Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review: City of Ashes (Mortal Instruments #2)

I finally made it through the second Mortal Instruments book, City of Ashes. I must say, it was quite an adventure. I've got one more to do before I'm done with the original trilogy, but this might be it for a bit. I've got my own book to work on. I'll get to City of Glass soon enough though.

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The following review is filled with spoilers, whining, complaining, ranting, and the destruction of everything people love about this series. Please read responsibly.

When last we left our intrepid heroes, Clary "Mary Sue" Frey discovered she was part of a super special group of people called Shadowhunters. (That should be two words, by the way.) She falls for shmexy jerk-face Jace, only to find out that he is her brother and that they are the long lost children of stock baddie, Valent... Oh, I can't do this.

This book only had one thing going for it. Good pacing. But even that couldn't save it from a whole host of other issues. Many of them were the same as with the first novel: bad characterization, terrible metaphors, and inconsistency. Now that I'm the second novel into the series, I will bring up another issue Clare has: shallow and generic world building.

First off, my reaction:


A little dramatic, but I think you get my point.

Now for the Character Breakdown!

Clary: In my last review, I complained how Clary was just a mean, whiny little girl. Well, this time around, she's not as whiny. She's just a complete bitch. Yup. I said it. Clary is a bitch. She strings Simon along, bosses people around, and yells at the poor guy on the subway who wanted to see if she was okay. I happened to be reading the Dragon Ball manga in between reading this monstrosity, and came across this panel of Frieza with his arms folded and a bubble that said, "Stop saying stupid things." After that, every time Clary spoke or thought, that image popped into my head. I'd post it here if I didn't want to get busted for copyright infringement. (Cough, Clare. Cough.) My point is, Clary is not likable, at all. At. All. I do not sympathize with her plight. I feel nothing.

Part of this could have to do with her Mary-Sueness. Clare wants her to be oh so beautiful, oh so powerful, and oh so wonderful. She never gets so seriously hurt that a healing rune can't fix it, and she saves everyone else with runes she pulls out of her ass. At one point Magnus says that things can't be created out of no where, and then Clary does it. But then Clare throws in something about hearing angels, and then doesn't clarify. It makes no sense right now. She's just so friggin' special. It's just, uh... She frustrates me so much there are no words for it. It is further exacerbated by her pining for Jace. Even if they didn't think they were related at the moment (because I know they aren't), there is something uncomfortable about it. It could be because they're both irritating. Which brings me to my next character...

Jace: What is wrong with this kid? His daddy issues are so overblown, they have their own daddy issues. He pines, he whines, he makes me want to punch him in his smart-assed face. At least he wears jeans occasionally this time. Yet he still makes so many hard-headed, stupid decisions that get other people into trouble, I would lock him up just to keep others safe. He's really bad for the other characters' health. Clare goes out of her way to make him seem like the perfect warrior. She goes so far as to have Clary (Stop saying stupid things.) mention that fighting is just like sex for Jace.

This made me hang my head and shake it. Pop culture has its share of war-loving races. If you've seen an episode of Star Trek:TNG that goes into Klingon culture, then you get what I'm talking about. Sparing is foreplay. Hell, in ancient Sparta, men had to capture their wives. A man was successful if he didn't get the holy hell beaten out of him because the women were just as well trained. Knowing this, I couldn't believe Clare went there. Jace comes off as having a death wish. I never got the sense he "got-off" fighting things in this sequel. Clare doesn't really understand that a true warrior prefers to talk with his fighting skills than with words, and Jace uses a lot of words.

My point is that Jace spends most of the book being self-centered and stubborn than anything else. And again, I could care less about him. Dude just ain't healthy to be around.

Simon: I have mixed feelings about him. I want to say that Clare ruined him, but he's the only one who doesn't worship the Mary-Sue that is Clary even though he says he's in love with her. He knows she's stringing him along, even when they're "dating," and knows he will never have her full attention. I would prefer him not to lurv her except as a friend, but love triangles are all the rage these days. Especially when a vampire is involved.

Yup, Simon becomes Vampy Simon because for some reason urban fantasies just can't stand having normal humans running around. They're weak and die very easily, in case you didn't know.

