Thursday, 8 August 2013

City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

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. 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'd never been much interested in reading the Mortal Instruments series. Not so much because it didn't sound interesting as supernatural teenagers are usually totally my thing but because I used to be big into fan fiction (don't judge, you know you love it) and I remember the plagiarism scandal that surrounded Cassandra Clare back in 2006. When she published her first book (this book, in fact) in 2007, all I could think about was how she was that plagiarizing woman and didn't pick it up. 

However, with the movie coming out soon and a good friend who wanted to see it (and a nice employee discount at my bookstore), I picked it up for a quick read post-Rathbones.

Oh, I wanted to like it. I really did. My life would be so much easier if I did. I just couldn't do it, though. The characters were so boring, the plot line was so predictable and the whole story just felt like a lump. I think I could narrow my main problems down to two big factors, though.

Number One: Incest. There is an incest-y plot line in this book and it made me uncomfortable. I understand that that's what it's supposed to do (I guess?) and I've read other works that had uncomfortable "we're in love but oh no! we might be related!" plot lines before that dealt with them in an interesting and heartbreaking way. It added depth to the character and tragedy to the plot. This one … doesn't. It mostly just serves to make you feel creepy and icky especially as it does not get wrapped up before the end of the book. If this were just a minor plot line, it could be easily overlooked or even found to be a great addition to add a little tension. Instead, by ending the novel with them still in that uncomfortable in-between phase, it just made the reader (or at least, this reader) wonder why they spent so much time becoming invested in these characters' relationship if it was going to eventually end in inbreeding. 

Number Two: Dubious characterization. This comes from my earlier point of Cassandra Clare's fan fiction. She was famous for years before her publications for writing Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fan fiction which I do not in any way judge her for (because there may be a bit of fan fiction by myself out there on the web.) What does seem suspicious, though, is how closely some characters seem to mirror Rowling's. Let's explore:

Jace Wayland: Jace has fine wavy dark golden-blond hair and dark gold eyes. He has a slim, muscular build, and is about 5'11". His face is described as being pretty and angular, and Clary often refers to him as beautiful and leonine, with a narrow mouth. … For most of the books Jace's sarcastic, cold remarks and behavior hides his tortured and angry soul. (Description from Wikipedia)

I don't know how many of you read fan fiction but this is a classic example of fanon Draco Malfoy. Which is especially not surprising as this was a trope she created in her  fan fiction opus, The Draco Trilogy, which took her six years to complete when it ended in 2006. 

Clarissa "Clary" Fray: Clary is five feet tall with curly red hair, green eyes, pale skin, and freckles. She is said to look like her mother - who is described as beautiful and small. She is rather petite and very thin. She is described by Jace many times throughout the series as "delicate". (Description from Wikipedia)

Did I mention that in her opus that Draco ends up with Ginny? And we did notice that her name is Clarissa "Clary" Fray which sounds a lot like Cassandra Clare? Good. We're on the same page.

There are so many other little things like her best friend Simon who has messy black hair and glasses and is just not as cool as Jace and the fact that all the main character's parents were in a mysterious club that's basically the Marauders mixed with Death Eaters when they were young but it feels a bit petty going through them all. Although, I will admit, the bookish father figure werewolf seems a bit too obvious, even for me. 

Also, in doing research for this review (if you're going to badmouth something, you always need to double check), I found that she had written a fan fic in 2004 called The Mortal Instruments that was Ron/Ginny which I suppose explains the incesty things. The more I learn, the more uncomfortable I feel.

I'd like to end this review with a quote from Cassandra Clare's fan lore page because I think it sums up what I'm trying to say perfectly:

"Though Moral Instruments and the Draco Trilogy do not share a plot, some fans believe that Clary and Jace are based on fanon versions of Ginny and Draco. Additionally, one passage from Draco Veritas, which tells the story of Draco's pet falcon, appears word-for-word in City of Bones: the only differences are minor punctuation changes and the amendment of "Draco" to "the boy" (now referring to Jace).

Wank ... did occur when the published author put out her first novel, which involved both media fandom and science fiction fandom, but in general the allegations of plagiarism and bad behavior against the fan[dom] are not well known among people who interact with the published author."

So I suppose the lesson is, as long as no one knows your story was originally fan fiction, you'll sell. See: Fifty Shades of Grey.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Rathbones - Janice Clark

A literary adventure set in New England, Janice Clark's gothic debut chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous seafaring dynasty.

