Monday, November 12, 2012

City of Bones chapter 5

I can see auras. And if it were the fun, mystical kind of aura, I'd be on cloud nine right now. Aura, however, doesn't just mean the neon neatness that happens when you drop acid. It also describes the bizzare visual phenominon your body sends out when a migrane is imminent. I went for a bike ride today and was ten minutes out when my vision began flashing red and blue with electric tingles, and just made it home before a large portion of my vision up and disappeared. The headache that followed, I am sorry to say, was spectacular.

My point? I'd rather still have the migrane and aura than be reviewing this chapter. Is it a Gor revisit? No. Is it Hubbard level logic fail? Not really. Is it Lakes Sex WTF? No. And I'd rather have it be one of those things because this chapter is boring. 

Clary overhears several conversations between Isabelle and Alec. While she's unconsious.

This is something I don't get. Being unfamiliar with Blue Laws? I can give somebody a pass for it. Unless you actually work for a restaurant in a state with Blue Laws (I just spelled that "Blew laws" which would be awesome.) you probably wouldn't know, for example, that it is illegal to sell booze, peroid, before 10am on Sundays (and even then you have to order food). Defining "all ages" as "Allows unsupervised 15 year olds into an alcohol-selling club"'re an idiot, but I'll still cut you a pass because it wasn't something I thought about until I was threatened with possible arrest for serving a minor alcohol. But I see this trope crop up all the time. Whenever a writer has information they want one character to know about that the other characters would NEVER tell them, they have the character fall asleep and overhear the information while in a dream state.

Let me explain how stupid this is. How many of you have fallen asleep in front of the TV? How many of you remember more than a few minutes of the show after you closed your eyes? This is something that EVERYBODY does. The only way I'd give this stupid a pass is if the main character dreamed this conversation were happening between two dinosaurs. Because that would be awesome.

And Clary isn't just hearing this stuff while sleeping. She's been unconsious for three days. Do you know what unconsious means? It means not consious. And given that it's poison keeping her under, this sounds like a freaking coma.

So what is so important that the main character MUST overhear it while in a three day coma? 

“Yeah. I thought she was a pixie the first time we saw her. She’s not pretty enough to be a pixie, though.”
Seriously. She has to hear what the other characters think about her. Because we would be completely without meaning if we didn't know this, and there will never be circumstances where the other characters could express this otherwise.

Then Clary starts dreaming. And among such dreams as "Jace is an Angel" (GAG) and foreshadowing re: Simon, we get this little gem:

 Isabelle sitting naked with her whip curled around her like a net of gold rings,
One: Why? Why would a straight girl dream this?

Two: A like a net...of gold rings. You know, I knew in a kind of sub consious way that the descriptions in this book were bad, but this kind of blew my mind, hard. Let me illustrate the fail here. This:

when wrapped around Isabelle, looks like this:

Incidentally, if I ever become queen of the universe, chain mail neckties will become part of the uniform
That's what she's describing. A net of gold rings is fucking chain mail. Isabelle's whip turns into clothing. Freaking wow.

Then she wakes up in Hogwarts.

She saw clear blue sky above her, white puffy clouds and chubby angels with gilded ribbons trailing from their wrists. Am I dead? she wondered. Could heaven actually look like this? She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again: This time she realized that what she was staring at was an arched wooden ceiling, painted with a rococo motif of clouds and cherubs.
Yep. Hogwarts. Also, Clary, honey? I have read this book. No way are you getting a toe through the pearly gates.

Hogwarts is also called "The Institute" (...=school=Hogwarts) and Isabelle is there to make Clary feel like a small and plain little flower. Clary has a stomach ache, so Isabelle gives her a magic potion to drink.

Allow me to lay out what has happened so far, mkay?

Clary either went to an alcohol-free club in a church basement, or snuck in using her mom's ID. She watched three kids her own age murder a fourth boy in cold blood, while the Murder Trio raged about demons and hunters and killing. No one else can see these people. The next day a member of the Murder Trio, Jace, stalks her to a poetry slam and tries to kidnap her, only to let her leave because her mother is in trouble. Mom is attacked by a demon, which Jace knows all about. She passes out and wakes up in a strange place, where another member of the Murder Trio gives her something strange to drink.

Clary Frey is too stupid to live. Sadly, she will.

Then we have Expository Conversation B, where Clary finds out all about Isabelle (Last name, Lightwood, brother Alec, absent parents) and Jace (Dad died when he was young, never met Mom. Hey, Clary never met her Dad! Look! They've got something in common!) Then Isabelle tells Clary she stinks and needs to go take a bath.


Something that bugs me is how old-fashioned everything is in the Institute. Everything here is like 1800s era. There are glass lamps that are either kerosine or gas, and Clary smells candle wax as she wanders around the hall. However, outside, there are cars speeding by. She's still in New York City. The house just isn't on a power grid.

I kind of got the whole "no modern tech" in Harry Potter, in that I understood why the Malfoys and Hogwarts might not have radios and computers (the story takes place in the late nineties, the Malfoys have their collective heads jammed up their racist asses, and Hogwarts has to accomodate students whose parents see muggle tech as the peanuts in the cafeteria of life) but I didn't get why Ron's family or Sirius's manor wasn't wired for sound, given that in the former's case, Daddy has a serious crush on muggle tech and the latter is square in the middle of London. It makes even less sense here, especially when technology is the great equalizer. There is very little a wizard could do that modern tech can't. Magic would have been a HUGE advantage in every other era, but in this one, whenever I imagine myself imagining magic in a real life setting, part of my brain goes "Hey, I just sent an e-mail to somebody in Japan in less than three seconds! Why are you still using an owl?"

