Cassandra Clare – City of Bones

cityofbones
Other reviewers listed the stories that this novel borrows from. Characters are, apparently, plucked from someone else’s movie or book, given a different name and a slightly different attire. I’m not familiar with the Big Things of teen fiction. I’ve never watched Buffy and never immersed myself in Harry Potter. This still felt so derivative.

This is another book that came out of fan fiction. You’d expect it to have more verve, more energy. Copy your favorite story, but at least show the passion you have for it. If the novel had the rabid energy fans express over Harry Potter or Star Wars then the unoriginal story wouldn’t matter so much. It’d at least have excitement.

City of Bones feels tired all the way. It’s written by an amateur author who has little experience with what stories can be. It never imagines stories can do other thing than just become more convoluted. We all had this phase when we thought that plot twists was proof the writer was clever, but I thought we’d outgrown it. Surely, even the overrated Nolan proved thrillers have more than just “Surprise!”.

Clary does nothing. Calling her a ‘weak female protagonist’ would at least means she has some sort of role. A female whose role is only to help the main male character at least does something, active in some way. Clary is an observer. She stands around and things happen.

It’s amazing how many events rain down the characters and how little of them are instigated by them. It’s not the examination of “life is out of control” idea. The events have nothing to do with the characters and Clare doesn’t examine their reactions. She introduces a conflict, the characters solve it because of brute force and then they wait until something else happens.

If Clary helped solving the cases, it’d add some intensity. She tends to sit back and look at everyone do their thing, Shadowhunters shadowhuntin’.

There’s something tempting about such protagonists. They’re easy to write and they give the reader (or more important, the author) a hole to insert themselves in. This way, you can watch the story happen through someone’s eyes.

This character is never actually a part of the story though. The camera is never a part of the film’s plot. Some stories deliberately create such characters, but this ‘observer’ nature is addressed in the story and a part of the personality. Clary’s personality is never meant to be a shy observer.

Perhaps she’s meant to be some sort of sassy heroine. She sometimes slap people or gets mad at them, but that’s not enough for a character. A character’s personality is established by multiple incidents that can be connected. More importantly, how the character reacts needs to be connected to the personality. Even if all your characters are cruel, they each need to do it in their own way (something Future Diary does well, for example). Clary just gets angry.

The other characters don’t have much going for them. The other female is supposed to be much prettier (although Clary gets the red head), there’s a gay dude who could have been interesting and the Nice Guy/Brooding Assole dualism. Is daddy issues a new thing in this type of fiction?

You know these characters are different because the characters themselves say it. Somehow, they see things that Clare didn’t write or left off. Everyone talks in the same way. Everyone makes the same sarcastic jokes. I know sarcasm seemed like the newest thing when you’re at your teens but isn’t it a little old? So the books are set at a time when sarcasm is still new. There’s no way everyone is witty.

Her world borrows every fantasy staple. She adds nothing we haven’t seen before and none of the staples she uses are interesting. Vampires still suck blood and have pale skin. Werewolves learn to control their shape-shifting, mostly because one of the good characters is a werewolf and that would be inconvenient. Warlocks are more interesting. They’re hedonistic party animals who dress like they’re in a rave. Here’s a way to modernize a fantasy staple. Too bad that the warlock only appears for one scene and his role is (like everyone else’s) to give us more exposition.

It always happens with such books. The side-characters end up being more interesting because they’re more conflicting. Even Alec, who gets little page-time is a more interesting idea. He’s a gay who’s into a straight dude. That’s a worthwhile situation to write about, but that would require focusing on psychology and character interaction. Such a story couldn’t rely on events just happening.

Using Biblical names and fantasy staples doesn’t make your fiction fantastical. The world here is so familiar, so ordinary and I’m not even well-versed in fantasy. I also watched High School DXD while reading this and the whole devils ‘n’ angels things kept getting mixed up. The difference between the two is that Clare has no purpose for what she does. DXD knows it’s just an overblown ecchi show.

We also get an evil character who wants to purify the world and kills what he considers bad. As Fallout 3 displayed, this idea is still worthwhile. It can be used to explore racism and bigotry by giving the bigot some reasonable basis for his beliefs. Clare had a potential here because the creatures the bad guy wants to kill are a bit in the morally grey area.

