Thursday, March 12, 2009

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

First published in 2007.

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder–much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.

Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-hour hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.

But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know . . . (book back blurb)

That and, uh, the bod on the cover didn’t hurt either.

Ok, first things first–the descriptions that wouldn’t die. By the end of the book I was so fed up with the similes of doom that I wanted to inflict bodily harm onto small woodland creatures. Thankfully for them it’s winter and they’re all hibernating. But seriously, reading this I couldn’t help but keep thinking of The Bookshelf Muse and their setting thesaurus they have with their mentions of similes and metaphors. You know, how they portray more powerful images when used sparingly. I guess Miss Clare missed that memo. Or is severely dyslexic. Seriously, this book is the epitome of what NOT to do with similes.

Here is an example for you all. Just let me say, I did not seek out the worst offending section of the book. I didn’t have to. It was just there and it summarizes so nicely what all 485 pages were like.

In the half-light of the big empty rooms they passed through on their way to the roof looked as deserted as stage sets, the white-draped furniture looming up out of the dimness like icebergs through fog.

When Jace opened the greenhouse door, the scent hit Clary, soft as the padded blow of a cat’s paw: the rich dark smell of earth and the stronger, soapy scent of night-blooming flowers–moonflowers, white angel’s trumpet, four-o’clocks–and some she didn’t recognize, like a plant bearing a star-shaped yellow blossom whose petals were medallioned with golden pollen. Through the glass walls of the enclosure she could see the lights of Manhattan burning like cold jewels.

That’s page 308, chapter 17, the very first two paragraphs. Aside from the fact that the first sentence is as clunky as fish filled platform shoes (har har), within those THREE sentences lie FIVE similes. This . . . is how the entire book read. Not like I had to wonder what took me so long to finish it. I just don’t understand why she couldn’t let the descriptions lie. Most of them were perfectly fine until a simile was tacked onto the end of it.

This one’s my favorite though. It actually elicited a physical and audible response out of me (namely eye-rolling and groaning, and at work)–

“Clarissa,” her father said, in a voice as oily as steel slicked with butter.

O_o Ok, see, the point with similes is, aside from using them sparingly, they should, usually, make sense. For the love of god someone please tell me how steel and butter go together? Am I the only one imagining a big pat of butter melting on a steel girder? Or some dude with a big ass sword trying to butter toast? Is this . . . necessary? Really? This is just the kicker. There are more. Many more. Not quite as good. But more.

Like a “voice like raw silk.” What does raw silk sound like?

Then there were the odd uses of other senses. Like an apple. Apparently it tasted green. Um, can someone please tell me what green tastes like? And just so you don’t think I’m taking it out of context, this is the sentence, and the one that preceded it–

She took a bite. The apple tasted green and cool.

The only green taste I know is the green death of NyQuil. Now I know it’s been quite a few years since I’ve had a fresh apple (allergies) but I highly doubt they taste like that. So, uh, green? Taste?

Another good use of one (that I didn’t mark so don’t have the exact quote) of the senses, smell, is having something smell like iron and melting snow. Iron, yes. I definitely get. Smelled that metallic smell many times. But melting snow? That’s a new one for me. And I live in Connecticut. In fact, I have melting snow just outside my door. No smell. Now on the flip side, you can smell snow coming. I don’t know if this is a strictly New England thing (as I’ve only heard New Englanders talk about this) but I don’t see how others in equally cold places wouldn’t now about this. Just before it snows and the skies are all cloudy, it smells like snow; a very crisp, almost comforting scent. That I know. This melting snow bit? Not a clue. I could step outside and suck right now and I still couldn’t tell you.

Does vertigo hit your stomach? Vertigo is a sight thing (people afraid of heights, for instance, I get it every time I look down from my office window on the 15th floor) and an inner ear thing (or middle ear thing), caused by an off-balanced equilibrium. All of which causes nausea. But vertigo doesn’t hit your stomach directly. Nausea is a by-product. Eh, call this a nit pick of a statement that caught my eye.

Along with nauseous horror. That was used a couple times on the same page. It’s kind of an odd feeling to begin with but to use it multiple times within a few paragraphs just becomes jarring.

And then there were the adverbs. Those -ly spawns of Hell. Don’t get me started on those.

But, aside from that, it really wasn’t bad. If I could give one piece of advice to the author, for the love of god take a hack saw to the similes and listen to your gut. Usually it’ll tell you to stop at a certain point in describing something. Anything beyond that is usually too much. Stop ignoring it. The book could have been half the length cutting out all those superfluous descriptions.

Despite that bog, there was near-constant action, suspense and a bit of a soap opera finish. Clary peeved me every once in a while. For a girl that really is sharp and smart, holy crap could she be dumb and oblivious. And I’m not talking about to the otherworldly stuff going on around her. Her situation with Simon comes to mind. But from beginning to end it’s action, action, action which is something that I love to see in a book but the descriptions really slowed it down.

I have this pull to want to read the next book in the series but I fear the similes too much. The thing is, had I read this maybe five years ago, I probably would have swallowed it whole and enjoyed it for what it was. Not that I can’t do that now but the more things I find wrong with a book, the more it pulls me out. At least my education is working and my indentured servitude to Sallie Mae isn’t in vain.

Really, I would recommend this book. There’s really nothing wrong with it plot-wise or character-wise, for the most part. I found myself uninterested at times but I really think that had a lot to do with the enormous amount of descriptions. They diluted everything. It should not have taken me this long to read this book. But there you go.

I also think another reason why it stayed with me despite the descriptions is that it’s a New York-based story. New York City’s my second home. I love it. I used to live there so I can feel, hear and taste everything the characters do when the city’s brought into the plot. I had no idea Renwick Ruin even existed on Rosie (Roosevelt Island) and I’ve been there quite a few times. And it’s not like the place is big. I must seek it out (really, you can walk end to end in five minutes) because I love derelict buildings. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention enough (or I was fooled my the glamor!). New York holds a place in my heart so this book gets points for that.

If you love action and fantasy and can overlook similes in nearly every sentence (and can bypass the "Luuuuuuuuuuke, I aammm your faaaaaatherrrrrrr" moments), then go out and buy this book and read it (or check it out of your local library). Really, you won’t be disappointed, probably because you will be lost in the story, and in a good way.


prophecygirl said...

OMG Donna, I just laughed my ass off reading this review!

Or some dude with a big ass sword trying to butter toast? <<< funniest thing I've read all week!

I love this series, and I must admit that I didn't really notice all the similes when I read it. Now that you've pointed it out, though, I see what you mean!

Marie said...

Your reviews are hilarious! Oh man, so happy I found your blog.

Anonymous said...

I gotta read this series! I don't know if I will feel the same, but I gotta try!

Donna (Bites) said...

LOL, Jenny! Glad I could make you laugh! Yeah, that's why authors need to think out their descriptions!

Thanks so much, Marie!

J.Kaye, it really is a fun read despite the similes that beg to be stabbed.

Sara said...

OMG all those similes must have been annoying as h***l! I've got confused just by reading your excerpts from the book! If I'll read this book, hopefully I'll be to engaged in the story to actually notice all similes ;) Hilarious review btw!

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