A cigarette fast is easy to maintain when your mother is in town, who so heartily disapproves of them to the point that she almost disowned you when she found out you smoked, and you are staying with her at the Hilton New York this week in order to escape The Hovel Where I Live.
Despite my decreasing desire for a cancer stick, the fact of an oral fixation isn’t as easy to break.
Mum: Stop biting your fingernails.
JJ: I can’t help it! I can’t sm—I have an or—I just—ARGH!
I can’t exactly tell her that I am trying to quit smoking when I assured her that I quit months and months ago nor can I exactly say that I have an incurable oral fixation, which would probably have her jumping to kinky (and most likely justifiable) conclusions about my sex life. If I had, one of the following three scenarios could have occurred.
Mum: Stop biting your fingernails.
JJ: I can’t help it! I’m trying to quit smoking and I have an oral fixation.
Mum: YOU HAVEN’T QUIT SMOKING YOU LIED TO ME WAH WHY ARE YOU SO IRRESPONSIBLE GET OUT OF THIS ROOM RIGHT NOW I AM NEVER GOING TO TALK TO YOU AGAIN AND DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT HAVING FREE FOOD ON MY TAB!
Mum: Stop biting your fingernails.
JJ: I can’t help it! I’m can’t smoke and I have an oral fixation.
Mum: OMG YOU LIKE GIVING HEAD????? WHY ARE YOU HAVING SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE???? IT’S SO INAPPROPRIATE! IF YOU AND TEDDY BEAR DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN EXCHANGE CHASTE KISSES GOODBYE I WILL KILL HIM!
(My mother blissfully believes that I am pure and virginal as the snow/a unicorn/an untainted damsel-in-distress because sex does not exist in my family. I will not disabuse her of that notion because it means I have to acknowledge that my parents have sex and I really don’t want to think about that. Also, my mother’s Church is a direct descendant of the Puritan faith while my dad comes from a family of Mormons.)
Mum: Stop biting your fingernails.
JJ: I can’t help it! I can’t smoke and I have an oral fixation.
Mum: You know, if you want, you should perform/ingest/imbibe some mystical Korean remedy that I will find for you which will miraculously cure you of that problem.
(Since my grandmother’s mystical Korean remedy for allergies really did miraculously cure me I am not one to scoff at such things. I love how my Asian family’s usual initial reaction to situations is to offer Oriental medicine as panacea. We shall see how well the magical mushroom powder from Jeju Island my mother brought with her this time will work on making me thin.)
Other than the obsessive need to put my lips on something—anything, this week has been extremely pleasant thus far. My mother is in New York this week on assignment with the FBI (it sounds so very glamorous to say my mother works for the FBI when in fact it is very likely a bureaucratic hell like any other job) and is working the night shift, so I essentially have the room to myself. The only drawback is that she isn’t paying for food because she isn’t there, so I am spending unnecessary money on takeout when I could in fact be cooking in my apartment.
Living in a hotel for the week is fantastic. Maids clean my room, I have fast internet, and Chinese food delivers right to my door and I don’t even have to buzz them in. Unfortunately, my delivery man dropped the ball last night and forgot to bring a pen with him so I could sign the receipt, causing me to ransack the hotel room for half an hour looking for one (it’s a hotel! Pens! There must be a pen somewhere! Hilton New York, you have failed me). I ended up signing with black eyeliner. Somewhere Up There, Karma was indulging in a good, girly chick-lit-author giggle.
In Which I Review City of Bones and Reveal Myself to Be One of the Most Shamefully Geeky Persons Ever
For those of you in Harry Potter fandom, Cassie Claire (as she was known then) is somewhat (in)famous for her Draco Trilogy (which is, unfortunately, no longer available online). For those of you in Lord of the Rings fandom, she is also famous for The Very Secret Diaries, wherein she popularised the brilliant “Still not King” catchphrase.
In other words, Cassie is a very, very, very influential person online.
