliberately over-the-top way and he’s an ass-kicking hero. He’s a bunch of fun.
This could be my verdict for the whole book: a bunch of fun. It’s an action-filled, good-vs-evil, character driven romp. I found the narrator, Ari Graynor, to be pretty mediocre and she didn’t have a lot of range beyond the two main characters (Clary and Jace).