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. Then the body disappears into thin air.So, turns out City of Bones is AU Harry Potter fanfic starring the children of the Death Eaters.
It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing – not even a smear of blood – to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?
This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk.
Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a 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…
I was kind of not expecting this? I mean, I knew Clare wrote HP fanfic and I’d read rundowns of all the plagiarism wank and I’d heard that Bones had been influenced by her Draco fic, but whatever, I’ve read books before that were probably adapted from fanfic, right? I mean, who hasn’t ripped of Buffy at this point? I’ve seen plenty of books take familiar characters and tropes and archetypes and play with them, with varying degrees of success, so even though I’d heard, I wasn’t expecting the level of wholesale ganking that I found in City of Bones.
Cuz that’s the thing about City of Bones, it’s not just like an archetype or two that’s been lifted and adapted – Clare has straight up filed the serial numbers off this shit. This is Harry Potter world with a new urban fantasy paint, this is a Marvel What-If? experiment, this is Draco Goes to the Big City…although to be fair, this is Draco in Leather Pants, and that, by far, is the most original thing about it.
So the wizards are now nephilim, and the twist is that they Don’t Do Magic, dammit, which they will tell you up one side and down the other. Instead, they use steles to trace magic runes (on themselves and other objects) to do things like unlock doors, and shoot people across the room, and allow them to get around without being noticed, and create one-way mirrors for eavesdropping, and create magic pictures, and heal people, and generally ass-pull themselves out of any situation that requires a miracle solution, and GOD FORBID YOU CONFUSE THAT FOR MAGIC CAST FROM WANDS, because Shadowhunters don’t fucking do magic, what the fuck do you think this is?
A stele. Did I mention they can also be activated by pointing them at things and shouting keywords? BUT IT’S NOT A WAND OKAY? GOD!
The Big Bad is the MOST militant of the militant wizards, Volde – I MEAN VALENTINE, a charismatic Shadowhunter obsessed with ridding the world of filthy half-breed downworlders, because master races are where it’s fucking at, man. He spent his years at Shadowhunter school amassing a cult of devoted followers with names like Pangborn and Lightwood who spend a lot of time wearing robes and plotting to overthrow the Shadowhunter council because they aren’t militant enough.
Luckily just before the heroine was born there was a violent uprising in which Voldentine and most of his Death Circle were killed or reformed, so now everything is lah-dee-dah again, except it’s not, because Voldentine’s back and he’s looking to stir up some shit with a magical MacGuffin, which is where our story begins.
So I mean let’s be real here: this is a Harry Potter fanfic. This is a Harry Potter fanfic with very little modification, and whole chunks of world mythology and backstory left intact. And personally I find this kind of fascinating. I mean, it really raises huge questions, doesn’t it? About intellectual property and inspiration, and where the line between “influenced/inspired by” and “ripped off” is drawn. I think Clare perfectly straddles that line, I mean obviously City of Bones was Legally Distinct enough to be published, but the veneer of originality is thin. Here, here, let me give you an example!
Let’s talk about the Silent Brothers, or the Legally Distinct Dementors. So, I took the liberty of looking up the introduction to the dementors that we get in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and comparing it to the information that we get about the Silent Brothers in City of Bones.
Prisoner of Azkaban:
Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood. Harry’s eyes darted downward, and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water…City of Bones:
An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart…
Then she saw a figure move out of the dimness, and she realized that what she had thought was a patch of darker shadow was a man. A tall man in a heavy robe that fell from neck to foot, covering him completely. The hood of the robe was raised, hiding his face. The robe itself was the color of parchment, and the intricate runic designs along the hem and sleeves looked as if they had been inked there in drying blood. The hair rose along Clary’s arms and on the back of her neck, prickling almost painfully.Is it exactly the same? Well, no. The Silent Brothers are brown, you see, and they also talk (telepathically), were once Shadowhunters themselves, and play a completely different role in the story. But still, underneath the layers of brown parchment paint and runes, you can see the links back to the Harry Potter universe. And that’s the crux of it!
They are different, they are used differently, but you can tell that they were dementors, once, just like you can see that steles were once wands, and Valentine was once Voldemort. But is it plagiarism? Is it thieving? How many changes have to be made before it qualifies?
Personally, I’m kind of amused and morbidly fascinated by the whole thing. I feel like the relationship between City of Bones and Harry Potter is not dissimilar from the one between, say, Cinder and Cinderella, right, except that Cinder and others like it specifically acknowledge that they are adaptations and retellings, and they are adaptations and retellings of things that have fallen into public domain. On the whole, Clare probably should have put more effort into blending her ingredients into this new cuisine, but it still might have been able to work for me, if, well, everything else hadn’t been so awful.
So it’s probably even older news by now that Clary and Jace are relatively unlikable leads. Jace is insufferable to “listen” to, a snarky comeback for every inquiry or comment sent his way, almost always at least 75% less clever or amusing than he and Clare think it is. Except, of course, for the occasions on which Jace is required by the plot to be SRS FACE so that you can see the tortured bad boy that lies beneath, poor wittle woobie.