I have been a Harry Potter fangirl since 1999. There, I said it. I was a thirteen year old girl who had just discovered the wonderful world of internet fandom and I was clamouring for more, more, MORE of this marvelous and magical world J.K. Rowling had created. And GUESS WHAT I FOUND? That’s right, fanfiction. (Let me digress in a verbose manner before actually getting to the book review.)
Let me just say that, back in those days, there were two kinds of ‘shippers (not really; there were several more, but these were the two biggest at the time). The Harry/Hermione camp and the One Big Happy Weasley Family camp (Ron/Hermione + Harry/Ginny). I happen to fall into the former because yes, although Ginny fufills a character arc for Harry, Hermione is the female with the most amount of page time. (This was before Ginny suddenly sprouted a personality in Order of the Phoenix.) My knee-jerk reaction in nearly every fantasy I read is to ship The Hero with His Best Friend because let’s face it, Anne and Gilbert and their friendship-turned-romance is completely my One True Pairing model. (Other relationships to fall into this category are Mulder/Scully and Bob/Dot from ReBoot.) So naturally when I looked for fanfic to read, I searched for Harry/Hermione stories.
There were what I would call four seminal authors in the Harry/Hermione camp whose work every one of these shippers had read. There was Lori‘s Paradigm of Uncertainty, AngieJ’s Trouble in Paradise (which I can’t find online anymore! So sad!), Barb’s Harry Potter and the I Can’t Remember Because I Didn’t Actually Read This One series, and of course, Cassie Claire’s Draco Dormiens.
I loved all of those fics (except Barb’s because I couldn’t stomach Hormonal!Harry with his “Gorgeous!Ginny or Hot!Hermione?” dilemma) even though they all used nearly every HP fanfic cliché that had ever existed (I guess they weren’t cliché back then because they were, you know, kind of first). Lori and AngieJ’s work were of the post-Hogwarts variety (which I enjoyed more because even as a thirteen year old, I wasn’t interested in teenage angst) but Cassie Claire satisfied every teeny-bopper urge in me with her fic. It had everything: hormones abound in the sixth year when bookish Hermione suddenly becomes astoundingly attractive with the assistance of a killer wizarding dress, is torn between the love of her best friend and her sudden attraction to The Bad Boy, evil shallow romantic rival Cho (not my favourite characterisation of her, but it works), Polyjuice Potion mix-ups, evil lecherous Lucious Malfoy (HILARIOUS), and so much more. And it was really funny, besides. Cassie Claire fully admits (and attributes credit) to stealing lines from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Black Adder and other assorted sources but they all worked so beautifully I didn’t really care.
And then there was the sequel, Draco Sinister which was probably even funnier than the teenage drama of Draco Dormiens, but with added sex and tangled love hexagons with forcibly ingested Love Potions and Cosmic Fate and Ancestral Doppelgangers and History Repeating Itself with the different Founders of Hogwarts and Their Heirs (Draco, Harry, Hermione, and Ginny). Glorious. Characterisation here was considerably better than the first (less one-dimensional, more human) and may be one of the only fics where Awesome!Ginny is not annoying as hell. But the best character of all was the eponymous Draco, who was beautiful and tragic and aristocratic and arrogant-in-an-insecure-way and terribly witty at the same time. Unfortunately, this version of fanon Draco with his leather pants became canon-fanon Draco and I found that horribly irritating. That aside, everyone was likeable and no one was shafted in any way that I can remember.
And then…there was Draco Veritas. This was, without a doubt, the best of the three because the set-up in the previous two contributed so much to the characterisation of this last, especially in light of Harry and Draco’s relationship. (At this time, Harry/Draco, a small fledgling ship when I first joined, was picking up steam and was becoming vogue, although this fic was still nominally Harry/Hermione.) We get gorgeous little bits of writing about Draco’s childhood that makes the tragic prince act perfect and heartbreaking. Also: Harry. Just…gaah. That’s really all I have to say about that.
