Monday, December 3, 2012

City of Bones chapter 18

So, in theory, the driving plot behind this book has been Valentine kidnapping Clary's mom to get the Mortal Cup. I say in theory because the actual driving force is Jace, bigotry, angst and soap-opera style intrigue of the who-bones-whom variety. But we're going to stick with that theory because it is about to produce beautiful carnage for us.

See, while Clary was dealing with boy angst, she absently drew some runes on one of her sketches, and it brought the sketch to...uh, something involving feathers. The book is never very clear. By this, she discerns that you can use runes to draw an object--in this case, a coffee cup--into a drawing, then reach in later and pull it back out. How this is connected to runes making a sketch of a wing feel like feathers, I have NO fucking clue. And so, she discerns, her mother must have drawn the Mortal Cup into the Ace of Cups in Dorothea's tarot cards, and that's why she drew THAT card out of the pack!

Let me refresh you on Clary's history of discernment prior to her pulling Plot Device Fourty-Two out of her ass, shall we? Over the last seventeen chapters Clary has:

-Missed the fact that Jace, Isabelle and Alec are all murderous psychopaths
-Missed the fact that her mother wanted them to get the fuck out of town before Something Bad happened
-Missed the fact that Simon was in love with her
-Missed the fact that Jace is in love with her
-Missed the fact that "Uncle" Luke is just as involved in all of this as the rest of them.
-Missed the fact that Valentine is her fucking father.

Basically, this girl makes Bella Swan look like Sherlock Holmes, and we're talking about a character who frequently forgot to breathe. But, because the Plot says Clary figures out where the Mortal Cup is, she embarks on a chain of reasoning that I cannot follow for the life of me. These facts do not connect, but because The Plot needs it to happen, it happens. And so the same chick who cannot figure out that the boy doing everything but groping her in the alley to indicate his romantic interest is interested in her until AFTER she fucks up their relationship by kissing another boy works out that her mother painted a magic cup into a magical tarot card after having seen and handled said card exactly once. 

Miss Clare? I'm going to say this exactly once, using the 1000 words that people most commonly say:


I will buy House's logical jumps because he has displayed his ability to connect wildly disconnected facts into a buyable conclusion long before he pulled that tick off the patient's unmentionables. I will buy that Sherlock Holmes was able to get Moriarty's little red notebook because he's already discerned a Kossak assassin using hair and the Victorian Age's Tic-Tac shortage. But Clary Fray has demonstronably proven herself to be stupid. Not head in the clouds distracted, just stupid. She misses things that are bang-on-the-head obvious, such as her birthday falling way, way, way too close to the time when Valentine was still banging her mom. It's repeated over. And over. And over. And she doesn't pick up on it.

People compare this book to Star Wars because of the revelation that DUN DUN DUN Valentine is Clary's Dad. But do you know how many times it was hinted that Darth Vader was Luke's daddy? None. Oh, in the first movie Obi Wan drops that he knew Luke's Dad in a long speech, and the fact that he was Vader's teacher comes out when he and Vader are trading blows on the Death Star. But that's as close to a connection as we get from the characters. Empire dropped hints too, but they were more "WTF" than they were "Isn't that odd?" Luke seeing his own face inside of Vader's helmet, Vader having his helmet off in that once scene--it was short, you may not remember it--are part of what build up to that twist. But what made it a twist was that the actual connection itself is never even hinted at. Vader's romantic life is never brought up. Questions about Luke's parents are never brought up, save for the common "in my father's footsteps" trope. You know that Vader and the Emperor are after Luke because he is "the son of Skywalker". That's all you get.

In this book, two numbers are repeated over. And over. And over. And over. Valentine died sixteen years ago. Clary is fifteen years old, though she just turned sixteen, and her mom and Valentine were fucking married. Every girl who ever wanted to be a pretty pony princess could do that math in their sleep, because they've been trying to shoehorn themselves into every royal family that ever was since they heard that adoption was a thing.