So, Simon is turned and has to cope with the change. I think Clare had a rare moment when he and Clary discuss how to tell his parents. As someone who lives with a photosensitive disorder, I connected for that brief moment. I know what it's like to look outside and see how high the sun is so I can avoid it. I thought this book might have been better if it was about Simon having to cope with a drastic life change, but then Clare ruins it, as she ruins everything else. At the end, Simon doesn't burn up in the sun. I wasn't pissed. I was absolutely livid. Clare dodged about a thousand difficult decisions she would have to make as a writer by doing that. First off, kill Simon. If she had made it where clothes could protect vampires (which I don't understand why not), then he would have to tell his parents. But that would be heartbreaking and tragic!

Clare, you are such a lazy writer.

Isabelle: Shallow dominatrix in hooker heels. That's how she comes across in this book. Thanks, dear author. She couldn't be more of a stereotype.

Alec: Cinder blocks have more personality. He's just kind of there. Even when the writing is from is point of view, I don't get a distinct sense of anything. Even his relationship with Magnus is just... meh.

Magnus: A character as usual. The only one who made me laugh. His relationship with Alec... Gurl, you can do better! If those homoerotic scenes between Jace and Simon were any indication, you could always go after one of them.

Luke: Not quite as bad ass this time around. Kind of a disappointment. Happy he's alive though.

Jocelyn: Still in a coma, and put herself in it. I have no words for how convenient this device is.

Inquisitor Imogen: Plot pawn. You read that right. Her whole purpose was to act like a moron and almost give Jace important information. Almost. We can't be giving anything away until the sequel. People need to buy them, you know.

Maia: This poor girl has so much promise, but because she's a crummy Downworlder (should also be two words) Clare doesn't really give two damns about her. I really, really like her. It was a shame she was introduced via info-dump, but other than that I preferred her over any other female in this book.

Daddy V: Sigh. Still pretty generic. The worst part, he's a heavy handed Lucifer reference. Clare practically brains you with it when she gave him the last name Morgenstern, or Morningstar. Then she tries the whole sympathy-for-the-devil shtick by having him have a conversation about Milton's Paradise Lost with Jace, because whenever Clare wants the reader to draw parallels between her characters and vastly superior works, she name-drops them like an Acme anvil. I get that she's got the whole fallen angel angle she's trying to work, but she only makes her writing look weaker by bringing up the good stuff.

That said, I'm not hating on Daddy V or Jace because they're assholes or bad guys. I like those types too, even if they're pretty unredeemable. They could be the most deplorable bastard this side of the Milky Way, but if they're interesting, then I'm good. Clare's characters do not fit under even that title. All those years writing fan fiction must have not taught her character development skills.

Besides her characters, there is also the problem with her writing. When I mean writing, I mean the actual words used and the devices she employs like metaphors. That's right, I'm about to throw sentence after sentence of terrible word choices at you, dear reader. In 3, 2, 1...

"... like a glittering needle threading the sky." Needles don't thread, they pierce. Needles are threaded. Not the other way around.

"... there was a tightness in her voice when she spoke his name, as if invisible acids were drying up the syllables in her mouth..." Jace is one syllable. Did you mean the whole sentence?

[Simon's eyes] were the color of black coffee - not really black, but a rich brown without a touch of grey or hazel." I think that one speaks for itself.

Referencing Jace's face: "It was like a book written in a foreign language she'd studied all to briefly." So she couldn't read it. That's easier to say. Not as creepy.

Referencing a voice: "... its sound of cold iron." When iron is cold, isn't it just cold?

The opening of Jace's cell: "A noise like ripping cloth tore through the room. (The sound depends on the fabric, but its never very impressive.) Clary heard Isabelle cry out as the door blew off its hinges entirely, crashing into the cell like a draw bridge falling. (If it blew off it's hinges, why did it just topple over?) Clary could hear other noises, metal coming uncoupled from metal, aloud rattle like a handful of tossed pebbles. (Pebbles do not sound metallic on their own.)"

Referring to Shadowhunter crowd: "Instead they seemed to go still, the way a pride of lions might go still when it spotted a gazelle." So they looked at them like food?

Referring to Simon digging himself out: "The grave was roiling like the surface of an unsteady ocean. Ripples appeared in its surface..." Dirt ripples. Riiight.

"The glow of Jace's seraph blade send elegant arcs of light shattering across the water..." This is not the word you are looking for.

"The sword seemed to shimmer blackly in the starlight." That's it, I quit.

There are so many more, but I'll stop there because they're making me physically sick.

I was going to bring up instances of words she used improperly (she said the ship had a corrugated steel hull), but I wanted to bring up something that I've noticed confused other reviewers: the purpose of The Clave.

