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City of Bones - Cassandra Clare I read this one while taking a break from school books and papers, and I needed some mindless but entertaining brain rot. Therein lies the appeal of this novel.If you've even dipped a pinkie toe in the online Harry Potter fandom, you've probably heard of the author (if not, just employ some google-fu and you find everything you need). The buzz generated by Clare's fandom notoriety probably was a great boon for this book, and I admit it's the only reason I read it. Although it's hard not to have preconceived notions if an author's reputation precedes them, I'm going to try as much as I can to remain unbiased as I do this review.The opening chapter reminds me of those horror movie teasers in which the first character we see gets offed, thus kicking off the action. In this case, our sacrificial lamb is a blue-haired emo teenager with a penchant for colored contacts and big foam... things. It all goes down at a teen dance club, where the heroine, Clary Fray, witnesses emo kid's murder. Blue-haired emo kid, we barely knew ye. But wait—it turns out that no one can see the killers but Clary! The killers are actually teenage demon hunters, and the blue-haired boy is actually a demon, disguised as a human (for the record, the foam thingy was a glamour to hide a weapon). These demon hunters call themselves shadowhunters, or nephilim (what, one name isn't good enough? They need another one?). Normal humans, whom they refer to as mundanes or "mundies", can't see them. Since Clary can, that must mean she's special. Wow, I'd have never seen that one coming.During the next chapter, we find out more about Clary. Her widowed mother is a hippie artist type with a close friend named Luke, whom Clary calls uncle, despite the fact that he is not a blood relative. Clary knows virtually nothing about her late father. Gee, I wonder if that will ever be a plot point? The mother's name is Jocelyn, which I find disconcertingly similar to the name of Buffy's mother (Joyce) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a nitpick, I know, but it bugged me. Clary has a BFF named Simon, who struck me as an amalgam of Buffy's Xander and Oz (insofar as Simon's in a rock band and owns a van). There's also the flaky tarot card-reading neighbor named Dorothea, who reminds me of a cross between Buffy's Jenny Calendar and Angela from the Inheritance Trilogy—pardon me, Cycle. Soon afterward, Jocelyn is kidnapped and Clary is rescued by the shadowhunters, who whisk her off to their headquarters, excitingly named "The Institute." It turns out that all the shadowhunters' hangouts are hidden from mundanes by glamours. To mundies (I'm switching terms b/c MS word keeps auto-correcting "mundanes" and it's pissing me off), they appear as old condemned buildings or something. Hmmm... where have I read this plot device before? (Although to be fair, I'm sure HP isn't the only work of fiction to employ it). The Shadowhunters originate from a magical land called Narnia Idris, located in western Europe but hidden from Mundies by one helluva glamour. At the Institute, Clary meets the Wise Old Mentor Figure, Hodge (think Giles meets Dumbledore). Hodge also has an animal familiar, a raven named Hugo (which made me think of Lost's Hugo Reyes aka "Hurley," who is sadly a much more interesting character than anyone you will ever meet in City of Bones). Hey, at least it wasn't a Phoenix.What follows is your typical Campbell-ian fantasy plot. I'm not going to get specific, in case there's anyone unfamiliar enough with Star Wars that any of this comes as an actual surprise, but if you have even a passing acquaintance with those films, you should be able to call everything pretty accurately. We have the Shocking Betrayal, Surprise!Relativity (otherwise known as the "Luuuuuke, I am your father" syndrome), the Roguish Anti-hero, the Designated Love Interest (the former two are actually combined in one character), the Empire, and the Rebel Alliance. I was going to give Clare credit for a somewhat clever reversal of the whole Empire/Rebel dynamic, but then I realize that JK Rowling did it first, so so much for that. Context being that in City of Bones, we've got the Ministry of Magic Clave (the highly ordered ruling body of Shadowhunters) versus the Death Eaters Circle (an order of defectors dedicated to cleansing the world of demon/human hybrids known as Downworlders).More so than the derivative plot, however, I'd say City of Bones' biggest weakness lies in characterization. After all, I can forgive a lot if a story has great characters. Unfortunately, City of Bones does not deliver. Clary is likeable and sympathetic enough, but she's a bit on the bland side, and is often the one who ends up carrying the Idiot Ball when the plot calls for it. Clary is also one of those beautiful-but-doesn't-know-it girls, a YA trope that annoys me to no end. Not only is it completely unrealistic (seriously, if she's that much of a knockout, there is no way she wouldn't know it) but it's blatantly hypocritical, especially since the heroine is usually contrasted with the Stuck-Up Beautiful Girl (in this case, the beautiful but snobby Isabelle). So the point here is that beauty isn't everything, but apparently, we can't have a heroine who isn't beautiful! So we'll just make her unaware of her stunning beauty. Problem solved! Never mind the implication that you still need to be beautiful to get the guy, as long as you're nice, too! No mixed messages, not at all! Ahem, sorry about that. I get a bit impassioned about pet peeves. Anyway, the secondary characters are actually even less interesting. As you've probably gathered from my cursory descriptions so far, most of them are obviously inspired by characters from more famous fantasy/sci-fi works. Trouble is, Clare's characters lack the charisma and charm of their predecessors, making them little more than pale knockoffs. I've already mentioned Simon, the Quirky Sidekick. Then we have Jace, a shadowhunter and Designated Love Interest, who's like Han Solo, HP's Draco, and Buffy's Spike all mushed together. Alec and Isabelle, Jace's shadowhunter friends, are even more thinly characterized and even less interesting (and the names bother me because I keep thinking of Dark Angel and Roswell... the fact that Clare's Isabelle is very similar in personality and function to her counterpart in Roswell isn't helping matters). The only remotely interesting supporting character is Magnus Bane, but he barely gets any page time at all.So with all this negativity, you're probably wondering why this book still got a fairly high rating from me. Simply put, it was entertaining. Clare's prose is not as groanworthingly incompetent as Paolini's, nor as coma-inducing as Stephanie "let's describe every little thing in as verbose of a manner as possible" Meyer's, so it's easy to read. The plot is fast-paced and keeps you turning the page. The book fulfilled its function, which was fun and fluffy brain rot in the midst of term paper hell. As long as you don't take it too seriously and don't particularly care if it's derivative as heck (playing "spot the Buffy/HP reference" is a rather fun diversion, though), you should find it enjoyable.