Clary is…god, Clary. She’s an asshole. I’m sorry, I usually like characters who have mouths on them and stand up for themselves, but Clary takes it to a whole other level. She doesn’t seem to understand boundaries, and she constantly, violently overreacts – she’s basically a literary tsundere (emphasis on the tsun-tsun), in a world where people do not act like tsunderes that without serious social repercussions. And lest we forget, she is the embodiment of spunky agency.
The major problem I ran in to with City of Bones, though – er, origins aside – was that it was so poorly written. I mean, the horror of Cassandra Clare’s awkward similes aren’t exactly a secret at this point, but beyond that, the book’s structure was just awful. The first fifty pages or so are relatively action-packed – they introduce the world and characters and establish what the overall conflict will be. But right around the time we meet the
There are a good hundred pages, maybe more in the physical book, spent establishing things that a) both we AND Clary have or SHOULD have figured out chapters ago, or b) doesn’t matter one goddamn lick. The ENTIRE side quest to free Simon from the vampires has no relevance to this story AT ALL. The trip to the Silent Brothers accomplishes nothing except sending Clary on to Magnus, and could have been entirely passed over. Magnus’s party accomplishes nothing, and there was no reason that that dance-dance padding couldn’t have been eschewed in favor of a quicker and more to-the-point private meeting. Hell, even Alec and Isabella are completely inconsequential to the plot, and disappear for the whole climax.
Sidebar: you know who was actually relevant to the climax but has like zero screen time and has to make up for his absence by commandeering an entire chapter for info dumpage? Luke! Maybe we should have gotten a little more him and a little less irrelevant stops at downworlder eateries that accomplish nothing.
I don’t want to say that this book is written like fanfic, because I don’t have enough experience with fanfic to say really how fanfics are written structurally, but what I can say is that it’s written like something I would have written at fifteen. Back then, things happened not because the plot really required them, but because I thought they sounded cool. Like:
“Hey you know what would be fun? IF CLARY GOT ALL DRESSED UP IN A PRETTY OUTFIT AND HAD A MAKEOVER SCENE WITH LOTS OF DETAIL ABOUT THE CLOTHING AND HAIRSTYLE AND MAKEUP AND THEN SUDDENLY SHE’S PRETTY EVEN THOUGH SHE’S BEEN PRETTY THIS WHOLE TIME, BUT NOW LIKE SHE REALIZES SHE’S PRETTY, AND JACE SEES HER COME DOWN THE STAIRS AND HE’S ALL “DAAAAAAAAMN GIRL”, THAT WOULD BE SO COOL.”
“BUT WHAT WOULD SHE BE GETTING DRESSED UP FOR?”
“A PARTY DUH. OMG THERE COULD BE A MAGIC PARTY WITH NEON-COLORED DRINKS AND GLITTER AND IDK WHILE SHE’S THERE SHE COULD TALK TO MAGNUS OR SOMETHING, BUT MOSTLY PARTY! GRUNGY DECORATIONS AND BRIGHT COLORS, YEAH!”
“BUT WHY IS MAGNUS EVEN HAVING A PARTY?”
“OH. MY. GOD.
So, why are the Silent Brothers there? Because they’re cool! Why is there a side quest to save Simon? WHO CARES, check out the vampires! Why do we keep shoehorning in pointless nerdy references? BECAUSE THAT STUFF IS COOL! Why do the Shadowhunters use whips and sharp Frisbees and dumbass archaic weapons instead of more practical guns? BECAUSE IT’S COOL!
It’s just, man, you can have *cool* scenes, just give them more influence on the plot, please, godddddd.
It’s not just the sequencing of events, either – you can see the author’s hand in the characters and their “development” as well. You can see it in Clary’s plot-induced stupid decisions, you can see it in the way she demands and then forbids the sharing of information and exposition, telling us what we need to know to suit the story at the moment without any regard for the way it makes the characters act and relate to one another.
There’s a really obvious point not far in where Jace just randomly shares a sob story from his childhood with Clary, not because they’re at that point in their relationship, but because the established timeline for this trope says that it’s time to reveal the woobie side of Jace. So Clary and Jace are alone, Clary mentions a bedtime story, and Jace just up and volunteers this horrible tale of “a Shadowhunter boy” whose father kills his favorite pet. And then, when Clary replies that this was abusive and cruel (naturally not making the connection that Shadowhunter boy = Jace, augh), Jace casually shrugs it off, because really the father was teaching him an Important Lesson about being an aloof untouchable badass, because the ladies love that.
You’re welcome, son. Now all the ladies will love you.
It’s shamelessly manipulative – and I haven’t even mentioned the completely non sequitur two pages we spend inside Jace’s head so that we can admire Clary and discover just how enchanting Jace finds her lack of self-confidence.
