Review...maybe. I'm not sure I have the energy to explain myself more fully.
(It turns out I did have the energy to explain myself further.)
Going into City of Bones I wasn't sure how I would feel about it. I don't think there is any other book on Goodreads that has received such varied ratings from my friends. It's not just a love it or hate it book because a good number have rated it three stars too. Now that I've finished it, I can say that City of Bones wasn't as bad as I feared it to be, nor was it as good as I'd hoped.
I had heard that City of Bones was based off of Cassandra Clare's Harry Potter fanfiction so I was expecting the book to read like Harry Potter with the names changed. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Don't get me wrong. City of Bones is highly derivative, but it's derivative of many different sources, not just Harry Potter so it reads more original than many of the Twilight rip-offs I've had the misfortune of reading. The book contains a bit of Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I got a distinct anime vibe from some of the scenes, particularly the battles. I'm sure there are other borrowed sources (many people have pointed them out in other reviews) but these are the ones that stood out to me. Aside from the derivative nature of the story, I also took issue with the overall flow of the narrative. There are far too many scenes and side plots that do nothing to move the main narrative forward.
The Shadowhunter world is far too convoluted and random for my tastes. Clare uses the "everything and the kitchen sink" approach to world-building. There are demons, angels, vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, warlocks, hindu gods, fairies and every other mythological being known to man. Except mummies, which is odd since they actually do exist (there's photographic evidence), however, it's doubtful any of them have ever come to life. Very few authors are able to take beings from different mythological categories (e.g. fantasy, horror, religion) and blend them together, and Clare isn't one of them. While I thought the world-building was original in some respects, there were many aspects that were a little too similar to the magical world in Harry Potter, including the use of the word mundanes for humans instead of muggles, and the construction of the secret Shadowhunter world within the mundane world.
I wasn't impressed with the characters either, although I found their personalities to be much less similar to Harry Potter than others did. Although Clary, Simon and Jace physically resemble Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, I didn't think they sounded or acted like Rowling's characters, nor did Clare capture their hearts and souls (if in fact this was her intention). I wouldn't have made the connection had others not pointed it out beforehand. That said, Valentine's actions, thoughts and history are reminiscent of Voldemort's, and his Circle is eerily similar to the Death Eaters, though they aren't carbon copies.
Although I didn't think the characters were much like their Harry Potter counterparts, I did find them problematic in other ways. Clary is your typical Mary Sue. Beautiful but thinks she's plain, the hottest guy (supposedly) in the book falls for her without any real reason, she's a super talented artist, she's got special magical powers, and everyone bends over backwards to save her. Jace is your typical YA love interest. He's hot (supposedly), he's a jerk to everyone including the heroine, he hooks up with tons of girls and treats them like objects, he's only truly ever loved the heroine, and he's the greatest fighter of all the Shadowhunters. He also drives a motorcycle, which isn't characteristic of all YA love interests, but is pretty common. Honestly, I don't understand his appeal. I will give Clare credit for not having Jace and Clary instantly fall in love with each other (even if I don't understand the attraction between them), and for giving Jace a valid reason for taking an interest in her in the first place other than a super special soul mate connection.
By far the weakest aspect of City of Bones is the writing. Here are a few examples:
"He pushed down on the wooden thing. It bent as easily as a blade of grass bending sideways." — This is one of many ridiculous similes.
"It was a derisive sort of cough, the kind of noise someone might make who was trying not to laugh out loud."/"She laughed out loud."/"When she collided with something unmistakably alive, she yelped out loud."/"Isabelle laughed out loud."/"Clary laughed out loud." — This is a novel not a text message. If a character laughs or yelps, the reader will assume that it's out loud unless otherwise stated.
"The weapons room looked exactly the way something called 'the weapons room' sounded like it would look." — Awkward and also unnecessary.
"Clary regarded her pancakes consideringly." — Redundant and awkward. Regard means to consider so basically this sentence reads "Clary considered her pancakes consideringly." Also, Oxford Dictionaries Online, Collins Online Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionaries Online, Macmillan, and Oxford University Press do not recognize "consideringly" as a word, although dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster Online do.
"Clary let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding." — See Christina's blog post over at A Reader of Fictions for a full discussion of what's wrong with this sentence.
Additionally, the dialogue, which is touted by fans as being humorous, sounded cheesy and forced to me. I don't think I laughed once (out loud or otherwise). There are also a lot of unnecessary adverbs and dialogue tags, a common problem in YA fiction unfortunately. There is nothing positive I can say about the writing.
I was not impressed with City of Bones, though I may check out the rest of the trilogy so that I can read Clare's other Shadowhunter trilogy, The Infernal Devices, which is held in higher regard by my Goodreads friends.