I admit, this baffles me too. We're 2 books in and I've got the idea that they're supernatural police with an elitist point of view. They say they're protecting the "mundanes" (She totally ripped that off from Fables.), but Shadowhunters treat Downworlders more like sub-beings than anything else. It's like they're not even people anymore. When Daddy V says they're corrupt, he's right, but not in the way he believes.

All of Clare's best characters are Downworlders. They come across as more human than her main characters Jace and Clary, who are both Shadowhunters. They've got that imperfection to them that makes them relatable. They put up with all the crap the Shadowhunters throw at them to help save the day. We, the reader, are supposed to like the Shadowhunters, but I don't. They're prejudiced jackasses. They don't see people. They see monsters. Both Jace and Clary have slipped into that mindset at some point, and Alec is too much of a coward to admit he's in a relationship with a warlock. All Clare's antagonist wants to do is replace one elitist system with another, and I hope that both end up broken at the end. The Clave doesn't really deserve to be saved, but Daddy V shouldn't win either.

Clare tries to make Shadowhunters the good guys, but they come off as people who don't think their farts stink. And at the same time, about a thousand pages later, they're useless.

City of Ashes gets one star for her heroes being terrible people masquerading as the good guys. I know it wasn't intentional, but that's my point.

I'm so tired of these people. I'm going to watch Grimm.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

I'm Going to Read the Mortal Instruments

That's right. I have been encouraged by laughter and indignation at what I did with my review of the first book of the Mortal Instruments series: City of Bones. So, I have decided that I'm going to accept the challenge and read and review all of them.

Why will I subject myself to such torture if I didn't like the first one? Well, as my mother will tell you, I like to be contrary, especially if given the opportunity.

Since I needed the second book to read, I went on a field trip to the base library. I like to own my books, but there was no way I was going to spend any more money on the series. My copy of City of Bones was for my Kindle, so I didn't really get to appreciate the gem that was the cover. This time I'm going to spend time studying the cover.

Nice art work. I kind of like it besides the fact that the girl - whom I assume is our special snowflake Clary - looks like she's half way to Super Saiyan. I give the designer a pat on the back for utilizing complimentary colors.

I see one problem though. If I were a pre-teen girl or one of those Twilight moms, then the Stephenie Meyer quote might draw you to this book. If your a person who prefers quality writing, like me, then you might run in the opposite direction while flicking holy water at it. I admit, I flinched when I was helping to buy these books for my cousin, but I heard these were okay. Now that I've read the first one, it helps lessen the sting knowing that I supplied her with the first three books of Ursula K Le Guin's Earth Sea Cycle.

Now let's look at the quotes on the back of the book.
"Fans of... Buffy the Vampire Slayer will instantly fall for the series." -Publishers Weekly
From what I've seen, I suggest watching Grimm instead since, you know, Buffy writers created it.
"Reminiscent of the Harry Potter series - and that's high praise!", five-star rating and Gold Star Award review
There are buckets of other reviews out there that say Cassandra Clare actually plagiarized  from Rowling's history-making series. Like this one. And then there is this one about Clare's behavior during her days in the HP fandom.
"A gorgeous fantasy that's so good, it's dangerous." -Libba Bray
Sorry, but the only dangerous books I know of are religious texts and the Anarchist's Handbook.
 "Hold on tight for a smart, sexy thrill ride." -Libba Bray
City of Bones was neither smart, nor sexy, but I'll try to have hope.
"A tale edge by lightning, driven by power and love." -Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce! Say it ain't so! I remember you from my pre-teen days. You're pretty well respected in the YA fantasy community. Please tell me they tied you up and beat this blurb out of you.

So there we have it. Now I have no choice but to start the book. Please feel free to show your support with further laughter. Or roll your eyes. I know I'm not the first one doing this.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book Review: City of Bones (Mortal Instruments #1)

Do you want to know what happens when I really don't like a book and I have nothing to do on a Saturday night? This is what happens, my most detailed review to date. And I giggled the whole time while I wrote it. Enjoy.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Why, oh why did I waste such valuable reading time finishing this? Because, apparently, I'm a glutton for punishment.

I will warn you ahead of time, this review may contain spoilers!!! I'm not sure yet because I don't really care enough to plan this out. This will mostly be whining, ranting, and general complaining. Remember, I warned you.

