City of Bones: Ch 1
Alright, it looks like City of Bones won by a landslide. (Well, City of Ashes did, but I figure no one will cry if I go for the first in the series instead of the second. That was my mistake in the listing.)
Now, I know a little about the history of this book and author. I know she was in the Harry Potter fandom, I know she wrote fanfiction about Draco Malfoy and that she was wildly popular. I know there was some hoopla about several things she did, including a claim of plagiarism. But that’s it. Frankly, I don’t want to know more. I don’t want to read her fics or know the details of her drama, because all I’m interested in is the terrible books she’s charging people money for. And if this first chapter is anything to go by, they are terrible books.
The book opens with not one, but two quotes from people who are better writers. It’s pretentious enough to have one, but two? What is the narrative point of opening your book with a quote? There is none. The plot and characters don’t care about that quote or know you put it in there. So the only point is to say “Hey, look, me and this other super-famous guy have something in common! We wrote about vaguely the same thing!” And when you’re an awful writer, the last thing you want to do is remind people of the better shit they could be reading. (Even if you’re a good writer, at best you’re just distracting people from your own story.)
On to the actual first chapter, which opens up with possibly the dumbest visual I’ve ever seen. A bunch of teenagers are trying to get into an all-ages club, and the one at the front of the line is being stopped because his ‘costume piece’ looks like a weapon.
Alright, it doesn’t sound so bad in summary. I’ve never been to an all-ages club, but from the descriptions, it sounds like the goers are pretty much anime convention people (they’re in costume, for fuck’s sake) and I’m familiar with those at least.
But let’s break it down. First of all, this entire first scene is taken up with a description of the boy. Our main character, Clary, is standing in line watching him, but all we get of her is her name. If the text didn’t go out of the way to mention she’s standing there, she’d be invisible. And she’s the main fucking character.
Second. There’s fifty teenagers standing in line on a Sunday night. Where is this mythical land where 50 teens (and that doesn’t even include the ones inside) go to a club on a Sunday night? Even 21 and up clubs don’t have that kind of attendance. And this isn’t something special. The text tells us that Sunday is actually the busiest night of the week, and is regularly the busiest night of the week. What?
Third, the kid gets into the club after proving that his giant quasi-weapon (which is only described as being a ‘pointy wooden beam’) is made of rubber. If fake weapons are a staple at this club, there should be a standard for what’s allowed in and what’s not. Again, go back to anime conventions. There’s fake weapons all over those, but each convention has a standard of what’s ‘safe’ or not. Most places make you get your costume pieces checked out and then peace-bonded — the security workers will put a sticker or cable tie on it to show it’s been given the OK. So if the bouncer expected to see this ‘wooden beam’ or something like it, he should just be checking it out like normal. Instead he’s surprised to see it. So these things are not normally allowed.
Now, a ‘beam’ sounds pretty fucking huge, even though a good description of the size isn’t given to us. If it’s a giant beam made of rubber, then it’s still a weapon. You can’t stab people with it, but you can swing it around and hit people in the head with it. It’s dangerous. It shouldn’t be allowed into the club.
Fourth, we get our first simile in this section, and it’s a doozy.
The boy’s wide eyes were way too bright a green, Clary noticed: the color of antifreeze,
Alright, I’m a big fan if similes, but they are very tricky. You have to really consider everything about the object you’re using for a comparison. It’s even harder if you’re using two things in the same simile. Antifreeze and spring grass are not only two vastly different shades of green, but they bring to mind two very different images when used to describe eyes. Antifreeze is harsh and unnatural. If I saw someone with antifreeze eyes, I’d imagine someone with a wildly creepy color, maybe even a little see-through (since antifreeze is a liquid), and I’d think they were alien. Spring grass, on the other hand, is a soft image, and very natural. I’d think nature spirit over acid alien.
Put both of them together, though? I have no fucking clue what to imagine as his eyes. Maybe spring grass that’s been burned by antifreeze?
