If you've been following the YA world with any attention at all, you probably know this by now: Cassandra Clare has a horrible reputation. It seems you can't go two feet without running into criticisms of her book. It was badly written. The pacing was slow. Clary was a Mary Sue. Clare is a plagiarist. Yet, I love this series.* But since coming to GoodReads, I've been wondering if it's okay to like it so much. Yes, I know how ridiculous the idea of an opinion being 'okay' to have seems, but there were some legitimate complaints from well-written reviews that were somewhat hard to ignore.
So I feel the need to defend the series. Even with its tons and tons of fans, I feel like a black sheep for liking it, so I'm going to write a review expressing my opinion of this book, to myself if no one else. I don't expect to convince a single person that the book is good, and that's okay. Reviewing isn't about convincing someone of your opinion; it's about showing people a different perspective of a book, and appealing to people who haven't read it but might.
People say that Clary is a Mary Sue. I won't debate this. Clary is easily the worst character in the piece. Now, don't get me wrong, she's far better than the average Mary Sue; she has hobbies, she actually does things, and she can think like a normal person. But I still never felt much of a real... personality behind her. Maybe Clare wasn't trying to write a protagonist who you can insert yourself into, a-la-(god forbid) Bella, but it came off that way.
That being said, no, I didn't think she was stupid. I mean, yes, she did some things in this book that weren't too bright, but haven't you? You've never done anything impulsive that you later regretted? You've never done anything stupid that got you in trouble? Of course you have. So why should you expect anything different from characters in books? When I hear criticisms that Clary was stupid, it reminds me of criticisms that a character is unlikable: both rely on a (subconscious, usually) assumption that characters in books should be perfect. They shouldn't; they should be real. It would be odd if Clary never made any mistakes, and Clare shows this accurately.
However, even if Clary didn't have a good personality for us to look through, everyone else did. In fact, the cast of side characters was some of the strongest I've ever read. Without exception, every one of them had an interesting character arc, seamlessly woven into the main one. It almost feels like Clare doesn't even have to try to establish characters; from their first sentence, I felt like I already had a good idea of who they are. (In a "Clare is good at establishing characters very fast way", not in a "this is a character I've seen before" way.)
People say that Jace is an asshole. I will debate this one. Because actually, I really appreciated what Clare did with Jace, and she did it very effectively. Clare was showing the effects of abuse, how one uses witty and - yes - sometimes rude and cruel remarks to cover up the pain. And, like a lot of this book, it was done flawlessly. By the end of this book, I completely understood why Jace acted the way he did. And he's a hell of a lot better than the Edwards and the Daniels of the literary world; Edward had no excuse to be an asshole, and Daniel's excuse was purely one of stupidity. Jace, on the other hand, had an excuse that didn't come from the paranormal aspects of the book, but rather from mundane, real experiences that people go through. And besides, I never got the impression that it was his rudeness that made him attractive to Clary; it was the rest of his personality, it was that he made Clary laugh and that he was brave and intelligent and now I'm fangirling and I'm a fucking guy and also I don't fangirl someone please stop me before I make this sentence 300 words long and no one ever takes my reviews seriously again.
But anyway. I also must discuss the side characters. Such as Simon. I can really empathize with him; the feeling of being ignored, the feeling that you'll never be liked because you're so geeky, the feeling that ultimately, you're not good enough for the things you want. Once again, this is something that real people go through, and it makes sense for him to feel the way he does. He's incredibly sympathetic, and he's probably my favorite character.