This does not even bring up "I"m drooling in your lap" Simon. Look, even if you're not remotely interested in a dude, you notice that he's invading your personal space every chance he gets. You notice, because if you're not interested, this creeps you the fuck out. This is not cutesy or romantic. It's an indicator of severe mental dysfunction. We're talking serious, severe, very un-funny autism. As in the person suffering--and I am not using that word lightly--from autism would not be able to function normally with nurologically typical adults. But Clary does not have that. She's fully capable of sending off the correct social signals when the plot needs her to, which means her brain works fine. And if her brain works fine, not guessing that Simon wants in her pants when he is so very, very obvious about it means that Clary is just stupid.

And she's just guessed her mother's super secret hiding place when the rest of the magical world could not.

This is not inconsistant characterization. This is fucking Frankenstein.

This is fail. This is double fail because this is happening here, at this point in the story.

A good story has an expected structure. Good storytelling is using that structure either for or against the reader in such a way that it makes the story more interesting. For example, I fell in love with District 9 as a thing when Wikus van de Merwe hit Christopher Johnson over the head with a piece of trash at just about the same place in that movie as this point in this book: Right before the failure point.

What is the failure point? It's the point in the story where everything goes sideways. The romance is broken up. The hero is captured by the bad guys. In Memento it's where you realize that Carrie Ann Fischer's character has manipulated Leonard into attacking a guy who is harassing her. In The Matrix it's when Morpheus gets caught. It is the emotional high point--and I'm speaking in intensity, not positive/negative--where you, the viewer, are supposed to be totally on the main character's side and rooting for them, so that you'll be screaming OH NO YOU DIDN'T! when the hero gets grabbed/slapped/shot/drowned/whatevered. This is a necessary moment, because that moment of emotional intensity is going to push through to the climax. Miss that moment, and everything else falls apart.

What made me love District 9 forever was how, right when the story needs you to be on Wikus's side, he does the thing most natural to his character and smashes Christopher upside the head with trash. You realize that Wikus is still the same slimy, stupid, nasty little racist that set that house of alien eggs on fire and then joked about it, that he deserves to die, and you hate him. You hate him the entire time that he's caught by the Nigerians (mostly because Chris is getting the crap beat out of him by Koobus's goons, and you're still totally on his side) you hate him while he fights his way out of the Nigerians and the merceneries, and oh my God do you hate him when he's walking away from Chris.

And that's why, when Wikus turns around and saves Chris anyway, it is a crowning moment of awesome. The fight afterwards? It is only awesome because you know this racist, dishonest, nasty piece of shit has finally turned into a person and is going to die--intentionally--to save the life of an alien he would have gleefully set on fire three days ago. A lot of people think the point of D-9 is reverse racism. It's not. It's a movie about transformation, and it's all set up by making you hate the everloving fuck out of the main character...which you would not do if his character as a racist, self-centered shit were not maintained every single step of the way. It's about a racist realizing that racism is wrong, and how to come to that realization, every single thing about his character has to change. In a way, it's a challenge, not to the racists, but to the people who want to change them.

And I think that's why City of Bones was a total failure for me. Because the whole book is about Clary not getting things. She doesn't get that these two boys are in love with her. She doesn't get that her dad is the bad guy that kidnapped her Mom. She doesn't get--well, we'll get to that one later. But when the plot says she needs to understand something? Characterization goes out the window. This book has a plot, it has characters, kind of, and it has a lot of shiny cool things. But it isn't about anything. It is a lot of sound and fury, but it signifies absolutely nothing at all. What gives a story satisfaction is that feeling of having come 180 both on the outside and on the inside. The world is changed, the characters have grown, and a good time was had by all. But the characters in this book can't change. They're not consistent enough for change to be part of their vocabulary. They are whatever the author wants them to be...even when the story demands they not be that way.

So of course, Jace and Clary go back to Madame Dorotheas to get the cup out of her tarot deck.