And all of that is just from the first half a page. Oh, we’re going to have fun with this book, aren’t we?
There’s a scene break, and we shift to the boy’s POV. The lack of research continues, though, because the text claims that the club is “full of dry-ice smoke.” Fog machines are filled with glycol-based or glycerine-based fluids or mineral oil. That’s why, when you stand in the smoke, it smells sweet and chemical-y. The amount of dry ice needed for a club full of fog would be staggering, prohibitively expense, dangerous (that shit burns if you touch it accidently), and wouldn’t last very long.
The boy calls all the humans in the club ‘mundies’ and thinks about how they’re so full of nummy, nummy energy. The ‘beam’ that he claimed was fake is actually a real blade, and he put a glamour in it to get it in. Apparently he likes fucking over ‘mundies’ in the most obvious way possible. All he did was change the look of it, though, so all the stuff I said before still stands.
He sees a pretty girl in a long white dress make eye contact with him. Not that we know what the dress looks like, besides the color, because he describes it as “the kind women used to wear when this world was younger.” Yes…and? How much younger is ‘younger?’ There have been thousands of fashion fads in the history of the human race, so just saying it’s an ‘old-timey’ dress doesn’t tell us jack shit.
The girl in the white dress lures the boy to a private room with the promise of sex. No, really. She catches his eye, saunters over to a ‘NO ADMITANCE’ door, then hikes up her skirt and shows off her thigh-high boots. The boy thinks about how awesome it is that he’s going to kill her and eat her (well, I think he’s going to eat her. Or her energy. Or something.) so we get a nice little subtext here of “the slutty girl always dies first.” I’m not sure if this girl is so over-the-top because the author wants to hammer in that ‘slut=bad’ thing, or if it’s because she’s just tricking him. Both are signs of bad writing, because nothing should ever be that obvious.
Sudden POV shift, and we’re back with Clary again. She and her friend Simon are dancing, but she’s watching the demon boy.
There was something about the way he moved that reminded her of something…
For the record, I fucking hate the word ‘something’ in writing. There are times when it’s necessary, but it should be a last resort. It’s lazy writing, a cop out. Most of the time, authors use it when they want to point out the obvious, but they don’t want to come up with a clever way to do it. Clary could identify a specific trait of his that bothers her, or she could say that he looked familiar, or she could say that he was acting suspiciously, and that piqued her interest. Instead, all we get is the vaguest, blandest way to say “This is important, but I don’t want to tell you why yet.”
It also takes the power away from the main character. She’s not using her wits or her memory or her powers of observation to notice this important part of the plot. Instead, this important detail just falls out of the authorial ether and lands in her lap. Because heaven forbid the main fucking character have to actually figure anything out. Everyone knows smart girls aren’t sexy.
She sees the meeting between the demon (still called a ‘boy’) and the girl in white, then she sees ‘two dark shapes’ following him. The very next line clarifies that they are two people, humans, and she can even see what clothes they are wearing. There’s no good excuse given for why they were ‘shapes’ at first, even though there’s no reason for them to be something other than people. She’s in a club. She should assume that human-shaped things are humans. The only reason she’d call them ‘shapes’ at first is if they were not-human-shaped shapes.
Now, if they were oddly shaped at first, that would be fine. But there’s no indication of that. There’s just one really out of place line.
Have I mentioned yet how much I hate the writing in this? Fifty Shades was awful, but in a really basic way. This is the kind of bad that has cleaned up most of the grammar and gets into Level Two Screwups.
She couldn’t have said how she knew that they were following the other boy, but she did. She could see it in the way they paced him, their careful watchfulness, the slinking grace of their movements.
Like this right here. What is this? She ‘can’t say’ why, but then in the very next sentence, she says exactly why she thinks they were following him.