So when Cassie Claire (now Cassandra Clare) got her book deal and wrote and published her first YA fantasy novel, of course I went running out to buy it and gobble it up. Without further ado, here is the actual review:
City of Bones, Book One of the Mortal Instruments trilogy
Let’s just say I would have enjoyed this more if I were a) fifteen years old again and b) hadn’t read the Draco Trilogy. If I were fifteen years old, the love triangle between the three principal characters would have actually interested me (although I am secretly rooting for Simon the best friend, but then again, I am always rooting for the best friend), as well as the adolescent just-under-the-surface cattiness between actually-beautiful-but-thinks-herself-Plain-Jane Clary and the stunning Isabelle Lightwood. To Clare’s credit, she doesn’t let it descend into an all out bitchfight, but it’s still a bit sophomoric, especially coming after Draco Veritas.
And therein was my biggest problem; I couldn’t stop comparing it to a previous work of hers that could never be published because of copyright infringement. I kept drawing parallels: Clary = Ginny + Hermione, Jace = Draco, Simon = Harry, Luke/Lucian = Remus Lupin (both werewolves), Valentine = Lucius Malfoy. Jace more than the other two most strongly reminded me of Draco; he even had lines directly from the fanfic series, as well as an entire scene involving a pet falcon that was lifted verbatim. Of course, it isn’t fair that something so beautifully written could never be published, but in the case of City of Bones, I didn’t have enough invested in the characters to make that particular falcon scene touching. With the Draco Trilogy, Clare had the framework of an entire world already created for her by J.K. Rowling, a world in which beautiful tragic princes with a sarcastically witty tongue could exist without being laughed at. I couldn’t get a sense of the Shadowhunter world, or at least, their world wasn’t a world I wanted to live in, or even really be a tourist for.
I think the mark of a very great fantasy, at any reading level, is one of a world so completely it’s own and so very complete in every sense of the word that anything that happens within it is believable. Tolkien is the best example of this; Middle Earth was REAL with its languages and its cultures. Rowling is also fabulous at creating a world with its own logic, where blood prejudice is still strong (this is, I believe, her best feature, because racism is such a touchy but fascinating subject). Even Susanna Clarke with her alternate Napoleonic history was so amazingly detailed that I truly believed her version of England could have actually existed.
Clare is almost there. Almost. The Downworlders and the Shadowhunters have a nice feud and hatred thing going with each other, but their history, which supposedly stretches back hundreds and hundreds of years, is curiously flat and uninteresting. Blood purity matters here too, but Clary coming into this world as an outsider detracts from its emotional impact. So in a sense, we are viewing this alternate Manhattan two degrees removed from its richness: first through Clary’s eyes and then through our own. Also, plot twists I could smell from a mile away: Hodge’s betrayal, Valentine as Jace’s father, and Jace and Clary’s blood-relationship. I am secretly pleased that Clare actually Went There; brother-sister incest is a fetish of mine (I blame Tolkien’s Narn î Hin Húrin‘s Túrin and Níniel and Sigmund and Signy from the Volsung saga or even King Arthur and Morgan le Fey). It is the Ultimate Tragic Love Story: orphaned girl and orphaned boy, each bearing only one piece of their family puzzle, meet and fall passionately and beautifully in love only to find to their horror that they are brother and sister. Bonus points if they kill themselves in the end because they can’t be with each other.
That being said, this doesn’t mean the novel isn’t highly entertaining or well-written. It’s very…glib. And smooth, but in a “Hey baby, if I told you that you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?” sort of way. Very slick. Very Buffy the Vampire-Slayer Joss Whedon-esque. In fact, that is whose style Clare’s writing most strongly reminds me of: intelligent and pop at the same t ime, with wonderfully human characters and real emotion (although she isn’t quite at the real emotion yet…I know she’s capable, it’s just not there yet…).
P.S. Small world of small worlds, guess who works directly across the street from my office building? Avia, my freshman year roommate! We are going for coffee after we both get off work.