Isabelle used her beauty like she used her whip, but Clary didn’t know she was beautiful at all. Maybe that was why.But without this warp into Jace’s head, you see, we’d have no goddamn idea what he sees in Clary, because their relationship hasn’t developed, it’s been rolling at the same fuckin’ speed since they met.
It’s all just so transparent, so unnatural, and so typical in these tropes, that combined with the many, many other issues, it brought City of Bones to the point where it ceased to even be a story to me. Too much of the machinery underneath was exposed, and all I could see were the components: the characters as puppets, spouting off snarky back-and-forth all coming from the same mouth, doing squeeish things to make the readers squee; the big-budget special effects scenes with no bearing on the plot; the affected British lingo, JK Rowling’s voice and style being parroted in a lifted world for a dumber story with shallower characters.
I can’t say it does a whole lot for me.
Gotta give it up for the incest though, it may be creepy as fuck but as obstacles to keep from resolving the love triangle go, it’s definitely a new one.
Insufferable Jace dialogue:
This kid is supposed to be like seventeen
“Or is she?” said Jace softly. His quiet tone was worse than Isabell’s snapping or Alec’s anger. “Have you had dealings with demons, little girl? Walked with warlocks, talked with the Night Children?”
“I was laughing at you because declarations of love amuse me, especially when unrequited,” he said.
“No, you don’t, you just think you do. Magic is a dark and elemental force, not just a lot of sparkly wands and crystal balls and talking goldfish.”
“I never said it was a lot of talking goldfish, you—”
Jace waved a hand, cutting her off. “Just because you call an electric eel a rubber duck doesn’t make it a rubber duck, does it? And God help the poor bastard who decides they want to take a bath with the duckie.”
“No wonder he brought us here,” said Jace disgustedly. “I can’t believe you’ve been stuffing him with fish again. He’s looking distinctly podgy.”After a while I just stopped keeping track, tbh.
“No,” Jace said crossly. “The Marks are only part of it. There are tests, ordeals, levels of training—look, just forget it, okay? Stay away from my blades. In fact, don’t touch any of my weapons without my permission.”
“Well, there goes my plan for selling them all on eBay,” Clary muttered.
“Selling them on what?”
Clary smiled blandly at him. “A mythical place of great magical power.”
Farther down the train, two teenage girls sitting on an orange bench seat were giggling together. The sort of girls Clary had never liked at St. Xavier’s, sporting pink jelly mules and fake tans.
The apple tasted green and cool.
“You know,” Clary said, “most psychologists agree that hostility is really just sublimated sexual attraction.”Awkward/unnecessary/intrusive similes
Her knees felt like bags of water.
His eyes ran up and down her lazily, like the stroking paws of a cat.
“You can see where it was, years ago. Like an old woman who was once beautiful, but time has taken her beauty away. You must imagine this staircase the way it was once, with the gas lamps burning all up and down the steps, like fireflies in the dark, and the balconies full of people. Not the way it is now, so—”
The steps creaked and groaned as they ascended, like an old woman complaining about her aches and pains.
“Technicalities,” said Raphael, grinning at her despite the knife at his throat. “Besides. You think we do not hear the rumors, the news that is running through Downworld like blood through veins?”
It was lovely, she could see that: the city rising up beside her like a towering forest of silver and glass, the dull gray shimmer of the East River, slicing between Manhattan and the boroughs like a scar.
“Give me,” it said, in a voice like the wind blowing trash across empty pavement, “the Mortal Cup. Give it to me, and I will let you live.”
I became a man again as I limped up the long drive, white in the moonlight, like a river of silver leading … to ruins.There’s this really awkward scene where Magnus is explaining how he met Clary’s mom, and Clary just asks him this simple question, and he goes off on this long schpiel, like he’s narrating his own flashback chapter, but really, he’s just talking in purply prose to a group of teenagers. I won’t quote the whole thing, but the first bit gets across the general idea. Just imagine Clary and the others checking their watches every time you see […].
“So the Covenant’s all right with this—this mind-rape?” Clary asked bitterly. When no one answered, she sank down on the edge of Magnus’s bed. “Was it only once? Was there something specific she wanted me to forget? Do you know what it was?”
Magnus paced restlessly to the window. “I don’t think you understand. The first time I ever saw you, you must have been about two years old. I was watching out this window”—he tapped the glass, freeing a shower of dust and paint chips—“and I saw her hurrying up the street, holding something wrapped in a blanket. I was surprised when she stopped at my door. She looked so ordinary, so young. […] She unwrapped the blanket when she came in my door. You were inside it. She set you down on the floor and you started ranging around, picking things up, pulling my cat’s tail—you screamed like a banshee when the cat scratched you, so I asked your mother if you were part banshee. She didn’t laugh. […] She told me she was a Shadowhunter. There was no point in her lying about it; Covenant Marks show up, even when they’ve faded with time, like faint silver scars against the skin. They flickered when she moved…