The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Cassandra Clare
2007
512 pages

The boy never cried again, and he never forgot what he’d learned: that to love is to destroy, and that to be loved is to be the one destroyed.
Jace Wayland, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones is the first book in The Mortal Instruments series written by Cassandra Clare. City of Bones tells the story of Clary Fray, a seemingly normal girl, whose life is turned completely upside down. The story begins with Clary visiting a club called Pandemonium with her best friend Simon. While at the club, a boy with blue hair catches Clary’s eye. She watches as he heads into a storage room with a girl wearing a long white gown, only to be followed by two armed figures. Clary tells Simon to fetch security and follows them into the storage room. She initially finds an empty storage room, but just as she is about to give up they materialize out of thin air. Clary keeps hidden until they make a move to kill the boy with blue hair, who they say is a demon. Clary’s appearance causes enough of a distraction for the demon boy to attack Jace. Jace and the other two, Isabelle and Alec manage to subdue and kill the demon. Clary’s best friend bursts into the storage room along with security guards. They look confused and Clary quickly realizes that she is the only one who can see Jace, Isabelle and Alec. Clary mutters an excuse about being mistaken and rushes out of the club. How can Clary see them and no one else can?

The next day, Jace finds Clary. He tells her that his tutor, Hodge, has told him to bring Clary to the Institute. A phone call from Clary’s mother interrupts the conversation. She sounds like she’s in trouble. She tells Clary that she loves her and gives her a cryptic message for Luke (a friend of the family) –“he’s found her”. Clary is beside herself with fear. She races back to the apartment despite her mother telling her not to come home.  Clary finds her mother is missing, the apartment is trashed and a demon lying in wait. That’s when Clary realizes that there is another world that she never knew existed. How is Clary connected to this world? Will Clary be able to rescue her mother from demons?

Overall, I really liked this book and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series. However, I am a tad apprehensive after the ending of the book, and I will admit that I didn’t connect very well with Clary as a main character.

Part of what made City of Bones great was the world that Cassandra Clare created. While the book is set in New York City, Clare has created a hidden world that “mundanes” or “mundies” cannot see. This world is filled with supernatural beings that are at war. There are Shadowhunters (warrior children of angels) who kill half-breeds including vampires, werewolves, faeries and demons when they break the truce (the truce that prevents half-breeds from harming mundane). I love the range of half-breeds that Clare has imagined and described in enough detail that the reader can really picture them. For example, the Ravener demon is described as looking like an alligator and a centipede mixed together. It has multiple eyes, legs and claws, a barbed tail, fanged teeth and green saliva. It’s intriguing that the only people who can see this world are those with the Sight. Clare often describes what buildings and cars look like to Clary because this is different to what the mundanes because she has the Sight. For example, when Clary goes to see the Silent Brothers she gets into a horse drawn carriage that looks like car and can jump over the traffic. I found this fascinating.

Clare also put a lot of imagination into the weapons that the Shadowhunters use to fight the half-breeds. I really enjoyed reading about the Steele that Shadowhunters use to draw the runes onto their skin. Most of the runes are merely temporary but they do leave a faint silver scar in the same shape. As a result, most Shadowhunters are covered in faint silver scars. The runes are used because they have certain effects that are useful in battle, e.g., a healing rune. I thought the fact that all the runes are recorded in the Gray book was interesting, and that a person can only learn so many runes at any one time.

My only criticism of the setting/world that Clare created is that sometimes Clare spent too much time describing the world or including flashbacks, and this broke up the flow of the writing, especially around scenes that otherwise would have been pretty action-packed. This meant that the book suffered some problems with pace; sometimes I was skim-reading through verbose descriptions of the surroundings or long flashbacks to the past just to get to some more action.

