April 16, 2009
Clare, C (2007). City of bones. Great Britain: Walker Books.
Clare, C (2008). City of ashes. Great Britain: Walker Books.
Who’s it for? Older teens (including those who loved the Twilight series)
What’s it about? It’s present day and fifteen year old Clary Fray is at a local New York nightclub with her best friend, Simon, when she witnesses a fight in which a boy is knifed by three good-looking teens– but no-one else appears to have seen the incident. Shortly after, Clary’s life is thrown into turmoil when her home is broken into and her mother ends up in a coma. She discovers that it the work of demons – and the teens (Jace, Alec and Isabelle) from the nightclub were, in fact Demon Hunters. Naturally enough, she is caught up in this world and, as readers would expect with this kind of story, an evil genius, Valentine, is bent on basically taking over the world. Things become more complicated when Clary discovers that Valentine is actually her father – and her comatose mother was his wife. Moreover, Jace, with whom she has fallen in love, turns out to be her brother! In the midst of all this, there are vampires, werewolves, warlocks, not-so-friendly faeries, and plenty of magical tattoos and sinister weapons. At their hearts, these novels explore notions of family, loyalty and trust.
Is it any good? The series moves along at a brisk, entertaining pace, and is enhanced by regular flashes of humour. Characters are fleshed out, believable and sympathetic. Clare even manages to make Valentine more than a stereotype of the crazy, evil genius. Most welcome of all, though, is the quality of the writing. It is rich and evocative; Clare uses similes particularly well, e.g. ‘When he smiled at Clary, a thousand small lines rayed out from around his eyes, like the cracks in an old painting.’ On the negative side, the ideas behind the story are derivative – Clare borrows elements freely from dozens of previous tales, including Harry Potter and Star Wars. However, she brings these elements together in an original enough way. The advantage of not creating an entirely original world is that most readers will find it easier to immerse themselves in Clare’s world – it is at once familiar and new. Overall, these urban supernatural fantasies will appeal to many teenagers; the fact that Twilight series author, Stephanie Meyers, has endorsed the series won’t hurt either. However, as an adult, I can’t wait to read book three, The City of Glass, which has just been released.
How can they be used? These are an obvious inclusion on any library shelf for general reading – especially for those wanting a follow-up to the hugely popular Twilight series. Happily, they avoid swearing (like the Harry Potter books, readers are told simply that a character ‘swore’) and there is nothing overtly sexual. The books will not be to the liking of some parents and other adults, though; teachers should be aware that there is a strong supernatural element. In addition, Clarke deliberately plays up the relationship between Clary and Jace, and the struggles they face knowing that they love each other romantically even though they are brother and sister. One of my daughter’s friends thinks it’s a really stupid story line, but while it is somewhat (unnecessarily?) sensational , I think there are plenty of clues dropped in the second book that Jace and Clary are not, in fact, siblings. Finally, this is another excellent book to draw extracts from in order to model the use of figurative language and imagery. Overall, with its strong, inclusive characters (including great female parts) this is a series with which teachers really should familiarize themselves. And don’t forget to check out the books’ website: http://www.mortalinstruments.com/.