Moses, the revered patriarch of the Rathbone family, possessed an otherworldly instinct for spotting the whale. But years of bad decisions by the heirs to his fortune have whittled his formerly robust family down to just one surviving member: a young girl, left to live in the broken-down ancestral mansion that at one time had glowed golden with the spoils of the hunt.

Mercy, fifteen years old, is the diminutive scion of the Rathbone clan. Her father, the last in the dynasty of New England whalers, has been lost at sea for seven years-ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Naiwayonk, Connecticut. Mercy's memories of her father and of the time before he left grow dimmer each day, and she spends most of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive Uncle Mordecai, who teaches her the secrets of Greek history and navigation through his collection of moldering books. But when a strange, violent visitor turns up one night on the widow's walk, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee the house and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family.

Inspired by The Odyssey and infused with beautifully detailed descriptions of the realities of coastal and ship life reminiscent of Moby Dick, Janice Clark's magnificent debut is a spellbinding literary adventure.

Last week was a sea shanty kind of week, with Melville's birthday a key factor and so I read the new The Rathbones. A stunning debut with a whole mythos behind it, I was very impressed.

The Rathbones follows Mercy Rathbone, the last of the Rathbone clan that was once the greatest whaling family in all of New England. She lives in the remains of what was once a great mansion with her mother who awaits a lost father at sea and her cousin who lives in the attic and teaches her of whales and science and life. After a strange encounter with a man on the widow's walk one night, Mercy and her cousin leave the house and begin an Odyssey-esque journey around the area where Mercy slowly begins to learn the true history of her family. 

Although it did take a chapter or two to settle into as the tone is very unique, I greatly enjoyed The Rathbones. It feels like reading a great myth, a mixture of The Odyssey, Moby Dick and various Old Testament narratives. As you start to unravel how the Rathbone clan went from a lone whaler with seemingly supernatural powers to a crumbling dynasty, you both fall more in love with Mercy while being enraptured by the tale. It's not a page turner in the typical sense but it did make me want to keep reading to uncover more secrets.

Another thing that I thought was clever in the narrative was that every time Mercy learned of a new generation, a small family tree would be updated before moving on to the next part of the journey. This both helped the reader follow along and also gave a connection to Mercy who was the one sketching the tree. 

All of the characters were unique and interesting, my personal favorite being cousin Mordecai, the basically albino brilliant relative in the attic. Despite spanning generations, each character is unique, except for the few who are supposed to seem interchangeable. 

If any of this appeals to you, I would definitely say to check out The Rathbones. It comes out today from Doubleday. Check it out!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sisterland - Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.

As I quite liked Prep when I read it a little over a year ago, when I read the back of the new Sittenfeld novel, I was eager to read it. I love novels that deal with the paranormal and the ambiguities with the social acceptance of it. The idea of these two sisters fighting on opposite sides and dealing with their lives in their own ways sounded really interesting and with the skill that I knew Sittenfeld had, I was happy to try the book out.

The book weaves in and out of the "present" narrative (which is actually three or so years in the past) and the story of Vi and Kate as they grow in a world where they have powers other people don't. They get teased in school, they know things they shouldn't and they deal with an absent mother and a distant father. Kate just wants to be normal, the horrible teasing she goes through in middle school scarring her from embracing her gift while Violet, not great at making friends, finds a guardian spirit (whom she calls Guardian) that she trusts in and fully embraces her gift. 

Kate's family, from her relationship with her father and her sister to her family dynamic with her husband and two children, are very well drawn and feel real. I especially love the way her two year old daughter Rosie's dialogue is written. It's cute and young and innocent without sounding too much like an adult writing a child's voice. 

I was absolutely absorbed in this novel from the first and I eagerly read it before bed and at breaks during work. However, about fifty pages before the end, there was a sudden plot twist that kind of ruined the book for me. I'm a very open-minded reader (as you can tell by looking at all the genres I cover in this blog) but there is one thing that I just absolutely hate reading about and avoid in all my media. And then bam! There it is! In the middle of the book I was really enjoying.

Did this ruin the book for me forever? No, I suppose not. But it did sour the ending of it for me and knock it down a peg. I would have given this a solid four stars had it not been for that plot twist but now I give it more of a three. I loved it. I really did. I just didn't like where it took me.