In terms of the plot for the City of Bones, I felt that some plot points, which were meant to be surprising when they happened, were glaringly obvious and I was frustrated that Clary took so long to get to the same conclusions. I know that I am older than the target audience for young adult fiction, but I do think that young adult readers would also find these twists obvious. There were other, large twists in the plot that did somewhat catch me off guard. I tended to have an inkling that a particular twist in the plot would happen, but it was still surprising when it did happen. I have to say that I am not sure about the twist at the end of the book. I am surprised that Clare went there in a young adult book. I won’t say anymore than that because I don’t want to give the ending away, but be warned that you might be a little uncomfortable with the twist and how the characters, Clary in particular, reacts. I am apprehensive about the next book but I am keen to see where Clare takes the story next. I guess that there will be another complex twist that will undo the twist at the end of City of Bones at some point. Anyway, enough of the cryptic writing, overall, I was fairly happy with the plot’s predictability.

Character-wise, I really liked Jace. I liked his tough exterior, he has a reputation for being rude and abrasive, coupled with the brief flashes of innocence that show he isn’t just a mean, fighting-machine. I also loved his sense of humor throughout the book. He kept me laughing. At one point, for example, Clary asks Jace what an inscription on a statue means and he replies, “It means ‘Shadowhunters: Looking Better in Black Than the Widows of our Enemies Since 1234’.

I am rather ambivalent about Clary though. I found it difficult to connect with Clary because she is very inconsistent. Her voice is at times a sixteen year old’s (which she is in the book) but other times she sounds more like an adult. It would have been best if the voice was consistent, so either a sixteen year old girl in actuality and voice, or a sixteen year old girl in actuality but an adult in voice. I also found that her opinions and actions were rather inconsistent. For example, she starts off kicking a Ravenor demon’s butt, I think mostly this was down to luck, but the point is she got involved, and yet, her involvement kind of fizzles out from thereon. When she finds herself in a battle with the half-breeds she becomes more of a narrator telling the reader what everyone else does and how bad it is. She doesn’t really get involved so there isn’t anywhere in the book where Clary really becomes a hero rather than a bystander. Even Simon, her mundane friend, does more when things get rough than Clary.
I will admit that one of my favourite characters was Chairman Meow, the cat at the Institute. Chairman Meow has a great presence throughout the book, even though he is only a cat. Chairman Meow always seems to know where everyone is and he often takes people to the person they are looking for. Although, sometimes Chairman Meow is not as honest as he should be and takes the person to someone who they did not request. Chairman Meow can also communicate quite effectively with just a look, usually a look that indicates he is unimpressed. He is awesome! I want that cat!

A large plot point in this book is a love triangle, well two love triangles, both involving Clary. I have to admit that I am getting bored of reading young adult fiction with love triangles. Here are just a few: Twilight, The Host, The Hunger Games, Fallen, Anita Blake Series (Book One – Guilty Pleasures), The Vampire Diaries. However, there are so many more than this! How often does this happen in real life? It really feels like some authors add these love triangles in to amp up the romance element of the book because a romance between the protagonist and another character just isn’t enough. When Clare wrote in TWO love triangles, one surrounding Clary and one surrounding Jace, I was less than impressed. I will admit that Clare’s love triangles are a little different from the norm, but both involve unrequited love that is obvious to the focus of the other love triangle. I also don’t think that the love triangles were very strong. I think for a love triangle to work, you should equally root for each relationship so it doesn’t matter which person is chosen in the end, either choice will be disappointing in some way. This is rarely done well enough to make the inclusion of a love triangle worthwhile. The only love triangle that I truly sit on the fence about is the love triangle surrounding Elena Gilbert in The Vampire Diaries TV Series. I go back and forth between Stephan and Damon continuously and my indecisiveness frustrates me to know end. That’s how to do a good love triangle. I don’t feel that Clare hit the mark with either love triangle.

Lynne and I have written a separate, hidden post about one of the major plot points/twists at the end of this novel. Of course, this will include spoilers, so only click on the link if you are okay with spoilers or have already read the book. Click this link to read our different thoughts on this key point: City of Bones Discussion.

Final Verdict: An imaginative plot with twists and turns that keep the reader on his/her toes. Not without faults, but I would definitely recommend to those who are a fan of young adult fantasy fiction.

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