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review 2013-08-19 00:00
City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

So, turns out City of Bones is AU Harry Potter fanfic starring the children of the Death Eaters.

I was kind of not expecting this? I mean, I knew Clare wrote HP fanfic and I'd read rundowns of all the plagiarism wank and I'd heard that Bones had been influenced by her Draco fic, but whatever, I've read books before that were probably adapted from fanfic, right? I mean, who hasn't ripped of Buffy at this point? I've seen plenty of books take familiar characters and tropes and archetypes and play with them, with varying degrees of success, so even though I'd heard, I wasn't expecting the level of wholesale ganking that I found in City of Bones.

Cuz that's the thing about City of Bones, it's not just like an archetype or two that's been lifted and adapted - Clare has straight up filed the serial numbers off this shit. This is Harry Potter world with a new urban fantasy paint, this is a Marvel What-If? experiment, this is Draco Goes to the Big City...although to be fair, this is Draco in Leather Pants, and that, by far, is the most original thing about it.

SPOILERS ABOUND



So the wizards are now nephilim, and the twist is that they Don't Do Magic, dammit, which they will tell you up one side and down the other. Instead, they use steles to trace magic runes (on themselves and other objects) to do things like unlock doors, and shoot people across the room, and allow them to get around without being noticed, and create one-way mirrors for eavesdropping, and create magic pictures, and heal people, and generally ass-pull themselves out of any situation that requires a miracle solution, and GOD FORBID YOU CONFUSE THAT FOR MAGIC CAST FROM WANDS, because Shadowhunters don't fucking do magic, what the fuck do you think this is?

A fanmade stele

A stele. Did I mention they can also be activated by pointing them at things and shouting keywords? BUT IT'S NOT A WAND OKAY? GOD!



Nephilum are more colloquially known as Shadowhunters, which basically just means that wizard society got a lot more militant in its disdain for magical creatures. In the fantasy kitchen sink that Bones takes place in, vampires, werewolves, faeries, etcetceretcetefuckingra, all exist, but they're all literal demon-offspring. Some like to eat humans, which the nephilum don't appreciate, so treaties have been put in place to keep them from eating humans indisciminately, and to ensure that Shadowhunters only kill "downworlders", who've committed crimes. Despite this, it's apparently totally okay to entrap hungry downworlders, and then kill them for taking the bait. Go fig.

The Big Bad is the MOST militant of the militant wizards, Volde - I MEAN VALENTINE, a charismatic Shadowhunter obsessed with ridding the world of filthy half-breed downworlders, because master races are where it's fucking at, man. He spent his years at Shadowhunter school amassing a cult of devoted followers with names like Pangborn and Lightwood who spend a lot of time wearing robes and plotting to overthrow the Shadowhunter council because they aren't militant enough.

Luckily just before the heroine was born there was a violent uprising in which Voldentine and most of his Death Circle were killed or reformed, so now everything is lah-dee-dah again, except it's not, because Voldentine's back and he's looking to stir up some shit with a magical MacGuffin, which is where our story begins.

So I mean let's be real here: this is a Harry Potter fanfic. This is a Harry Potter fanfic with very little modification, and whole chunks of world mythology and backstory left intact. And personally I find this kind of fascinating. I mean, it really raises huge questions, doesn't it? About intellectual property and inspiration, and where the line between "influenced/inspired by" and "ripped off" is drawn. I think Clare perfectly straddles that line, I mean obviously City of Bones was Legally Distinct enough to be published, but the veneer of originality is thin. Here, here, let me give you an example!

Let's talk about the Silent Brothers, or the Legally Distinct Dementors. So, I took the liberty of looking up the introduction to the dementors that we get in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and comparing it to the information that we get about the Silent Brothers in City of Bones.

Prisoner of Azkaban:

Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood. Harry’s eyes darted downward, and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water...

[...]

An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart...



City of Bones:

Then she saw a figure move out of the dimness, and she realized that what she had thought was a patch of darker shadow was a man. A tall man in a heavy robe that fell from neck to foot, covering him completely. The hood of the robe was raised, hiding his face. The robe itself was the color of parchment, and the intricate runic designs along the hem and sleeves looked as if they had been inked there in drying blood. The hair rose along Clary’s arms and on the back of her neck, prickling almost painfully.



Is it exactly the same? Well, no. The Silent Brothers are brown, you see, and they also talk (telepathically), were once Shadowhunters themselves, and play a completely different role in the story. But still, underneath the layers of brown parchment paint and runes, you can see the links back to the Harry Potter universe. And that's the crux of it!

They are different, they are used differently, but you can tell that they were dementors, once, just like you can see that steles were once wands, and Valentine was once Voldemort. But is it plagiarism? Is it thieving? How many changes have to be made before it qualifies?

Personally, I'm kind of amused and morbidly fascinated by the whole thing. I feel like the relationship between City of Bones and Harry Potter is not dissimilar from the one between, say, Cinder and Cinderella, right, except that Cinder and others like it specifically acknowledge that they are adaptations and retellings, and they are adaptations and retellings of things that have fallen into public domain. On the whole, Clare probably should have put more effort into blending her ingredients into this new cuisine, but it still might have been able to work for me, if, well, everything else hadn't been so awful...

Full review at the BRAND-SPANKING NEW You're Killing.US!

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