So she wanders around this mint Victorian mansion and finds Jace playing a piano, expertly. And we get this:

Watching the quick, sure movements of his hands across the keys, Clary remembered how it had felt to be lifted up by those hands, his arms holding her up and the stars hurtling down around her head like a rain of silver tinsel.

One, they are totally going to be fucking by the end of this book, and two...that bolded part. What the fuck does it have to do with the price of tea in China?

IDK. He greets her with this:

Piano keys jangled as he got to his feet. “Our own Sleeping Beauty. Who finally kissed you awake?”

They go find Dumbledore Hodge. And continue through the Institute, which...oh, for fuck's sake. 

(The Institute looked) like it had been naturally hollowed out of rock by the passage of water and years.
No, it doesn't. It looks like a building because that's what it is. I get what she's saying. People added to the institute over the years until it looked something like the Winchester building. But a building doesn't get to look like a cave unless it has actual stretches of exposed rock. And on the way, they have Expository Conversation C, where Clary finds out no one is in the Institute, that it's where Shadowhunters go when the world gets too hot for her, and they have their own special little country, Idris, which is a small country between Germany and France. Clary responds thusly:

“But there isn’t anything between Germany and France. Except Switzerland.”

I googled this. I found a map:

...That is not what I'd call "Between". That's more "Stapled onto the join". And this one I won't let fly. Cassandra Clare is from the UK. This is like ME saying Navada is between California and Arizona. FRANCE AND GERMANY ARE TOUCHING. NOTHING IS BETWEEN THEM.

Fuck. I'm not even halfway through this chapter yet. And I am skipping SO MANY THINGS to try to make this breif as possible.

Then he takes her to the library, where the books are all bound with leather and velvet.

Leather. And Velvet.

Seriously. Velvet is a book binding material here. I've owned several velvet-bound novelty books and let me tell you, they do NOT age well. It's something you put on Baby's First Journal. it's not something you use to record the Deep Secret of the Universe.

And then Alec appears and is revealed to be a total ass, Clary calls her uncle and finds out that he is a total ass, Hodge shows he'll be the Gandalf for this book, and I'm speeding through this chapter suddenly because I'm having a HUGE bout of religious rage and I have to vent about it.

A frequently occuring motif here is angels. Angels and demons, angels and demons, and...okay, I have to address this. I was going to wait until it got worse, but it's getting fucking annoying and I need to get it over with. Every book of magic draws on some kind of mythology. I'm trying to draw on modified Celtic/British with a seasoning of Greek, which is what C.S. Lewis and Rowling drew on. Tolkien did European mythos.

Cassandra Clare is drawing on Christian mythology for this novel.

My faith, in other words.

The problem with writing in any mythology is you tend to treat it like a buffet. You take what you like and you leave the rest. Thus, it is a lot safer to draw upon a more or less "dead" faith than it is to draw on one that's still alive. First, because you piss fewer people off. Second, because the odds of running into somebody who actually understands the theology you're working with are relatively small.

Cassandra Clare? Has managed to pull full research fail on the biggest religion in the world. 

See, the Shadowhunters, that hunt demons, are the Nephilium. She gets exactly one part right: The Nephilum were the offspring of humans and Angels. Yes, boys and girls. The Bible does say that humans and angels got it on and had a whole bunch of kids. And then Clare basically says "But the bible got it wrong, and Shadowhunters were really created by people drinking angel blood out of the Mortal Cup."


Nephilum were the product of angels getting it on with human women. Something that God disliked so much that he freaking drowned the human race. The Nephilum are one of the reasons for the biblical flood. Noah's ark is a thing due to the Nephilum. And they were considered very, very evil in the Bible. One of the fun theological debates you could have is if Goliath, as in David and Goliath, was a Nephilum or just a very big man.

It is possible to take Christian theology and fuse it to magical elements. C.S. Lewis did it beautifully, a couple of other Christian writers did it, and Neil Gaiman fucking nailed it. But there's one thing all those writers have in common: They respected the source material. Even if they didn't believe in it, they took the time to research the things they're drawing on and present them in a manner that stands up to casual theological scrutiany. (See Good Omens) 

Cassandra Clare grabbed all the shiny objects and left the rest of it sitting in the box. The biggest sign that this is so? There are a lot of angels, and a lot of demons, but nobody ever brings up God. And I don't mean goes "this is the One True God of Cosmos, fall on your knees in respect and love" I mean nobody mentions the posibility of deity. In a book about angels and demons. Written by an author who did enough research to find something as awesome as the Nephilum.

There's a factual connection between Christianity and the other elements Clare employs, but there isn't a spiritual one. At no point does Clare take time to connect the dots between the pixies, the Shadowhunters, and the Christian theology. And I know this isn't a bullshit thing. American Gods has a deep spiritual/emotional connection between the gods of every pagan religion ever and America itself. It's a story about a battle between Odin and the spirit of talk shows. And it WORKS.

City of Bones does not work. It's all fluff and bubblegum, and its drawing upon sources that are deep and pretty damn dark at times.

To sum up the rest of the chapter, we find out that Valentine has all the same goals as Voldemort, and that Clary is going back to her house to get clothes and see if maybe her Mom came back. Hodge writes a letter. The rest of us go to sleep.

End of chapter.  

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