Instead of showing the issue from different perspectives, we just have the bad guy laugh maniacally and dream of strength. Then again, halfway through the book or so it’s revealed the series is named after a series of plot coupons.

Clare’s writing isn’t too dense, but it’s also not smooth enough. There are a lot of similes, many of which are pointless. Clare doesn’t overdo descriptions. She lingers on the odd details, the type that stick out to the eye. Her description of a party room is great, pointing out all the colors and odd shapes.

Her way of writing is devoid of personality. The smilies are random, exists mainly because Clare can’t think of describing something without a simile. At first, the huge variety of them is fun. After about fifty of them it gets tiring. It’s a sign Clare has no interesting way of looking at things or of writing about them.

The novel relies mainly on things happening. Werewolves arrive, parties are getting rocked, someone turns into a rat, swords clash and blood pours. This can be exciting even if your characters have no reason to exist but enact these events. Clare’s writing isn’t exciting. It doesn’t drag the scenes down but doesn’t add energy to them because she has no interesting phrases. The event themselves can’t stand on their own. It’s mostly blood pouring and swords clashing.

There’s some fun to be had in this novel, but I expected more. Even as just a Young Adult adventure about hot brooding guys, paranormal beings and saving the world this could’ve been more fun. Clare writes like she’s just trying to please herself. I hope she’s passionate about generic werewolves and passive heroines because it sucks to write about things that bore you. Still, if only a little passion leaked to the page it’d elevate the story. The only remarkable thing about this is the controversy surrounding it.

2 cities out of 5 bones

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Digimon Adventure: The Miyotismon Arc

This is the end of the line. If I didn’t have fond memories of Puppetmon as an interesting villain, I would have dropped the series halfway through this arc. Somehow, the creators learned nothing from Etemon’s story. It’s as if these last two episodes were accidentally good. There is barely any hint of that in this arc.

It doesn’t start so bad. Moving the story to the real world helps to remind that these are, first of all, ordinary kids. They had a full life outside of saving the Digi-World, and this could be used to generate some strong drama. You get some development for the kids’ families. Each one has a distinct family and the ‘missing parent’ cliche is avoided. There’s even a small arc that gives Izzy some heart.

There are never whole episodes of this, though. The dialogue is still stuck in exposition, telling us what already happened or who is who even though we know. None of the comments the characters make help us understand who they are. It’s all interchangeable. The occasional character moment doesn’t redeem this. It just emphasizes how much wasted potential there is here.

It does gain a little dramatic tension when they return to Earth, but by then it’s too late. The first half of that arc consists of dull villain of the week episode. Maybe they would have been bearable if the story wasn’t so episodic. It all builds up to a great battle with a big enemy, but why Miyotismon hides in the shadows so much?

He’s powerful. We know that because we’re being told so and DemiDevimon is afraid of him. His behavior is the complete opposite. He has none of the charisma of Etemon or the late Dark Masters. He’s a typical villain representing darkness, this time taking the form of a vampire. They couldn’t even make him seem dangerous, though.

He sends DemiDevimon to wreck havoc on the kids, but every time he fails he just threatens him. That’s it. For about 10 episodes, or even more. Miyotismon does nothing to make us fear him aside from look dangerous. It takes barely 10 minutes before the Dark Masters reveal themselves to be quite violent, but it’s not until the real world that Miyotismon does something.

It all ends with a big battle that’s as meaningless as this arc is long. Miyotismon is given a last minute ressurection, like Etemon. Only Etemon was fun, and him getting one lost shot kind of fit with his megalomaniac and out of touch personality. Miyotismon comes back in a pathetic attempt to make an epic fight. Big building and big monsters don’t increase the tension though. When they mean nothing, the meaninglessness is all the more apparent.

Maybe if they trimmed it a little, it would’ve been servicable. There’s a decent episode in a resturaunt that builds Matt’s and Joe’s character a little. Instead of connecting it to the larger story though, it ends with everyone being happy and liking each other.

These kids have spent 30 episodes in a strange world that’s pretty violent. They faced Digimon who are awful. If we can’t believe Devimon was that bad, we can at least believe Etemon was a menace. Yet, nothing changed. They still act as a single protagonist. Mimi is still the butt of the jokes. All that’s changed is that the villain is worse this time. At least Devimon converted Digimon by force. He was acting through other Digimon, but it was him. Miyotismon has a bunch of weak saps doing his work for him. How dangerous can he be?