I could write a paragraph on everyone, but I have to move onto other things, so I'll keep my opinions on the other characters brief. Magnus (who we don't see much of in this one) was such a personality, and he was hilarious. Incredibly hilarious. Isabelle was a great subversion of the "all the other girls in the paranormal romance are bitches/sluts"; it may seem that way at first, but as with everyone else in this story, Isabelle has a very deep character arc and a real personality. And I'll spoil the book slightly by saying that by the end of the story, Clary would never think of Isabelle as a slut again. But anyway. Alec. Oh, Alec. Alec is one of the most realistic gay characters I've ever read about. I'm not sure how to describe why Alec is so well-written, so just read this article, written by author Phoebe North. Alec is one of the few people I've read who fits what Phoebe seems to want: someone whose identity as a homosexual is important to him and affects him, but doesn't overcome everything. Thank you, Clare, for that.**
So, I think I can move on now. Every character had a poignant and compelling personality and arc, and it's so rare in popular books that I have to show my appreciation. There were a couple issues (Simon was the only one that handled the love triangle realistically, and of course, Clary existed), but it was largely awesome.
As for plotting. Yes, the pace was slow. I won't deny that. But that's because this is as much about the characters as the plot. It's not entirely character driven, like This is Not a Test or The Way We Fall, but the characters are still important. But that's not to say that there wasn't a plot, because there was. In fact, in the sections that focused on the plot, I found it very engaging and interesting. Clare has clearly planned everything out very, very well, and it's always entertaining to read about. So, yes, the pacing was slow, but I never even noticed, because of the characters, and because Clare wrote a good plot anyway. The only real issue is that there wasn't a whole lot of tension to the end. Other than that, it's great.
And now, I must discuss plagiarism.
It's something I hoped I could avoid, but I can't. The accusations of Clare's plagiarism of Harry Potter are too important to ignore, and I have to acknowledge them.
I don't think this book is plagiarized. Yes, it shares some similarities to Harry Potter, but that's inevitable. There is no such thing as a book that came completely out of a void, different from everything before it. And of course there's going to be some inspiration from Harry Potter; Clare wrote fan fiction for it. I'm aware of the plagiarism incident in the said fan fic, and that isn't okay. But I think Clare has learned her lesson since then, and if not for that incident, I don't think anyone would see plagiarism here. And besides, Harry Potter didn't invent the idea of a normal kid being introduced to a paranormal world, nor the character who's rude because of abuse. Those elements were around before, and Harry Potter shouldn't have a trademark on them just because Rowling used them.
Last but not least, I'll discuss the writing. People say Clare has a problem with similes. I won't debate this. Not all of them were horrible, but there were too many of them, and a lot of them... were horrible. But that's not the only element of Clare's writing, and I actually found the writing to be wonderful. The third-person narration, combined with the abundant descriptions and the sparse prose, give the book an old-fashioned feel, meshing perfectly with the book's tone. It's almost never awkward, and it's always lush and engaging. Clare makes it easy for us to get a mental image of everyone and everything, in a way that books rarely do.
Oh, and one thing I forgot: the dialogue. It was hilarious. Clare is one of the funniest writers I've ever read, and her wit is completely unmatched. Nevertheless, the dialogue was still believable; I could believe that Jace was the kind of person to come up with witty remarks on the spot, or maybe even to rehearse them beforehand. And even if it wasn't believable, I'd still forgive the comedy parts because HILARITY!
I feel better now. I feel better now that I've sufficiently defended my opinion of the book. Now that I've gotten the words on paper, I feel like it's 'okay' to enjoy it, because I can defend my opinion with all I've got now. I couldn't do that before I wrote this review. So, you've probably long since made a decision on whether or not to read this book, but if you haven't, I'd strongly advise reading it. Do it. Now.
* Yes, even the books that came after City of Glass. Maybe it's because I thought City of Glass was easily the worst book of the series, so I didn't mind it not being the ending. Maybe it's because I went into the series knowing there would be more than three books, so it wasn't a surprise. Or maybe I just find them genuinely good. Is that an issue?
** Incidentally, if I had to defend claims that Clare was only in the business for the money, I'd simply point to that.*** In this day and age, would Clare really take a risk on writing such a non-stereotyped gay character if she was in it for the money? Of course not. I wish it wasn't true, but I still must say it: that would be stupid. But Clare did it anyway, which is even more of why I appreciate it.
*** That's not to deny that some of the later stuff wasn't written for the money, because I'm aware that it was. I'm just saying that this one wasn't.