Rating (out of 5): 4 stars
In Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, the opening novel to her The Mortal Instruments series, we’re introduced to a world of Shadowhunters — those who spend their lives ridding the world of demons — through the eyes of 15-year-old Clary Fray. Her world spirals out after witnessing Shadowhunters taking out a demon. Her mother goes missing, Clary’s attacked by a demon and ends up finding sanctuary with these teens who hunt and kill demons. She’s out to find her mom. But as she investigates, she discovers secrets hidden from her, including the truth about who she is and what she’s meant to do.
The standout element of City of Bones is its characterization. Our protagonist Clary is easy to love. Relating to her is natural and her actions (and emotional overreactions) fit her age. Early on Clary finds out her mom had a past she’d kept hidden. Her mom was not the person she thought she was — she had been a warrior and had killed demons. That didn’t mesh with Clary’s perception of her kind of boring artist mom.
Despite the degree of the shock, I think adults will relate to this element the most. Part of coming of age is the realization that your parents are real people with real lives and real pasts. They had first loves, they made mistakes, they have passions outside raising their children, they are full people. It’s only once we’re past the self-centered teenage stage that we can fully appreciate our moms and dads as real people. Clary coming to terms with her mom having this hidden past feels reminiscent of that.
The other characters in the novel are similarly robust. Jace has that guarded cockiness we often find with alpha males, but when he drops his guard we get full glimpses of pain. I look forward to seeing him deal with his history as this series progresses. Simon has great one-liners and a wry sense of humor, which help keep what could be a very dark novel from being a downer.
The other excellent character was Valentine. He’s hardly in the novel, in person that is, but his name and the fear it instills in others it palpable. As a villain, Valentine has the right mix of mystery, charm and evil to encourage strong responses from readers. Big thumbs up there.
I’m both eager and anxious to read the second title. While I want to see where things go, will Valentine succeed, what happens to Clary’s mom now, etc., I wasn’t happy about the big twist at the end of the book. I knew half of it was coming and was good with it, but the other part disappointed me. (Ed note: Group read will discuss this one. Leaving details out here to avoid spoilers.)
While the twists in the plot are great and the characters relatable, those who look for adult-level prose in their YA novels (which is becoming increasingly common) will not find it in City of Bones. It’s a straightforward teen novel with writing to match. For me it wasn’t a problem, but I read the book in 100-page chunks.
The short version is City of Bones is a darker young adult urban fantasy with strong characters you’ll fall in love with on more than one level. We absolutely recommend this first book in The Mortal Instruments series.