Before I dive into this review, I will tell you that I've heard the Cassandra Clare plagiarized arguments, and that this book is basically a reworked fan fiction like the famed Fifty Shades of Grey books. I will not go into those details. I'm just going to look at what has been presented to me in a digital style format for Kindle. So be prepared for jokes and snarky comments that most will probably not think are funny.

I decided to read this book because my fourteen year old cousin asked for the series for Christmas. I helped my family purchase it for her (because I'm their book guru) and I thought I would give at least the first one a shot. I've been trying to read more YA lately to familiarize myself with why it's so popular since I pretty much stopped reading YA when I was ten. I'd make the odd excursion into the wilds occasionally, but for the most part I didn't read much.

This was my reaction to the book:


Yes, I bolded that. I currently want to rub my head along the floor as I walk in the futile hope that I'll rub this book from my memory. If Sherlock Holmes' Attic Theory is to be believed, that this book is taking up valuable space I can use for my writing and better books.

Let me start with the characters since they're probably the most appalling aspect.

Clary: This little lovely is a fifteen/sixteen year old red-head who loves her sketchbook and doesn't think she's pretty. Sounds like me in high school. I should relate right? Wrong. Clary is one of the angriest, self-absorbed, whiniest little brats I've ever had the displeasure of getting to know.

I've read my share of female protagonists who go down like cheap alcohol; they put up a fight and don't agree once you think you've stomached them. But I liked those gals anyway. Clary is not one of them. She bitches about everything. She gets angry at the stupidest stuff. She also can't keep a solid thought in her head. She wonders about the strangest things at the strangest times, like in the middle of a fight. And she slaps or scratches people with barely a reason.

Let's move on, shall we? Before I throw my computer. She really pisses me off that much.

Jace: I know he's supposed to basically be this popular ideal of fanfic Draco (Now with more leather!), but I honestly thought Draco was a waste of space to begin with. Not because Rowling was a terrible writer (because she's definitely not that), but because he was a terrible person! If I just look at this character without thinking about his developmental origin, I still don't like him. He's a conceited jackass. He's the kind of guy where you're friend looks at you and says, in the sassiest way possible, "Gurl, you can do better." Sure, he's got tattoos and blonde sex hair, but when are those boys good for you?

Now, I'll be straight with you, reader. Think of it this way. Cassandra Clare refers to Jace's blonde curls so often I was beginning to wonder if he was rockin' a perm. And he's wearing leather pants in hot, humid New York weather. His dangly bits have got to be chaffing. Seriously, ladies. That is not hot. All he's missing is an Ed Hardy shirt before he's the douche in the corner of the club you roll your eyes at.

Before any fans read this and freak out on me with: OH NO! JACE IS TOTES HAWT! YOU JUS HATIN BECAUSE YOU CAN'T HAVE HIM! YOU JEALOUS CAUSE YOU CAN'T WRITE LIKE CLARE CAN! (I can't even be a pre-teen girl right, and I was one once.) There are no pictures. You are living in your fantasy. All Clare describes most of the time are his eyes and hair. If you are a grown woman and you're mad at what I've said, go drool over Supernatural. The Winchesters are hot, demon hunters, and have better personalities. Okay, marginally better personalities. Whatever. At least they aren't wearing leather pants. Or in puberty.

Simon: The child hood friend suffering from unrequited love syndrome. Yawn. He was awesome until he got all heart broken. Solid friend till the end even though he could have pushed Clary off a cliff and I would have felt it totally justified. The only character that the dry wit Clare tries to use fits. At one point he does tell Clary off and calls Jace an asshole, earning him my Favorite Character Award.

Isabelle: The bitchy hot chick Clary hates even though she isn't that bitchy. I actually kind of liked her despite being a totally undeveloped stereotype. The butt of cooking jokes.

Alec: Isabelle's boring older brother. He's gay for Jace. Hates on Clary because she's also making eyes at his dream man. He's just there for plot conflict. Too underdeveloped to be interesting.

Magnus Bane: I liked Magnus despite his unfortunate attire. He really seemed better than that. I would read the other two books for him, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't suffer through more Clary. Although, he could totally be that sassy gay friend Clary needs to tell her, "Gurl, you can do better." (I really wanted to say that again. I blame the lack of sleep.) Of course, nothing Clare writes is really that interesting, so I don't know why I expect it to happen.

Luke: Clary's mother's friend suffering from unrequited love syndrome. Also liked him, but he should have yelled at Clary more for being a little brat.