Simon tries to get Clary’s attention, but she isn’t paying any attention to him. Then she sees one of the ‘black shape’ boys draw a knife and she tells Simon. Oh, she takes her time about telling him, though. She yells “Simon!” and then waits for him to give a multi-sentence reply before saying ‘look over there.’ Then she waits another few paragraphs before saying ‘oh shit, it’s a knife!’ It’s a fucking knife. That’s important information. Spit it out.
Simon goes to get a bouncer, but Clary decides that’s going to take too long, so she goes after Knife Boy all on her own. Yeah, because that’s a much better option. Look, I don’t care how loud a club is, if you start yelling “Look over there; he’s got a knife!” you’ll get a reaction. And you’ll get at least a bit of backup to go after the guy with.
Another scene shift, and we’re with the boy and the girl in white. We’re back in the boy-demon’s POV again. Suddenly, the girl pulls out a really thin whip and starts kicking ass and taking names. So, she was really bad foreshadowing. Although still pretty cliché. Instead of the ‘sluts die first’ cliché, we get the ‘all powerful girls are sexy, and derive power from their sexiness.’ Um…yeah, fuck that.
The other two boys show up, and they tie the demon to a pillar. (Why are there pillars in a storage room? How big is this place?) The demon calls them all Shadowhunters.
Scene change back to Clary. Why is our POV being yanked all over the place? It’s fucking annoying. Clary goes into the storage room, doesn’t see anyone, then trips over a cord and suddenly sees the whole group because they popped into visibility. Somehow. She could see them just fine in the club, so why the in-and-out trick here? What changed?
One of the boys (the blond one) asks the demon if there’s more of his kind. The demon says he doesn’t know what they’re talking about, so the blond goes off on a tirade.
“Demons,” drawled the blond boy, tracing the word on the air with his finger. “Religiously defined as hell’s denizens, the servants of Satan, but understood here, for the purposes of the Clave, to be any malevolent spirit whose origin is outside our own home dimension—”
“That’s enough, Jace,” said the girl.
“Isabelle’s right,” agreed the taller boy. “Nobody here needs a lesson in semantics—or demonology.”
He’s right. No one here needs a lesson. So why is Jace giving it? I’ll tell you why — because the author was fucking lazy. She knew that this information needed to be given at some point, and she decided to shove it in rather than find a logical place. There’s no need for it here. We know the boy-demon is a demon, because we were in his head. At this point in the story ‘boy is demon’ is all we need in order to follow things. Obviously Clary is going to fall in with these guys, so why can’t they explain it later when she inevitably asks questions?
The other two are named Isabelle and Alec. All four of the argue for a while, and the demon claims to know where someone named Valentine is. The hunters say that Valentine is dead and all the demons try to use the ‘he’s back’ rumor to try and worm their way out of being stabbed. They don’t believe him, but that just makes it all the more obvious that this Valentine guy will be the Big Bad of the series. (Really, guys. If everyone is making this claim, it might be worth looking into.)
Jace raised his head and smiled. There was something fierce about the gesture, something that reminded Clary of documentaries she’d watched about lions on the Discovery Channel, the way the big cats would raise their heads and sniff the air for prey.
Jace doesn’t remind Clary of lions. He reminders her of documentaries. This is what happens when authors are lazy and don’t pay attention to the words that they write. They end up staying stupid shit.
Jace is about to stab the demon, and Clary picks that point to pop out of the shadows and yell stop. How convenient. She waited until we got every last drop of exposition out of things, then stepped in, rather than trying to stop the ‘crazy’ people from quite literally torturing and terrorizing some innocent young man. (Well, she still thinks he’s an innocent human, at least.) Clear signs of authorial puppet strings there. The end result is that Clary looks like a shithead, because she didn’t care about someone being tied down and threatened.
They hunters are shocked and distracted enough for the demon to have a chance to get free. The demon jumps at Jace, and the two struggle for a bit until Jace stabs in him the chest. After getting stabbed, the demon spurts black blood all over, throws out a few ominous last words, and then shrinks into nothingness after he dies.
