City of Bones

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Cassandra Clare’s novel, City of Bones follows a girl named Clary Fray as she discovers the supernatural world of “Shadowhunters.” They are a group of individuals blessed with Angel blood who destroy demons, and try to keep peace with various other mythical races (fairies, werewolves, warlocks…etc). Clary has grown up mortal, but is gifted with the “Sight,” a talent that allows her to see the Shadowhunters (who are normally invisible to ‘mundanes’) and to interpret their healing runes. (Intricate tattoos they give themselves in order to heal or defend).

I will begin by saying that it’s taken me months to gather my thoughts on this book. I’ve begun this review several times and scrapped it because I couldn’t articulate myself in the way I wanted. I actually debated whether or not to write this review, but I found out that some of my middle and younger high school girls read this series, and I decided I needed to share my views on the novel.

I began the book with high hopes. It came recommended to me by some friends who I trust when it comes to literature. I trust their judgment, but City of Bones was not what I’d hoped it to be. The story was highly entertaining, but I felt myself bored with many of the main characters, and felt the dynamics between Clary and her two love interests (Jace the mysterious Shadowhunter, and Simon, the sweet and quirky best friend) overdone and far too dramatic.

The premise of the story was fascinating to me, and I did enjoy the plot. I was saddened by the author’s portrayal of the main character. Clary had all the potential to be a unique and fascinating heroine, but she reacted to situations in juvenile, predictable ways: stomping her foot, rolling her eyes, or storming out of a room when she did not like what was going on around her. Yes, the author is writing a YA novel, but these actions made Clary seem younger than the author intended. Maybe this changes as she grows as a character during the rest of the series, but in the first book, these actions took me out of the story.

The style of the book, to me, left something to be desired. Sentences like “a small flower of apprehension began to open inside her chest,” and similes such as “the moon hung like a locket in the sky” felt as if the author were trying a bit too hard to find her voice. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were beautifully constructed sections of this story, but the overly decorated language distracted me, rather than adding depth to the story. I’d be interested to see how this progresses in the other novels. Cassandra Clare definitely has a knack for story, and I’d be curious to see how the writing style matures as the series progresses.

One aspect of the novel that did not sit well with me as I thought of my younger students reading it was the way in which most of the characters are so focused on whether or not they have a significant other. Many of the emotions in the novel were authentic, but there was one point when Clary’s crush Jace thought that Clary was cheating on him with Simon(which she was not), and instead of letting her explain the situation, he slinked off like a wounded animal. There is not much honest communication in the story. Maybe that comes later in the series as the characters develop…but it was severely lacking in the first installment.

Also, parents of teens might shy away from the moral ambiguity that many of the characters possess, plus the flippancy with which modesty is treated in the story. Clary, encouraged to bloom out of her ‘mundane’ self, gets a makeover and ends up in a short, tight dress that truly impresses her crush.

Overall, the story had potential but I felt that it stayed ‘safe’ in choosing to rely on surface level dialogue and character stereotypes instead of digging into the meat of the story and developing rounded characters. I do not like to write off an entire series by only reading one book, so I will read the rest.

Things to be aware of before reading:

There are many references to angels and demons, but instead of a Biblical account, the theology of the story is more of a “universal” church which involves many truths that come together to create ‘good.’ There was not much discussion of this, but the moral ambiguity has the potential to become spiritually threatening to younger readers who aren’t as grounded or familiar with different worldviews.

Also, the book does show open flirtation between two male characters. Again, as I said in another review, it is not just the fact that the author choose to include this, but what she did with the characters that I found inappropriate. The character in question was angry because the one he loved did not return those feelings. He only became less antagonistic when his feelings drifted to someone else. The message that our feelings dictate our actions is one that I did not appreciate. Yes, unrequited love is unbearably painful, but romantic love should not be the guiding factor in finding happiness or joy in life.

That wraps things up for now. The second book in the series will not be my next post but if you’re curious about the series, stay tuned and I will review it in the coming months.

I also take requests if there is a book you’d like reviewed, let me know in the comments section.

Thanks for reading,

A.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

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“When a great white bear promises untold riches to her family, the Lass agrees to go away with him. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle. To unravel the mystery, the Lass sets out on a windswept journey beyond the edge of the world. Based on the Nordic legend East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with romantic echoes of Beauty and the Beast, this re-imagined story will leave fans of fantasy and fairy tale enchanted by Jessica Day George.”

–Amazon

I’ve had this book on my ‘to read list’ for over two years, and was thrilled when I received it as a Christmas gift this year. I had no idea what to expect, but the premise looked entertaining, and I already owned another book by the same author that I quite enjoyed, so I decided to take some time the day after Christmas and read a chapter or two.

By the second page, I was hooked, and knew I’d be reading much further than anticipated. Several hours (and too many Christmas snacks) later, I finished reading the book. I don’t normally have time to ingest a book in one sitting, and I don’t usually sit still long enough to do so, but I was utterly captivated by Jessica Day George’s story of a girl with no name and the adventure she embarks upon in this novel.

The story is a re-telling of a Nordic legend entitled East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but also has elements from several other tales including: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen, the story of Cupid and Psyche from Greek Mythology, and Beauty and the Beast. In some cases, the blending of an original idea plus so many stories would be tedious, and seem contrived, but in this scenario, it was the opposite. The story was fresh, and although it held allusions to other tales, it was authentic in its own right, and extremely creative. It was clear the author did her research (there’s even a select biography in the back of the book), but the research only added texture to the story.

George spun her tale with apparent ease. The plot moved forward at a pace that was engaging, the prose was clean and crisp, and the characters developed as the story progressed. I will say that the style of the book is very ‘simple,’ in the way a fairy tale is ‘simple’ at first, but George manages to hide subtlety within the pages of this re-told fairy tale.

As in the tradition of fairy tales, some of the characters remain static (unchanging), and some felt a bit underdeveloped at times, but that is the way that traditional fairy tales go. The focus was on the heroine, and in this case, it worked for me. Our unnamed girl goes through a journey that forces her to grow up and look at how her decisions affect not only herself, but those around her in a wider circle. She learns the importance of honesty, humility, and of putting others before herself. George’s focused attentions on her main character were well spent. I went from liking the protagonist, to not liking her, to respecting her in the end.

Before I write any more on the subject, I need to submit my one and only hesitation about the story. This will include SPOILERS.

*** BEGIN SPOILER ZONE ***

The lass’s world is under a reign of terror from the Troll Queen and her daughter. The Troll Princess brings havoc on the lives of men. Every century or so, she decides to find a new husband, but no man would want to marry a troll, so she forces them. Her first husband struck a deal with her that once a husband is chosen, he may live away from the Princess for a year in a castle of ice. The only catch: the man is transformed into a polar bear by day, then back to a man each night (think Swan Princess). If, while in bear form, he can find a maiden to live in the castle as a ‘bride’ for one year, without looking at his face during the night, the spell will be broken.

When the heroine of our story goes to live at the palace, she is alarmed because each night, a stranger climbs into bed with her and sleeps there. There is no sexual promiscuity, they do not even kiss, or touch. He just sleeps in the same bed with her because the rule states that she has to be a ‘bride.’ It is very chaste.

There is also a scene near the end of the novel where the Lass rescues the Prince, but is locked in a room with him for a whole night without enchanted sleep. George has them talk, kiss once, and the Prince kisses her hands…there is no other explanation of the events of the evening.

***END SPOILER ZONE***

Would I recommend the book? Yes, I would, with one hesitation that I raised above. The book, as a whole, inspired me as a writer in the best way possible.

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.

A.