...can I go on another rant guys? It'll only take a second. There's a big, long ramble in here about how a tarot deck is the safest place they could have put it, and I SO have to call bullshit. First, because they are cards. Even if they're your tarot cards, you can always lose them. Or give them away. Or have them stolen. I have owned seven decks, and I had to think hard to remember all of them. Of those decks, I have lost the entire minor arcana from two of them, mostly because I didn't like the minors in either deck and just used them for the majors. And the Ace of Cups, mind, is a minor card. One deck, I gave away to a friend. Two decks I keep out to use every once in a while, and the last two decks I keep in a shoebox in the closet. The decks I like best are the ones I keep out. They get shuffled, handled, stepped on. And remember how I mentioned "given away or stolen?" a moment ago? Tarot card lore says your reading skill is only "good" if your first deck is either given to you by a proficient reader, or if you steal it. And a deck with beautiful illustrations is pretty damn hard to find. The two best that I've seen are Shadowscapes and the Steampunk deck, and those are the two I've got over on my bookcase right now. If you have a pretty deck and a steady stream of clients, the odds of somebody grabbing your cards and going out the door are probably big enough to make hiding an important magical artifact in them pretty bone stupid.

And who's to say that Dorothea wouldn't lose interest in the hand-painted deck? They're probably a bitch to shuffle, even if you just do 'em domino style, and if Joycelyn has the same "respect" for religion that Jace does, her interpretation of the cards may not be the best. Shiny pictures don't do much if they don't strike a cord with you. Of the decks that I lost, one of 'em was gorgeously illustrated. Alphonse Mucha style. And I hated it because the pictures were so vague they were practically meaningless. I even retired my Shadowscapes deck for a little while (VERY little) when the Steampunk deck came out, because DAMN those pictures are good. Not as pretty as Shadowscapes, but...yeah, I digress. The point is, to the general public a tarot deck is a mysterious object of power and prestige, and sometimes loathing. To a reader, a tarot deck is a tool, one that you can pick up, discard, or even use to play games with if you want to (...some day I want to play a real game of Tarot with my Rider-Waite Deck. Just for the hell of it)

Clary's mom basically hid the Magical McGuffin for this book in somebody's tool shed, and ran the risk of Dorothea getting  tired of that particular hammer.

So they decide to go get it, and call Simon to have him drive them over there, because God Forbid a member of the main cast not be in on this. He calls bullshit on Clary, she pulls the "My mom is missing" card out on him, and, after Clary and Hodge have a long talk about uncle Luke--guess we're about to have Magical Revelation number 131 starring Uncle Lucian in a few more pages--Simon meets them at the Institute in a yellow banana. Ok, a van that looks like a banana, but I digress.

Also, why is Simon not the main character of this series? He didn't even get to star in the book that was SUPPOSED to be about him for fuck's sake.

They go into Dorothea's house and Clary sees the tarot cards. Spread out over the table. Their surfaces are "Slickly painted."

Let me illustrate the number of things wrong with this.
-Either this is not the original set of illustrations, or Cassandra Clare has never seen a hand painted anything before in her life.
-Cassandra Clare has also, clearly, never handled a tarot deck more than once. Otherwise she'd understand why "hand painted" and "tarot cards" don't exactly work well.

Maybe, maybe, MAYBE they are laminated watercolors. My soul screams at the idea of laminating watercolors. I cannot imagine Joycelyn Fray, or any artist, willingly laminating any of their artwork. And the BULK. Oh. My. God. Seventy eight cards, and this is not going to be card stock, boys and girls, this is going to be high quality paper thick enough to drink the paint/ink in. Plus the width of laminate plastic. The only way to shuffle this deck is going to be the domino method. This is a brick-sized deck of cards you could kill somebody with.

You know why you buy cards that are printed, as opposed to using originals? because you're going to damage the everloving fuck out of the cards.

Two words, and there is so much fail.

So Clary pulls the cup out of the magical tarot card and of course even though it was just big enough to fit in the illustration--given the imagry described, it was probably traditional Rider-Waite, so maybe the other minors are pretty good--it comes out big and pretty and shiny as the Holy Grail Mortal Cup Mcguffin 429 ought to be, and the card itself crumples to ash.

....yeah, Dorothea should have killed the little bitch when she saw that happen, is all I can say.

NEXT CHAPTER: The boring and predictable revelations begin.


  1. Quick note - Promote your shtuff here

  2. Sorry, here

  3. Consider it done. Thanks for letting me know. :D