For being an action scene, the writing was very stark and soulless. “He did that” and “She did this” and pretty much nothing else. Very dull. Also, the author likes to repeat the same sentence structure several sentences in a row. She’ll switch it up to a new structure right after…and then use that one several times in a row. It’s really awkward to read.
But on to more meta things. The demon boy is dead, yet he was the first character we were introduced to. He got a full description, and even a double-simile to describe his eyes. We got to spend time in his head, and we heard his thoughts and got a vivid (if narrow) image of his personality. He was gleeful about eating those humans, and very bitter toward them. We got a hint of his home ‘dimension.’ The sun there is dying. All of this went into a character that lived for less than a single chapter.
Now let’s look at our main character. Her name is Clary, she’s 15, she maybe likes to draw, and she likes to come to the club because it’s more exciting than the rest of her life. (Well, that’s pretty normal; if your life was club-esque 24/7, you’d have a heart-attack and die before reaching 17.) We have no idea what she looks like.
Does this seem grossly unequal to anyone else? Why the flying fuck do we get so much about a random demon, and next to nothing about our main fucking character?
Well, now that our most-fully-developed character is dead, the three cardboard-cutouts we have left try and decide what to do with Clary. Isabelle wants to take her to ‘the Institute,’ but Jace says to let her go, because there’s nothing she can do to them anyway. About then, Simon and the bouncer show up, and it’s clear that they can see Clary but not the other three. She looks like she’s totally alone. Also, apparently she looks totally normal, and not as if she hasn’t just seen a boy-demon get murdered and three crazy people talk about her like she’s not there. So…does Clary taking seeing those things in exceptionally good stride, or does she walk around looking perpetually surprised?
Clary says it was a mistake, that she just thought she saw someone come unto the closet there. The bouncer gets annoyed and leaves, despite the fact that Clary is still in the employees-only section. He should not be wandering off and leaving her there; he should be telling her to get out, and then he should be escorting her out of the club for breaking rules.
Cut to Simon and Clary outside hailing a cab. Simon says he doesn’t believe that she was alone in that closet.
Wait a minute. How long between those two scenes? Why did Simon wait until they got all the way outside (and stood around trying to flag taxis for a while) before commenting on what had just happened? Why didn’t he say it at the time? When you use a scene cut, that means that time has passed and you need to respect that fact. You can’t just continue the narrative as if it’s all one scene, but the characters got magically zapped to a new location.
“You’d think there’d be some cabs. Where is everyone going at midnight on a Sunday?”
They’re at home. Because it’s midnight on a Sunday. What club would let in fifteen-year-olds at midnight on a Sunday? What planet does this author live on?
Speaking of planets, we finally get a location: New York City.
Back to Simon, who says she looked ‘freaked out’ when they found her in the closet. So why didn’t they react at that point? Why did the bouncer look at a ‘freaked out’ 15 year old girl, a girl who had just claimed to see a guy with a knife, a girl was standing in a very shadow-y, large supply room which could easily hide men with knives, and then just shrug and walk away? If nothing else, he should have assumed that something was in that closet with her, probably threatening her to ‘make the security guy go away.’
Bouncers are not just set pieces. They are there to perform a job. Most of them are pretty smart, at least when it comes to identifying threats and doing something about them. They don’t just stand there and then let kids with weapons into clubs, or scared girls hide in closets. They are not pawns for you to use to excuse exposition.
This extends to all bit characters. They should act like real people, not like props. When your world is populated by puppets, the world feels fake, and then your story feels fake. It’s lazy, hack writing.
Okay, back to the scene. Again. If this book would stop sucking so much, I could stay focused better.
Clary tells Simon to just forget about it, that she was mistaken, and then muses about how Jace had lion-eyes and thought she was special because she could see them. Nothing comes of that line of thought, though, as a cab comes and mercifully carries the characters out of the chapter.
Wow. If every chapter is as poorly constructed as this one, I’m going to have a lot of fun picking apart bad storytelling and back line-editing.
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