Jocelyn: a.k.a. Coma mom. That's how she spends the whole book. And ends the book. I felt cheated.

Valentine: The big bad. More like Bad-Guy-From-a-Can. He's not really menacing at all, or even memorable. Even his name sucks. I'm gonna call him Daddy V from now on because for some strange reason I can take that more seriously than Valentine. Who names their child that anyway?

That should handle all the characters, which I enjoyed writing about more than I thought. Now, onto the next biggest complain that I've read about and couldn't help noticing: the metaphors! Bum-bum-bum! I'll just list a few off:

"The night sky rippled overhead..." How does the sky ripple when you aren't looking at it through anything?

"The moon hung like a locket over the city..." So it just hanging there wasn't good enough?

"She wondered how often he let glimpses of his real self peek through the facade that was as hard and shiny as the coat of lacquer on one of her mother's Japanese boxes." This one broke my brain.

"... was black as velvet." Oh, honey. Didn't you know velvet comes in many different colors?

To describe a mausoleum: "... like an iceberg off the bow of the Titanic."

To refer to a restaurant building: "... like a collapsed souffle."

"... the lights of Manhattan burning like cold jewels." This would be a moment where Clare using glittering would make sense.

"The apple tasted green and cool." How do you taste green?

"She felt a bright surge of shame that burst behind her eyelids like a small sun." If shame looks like the sun to you, Clary, why do you still have eyes?

"... yowling like a foghorn." Does this woman think about what she says? This cat sounds possessed.

Okay, I'll stop there before I start crying. I swear, Clare doesn't think about what she's actually putting down. Everything in her world "sparks," "gleams," "glints," or "glitters." It sounds painful to look at. When I read the descriptions and think about what it would look like visually, it sounds like Tinkerbell covered Clare's world in pixie dust. Instead of making vampires sparkle, Clare made friggin' everything sparkle! Eyes, bracelets, bracers, weapons, random objects in the corner. It stopped making sense. I don't even want to know how many times she uses those words. I kept getting deja vu with those words as often as I saw "like" or "as." This chick needs an editor.

Plot wise it isn't much better. Three objects... blah, blah. Special snowflake girl... yadda, yadda. I actually got bored in the middle of the climax because Clare foreshadows with a brick. I guessed the ending at the beginning. Seriously, she lacks subtlety.

But I want to mention one main plot twist that should have made me gasp and drop my Kindle to clutch at my heart. Yup, you guessed it, dear reader. The Daddy V reveal. When I was reading the scenes with pacified Jace, I couldn't buy it. It became apparent to me that Clare had manipulated her character so it could suit the moment. There was no natural character progression to fragile, doubting Jace from jackass Jace.

This is how the scene should have went:

DADDY V: Jace, I am your father.
JACE: This isn't Star Wars. I want a DNA test. I know we use magic and all that, but science still exists. Hell, there's probably some magical DNA test. I mean, a couple of items and some convenient circumstances does not the truth make. Wow, I just sounded intelligent there.

Okay, I was pretty liberal with that, but I think I made my point.

That, of course, leads to the whole incest-love thing. I read Martin's Song of Fire and Ice before they were a cable show. Nothing will beat the creepiness that is that incest-romance. Well, nothing that I've come across.

Then there are the inconsistencies:

Mark scars are sometimes described as silver, sometimes as white.

Luke's dagger, then sword, then dagger.

The werewolves are strong enough to break through boarded up windows a couple stories up, but not a roof top door.

Light from the open front door doesn't affect Abaddon. Only the light coming through the skylight. Which, when I read it, I had to assume was dirty or frosted. She never clarified.

Yeah. Cassandra Clare, by royal decree, you need an editor.

There are a thousand other things I could go into like how all the characters have the same wit that isn't funny. Or I could go into detail all of the inexplicable rages Clary flies into. Or mention that Clare actually has Daddy V monologue and throw his head back to laugh. But I'll stop before I find myself bald because I've torn out my hair from looking at my notes.

Before I stop, let me put this in another perspective. As an unpublished writer who reads the work of other unpublished writers, I have come across much better. It's books like these that make me scratch my head. I understand if you want to blow an afternoon reading cotton candy fluff, you know, nothing really special, but there is stuff out there that has characters that are genuinely lovable. And the characters are what really matter because that is what the reader connects to. That is why Cassandra Clare's City of Bones got one star. In the end, I stopped caring.

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