Long-time readers may remember that I first picked up Clockwork Angel, straight off the returns cart at work, because it looked like steampunk, having completely missed it in the list of bestselling children’s and YA fiction that I faithfully read in Publisher’s Weekly. Um. That might say a lot about my mental state the last few years. Anyway, it was only talking with one of the pages at the library who’s an enthusiastic Clare fan that got me to read Clare’s first book, set in 2007 and therefore decidedly not steampunk. It’s a fine time to start, though, as the movie is coming out in August.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. Read by Ari Graynor.
Clary Fray believes herself to be a mostly ordinary New York teen. Sure, her father died before she was born and her mother’s never dated again – but really. She loves drawing and manga and hanging out with her best friend Simon. And then her world starts cracking. She sees two boys and a girl – whom no one else can see – murdering another boy in a nightclub. Then her mother disappears, leaving a giant spider-like demon in the apartment looking for Clary. This draws her into the world of the Shadowhunters and their New York Institute. She learns that her mother had once been a Shadowhunter, and that for some reason, she was hunted by an evil rogue former Shadowhunter named Valentine (cue the Imperial March.) The Institute is populated by the teens she’d seen in the nightclub – darkly handsome Alec and Isabelle Lightwood, and blond Jace Wayland, as well as an older Shadowhunter who’s there as their tutor. All of the Shadowhunters are arrogant, but Clary finds herself attracted to Jace in spite of this. Meanwhile, there’s lots of demon-hunting, intrigue, a quest, adults not believing teen telling them what’s going on, as well as exploring the invisible world of vampires, werewolves, and faeries. It’s all written in purple prose that nevertheless moves the plot along at breathtaking, can’t put it down pace.
The funny thing about reading a first book in a series so late is that it made it really obvious how much Clare refined her world in the intervening books. I especially noticed the development of the parabatai or blood brother relationship. In this book, two sets of major characters say that they are parabatai, but there’s never a hint that this is any more than kids nicking their fingers and holding the cuts together, as any mundy might do. In the later-but-set-earlier series, this relationship involves rituals, runic tattoos, and a serious, life-altering commitment to the partner. City of Bones, too, seems more of a fan’s mash-up of several different worlds – I noticed Buffy and Star Wars themes right away, and Wikipedia also cites some Phillip Reeve books that I haven’t read. There are worse places to draw inspiration from, to be sure, and enough sources to make this different – but the themes really showed. The other series (and probably later books in this series) are set much more solidly in their own world.
I listed to this on audio, partly because I was in need of an audio book and partly because the print books were all checked out of the library due to the upcoming movie release. (I wish I could find the cover picture from this version to show you, which featured a scared-looking, dark-haired girl of about 12, who bore no resemblance to any character in the book.) Unfortunately, I didn’t find it a great audiobook adaptation. Ari Graynor sounds fine and convincing reading Clary, but she didn’t differentiate consistently between characters of different genders or ages. It got really confusing listening to a 400-year-old (or so) warlock talking with the voice of a teenage girl. Also, I found her accent especially strongly American, even when reading bits in other languages, and it was just a little grating. I kept going all the way through because the plot was compelling enough that I couldn’t stop, especially knowing that it would take months to get my hands on a print copy. I tried City of Ash, the next book, on audio as well and found that it had the same problem, even with a different narrator. Maybe it would be a good candidate for a full cast narration someday, or a reader really talented at doing unique voices for each character. It’s also fast-pasted enough that I can finish that fat books in a couple of days, but listening to a 17-CD book just takes ages. So for now, I’m reading the series in print. But I am still reading it (or at least, I will be when I’m done waiting for the third book to be returned.)