by Cassandra Clare
485 pages, Simon Pulse
Review by Melissa Conway
The first time I heard of The Mortal Instruments books was after I'd finished writing my first YA novel and was Googling around for examples of book trailers. I didn't find the official City of Bones trailer, but I did stumble upon this fan trailer by Missphoenix05, and I was mesmerized, not only by the images and music borrowed (undoubtedly without permission) to produce the trailer, but by the fact that the book inspired a fan to go to such lengths to show her support.
After that I started noticing the books at the bookstore; they're hard to miss, since the covers have prominently placed torsos of attractive, barely-clothed teens with a gushing quote from Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame plastered dead center. After I joined Goodreads I noticed there were a lot of reader discussions on Cassandra Clare's series, piquing my curiosity even further.
The other day I was at our local Hasting's looking for Stacey Kade's Queen of the Dead, but they didn't have a copy and I ended up browsing the teen section. I settled on City of Bones just to satisfy that niggling curiosity.
The story drew me in quickly. Clary Fray is the angst-ridden almost sixteen-year-old main character, and she's pretty typical for YA: a clever, beautiful girl who sees herself as a clumsy ugly duckling. She's not getting along with her secretive, over-protective mother, and sneaks off to an all-ages nightclub with Simon—the obligatory best guy-friend secretly in love with her. Clary witnesses a murder, but no one else can see or hear the perpetrators, magical beings trained to dispatch demonic creatures that encroach on the human world.
It's a cool premise, and Clare (the author, not the main character) handles it well. We aren't limited to demons as the bad guys, here we get all sorts: vampires, werewolves, fairies—in fact, it's made clear by the author that every story throughout the world about mythical creatures has some basis in truth, so the reader can expect almost anything to crop up. These creatures are generally bad guys the average mundie (human) would be smart to avoid, but they aren't as bad as demons themselves. The Nephilim, offspring of humans and angels, are the Shadow-hunters, the folks Clary (the main character, not the author) gets mixed up with after her mother is kidnapped by demons. It has been the job of the Shadow-hunters for centuries to protect humans from the odd demon that strays into our world, but there are warring political factions within the Shadow-hunter society; some believe all demons and Forsaken (the vampires, werewolves, etc.) should be destroyed, but the majority support the Accord, a peace treaty between Shadow-hunters and Forsaken.
The above just touches upon this complicated world, but it's not too hard to understand. The author spools out information on how things work through a group of Shadow-hunting teens who school Clary on the rules as the story progresses. These teens are all other-worldly gorgeous and deadly, a powerful draw for the author's target audience, normal teens (and adults who enjoy YA, like me) looking to escape their mundane existences. Clary and Simon are the intruders in the Shadow-hunting teens existing group dynamic, and as expected, romantic confusion ensues.
The book has everything, even a MacGuffin—a literary term describing an object or objective that the characters in the story are seeking (think the ring in the Lord of the Rings)—that strangely enough is very similar to the MacGuffin I have in one of my own books, although the stories themselves are wildly different.
I read City of Bones in three days, a feat for a slow reader like me, since the book is nearly 500 pages long. And there is the crux of my only real criticism: description, particularly of fight scenes, bogs the narrative down. The ending dragged on to the point where I was skipping whole pages. This won't be a problem for everyone—I'm just allergic to over-explanation and prefer to imagine some of the details myself. But this minor drawback didn't stop me from grabbing up the second book in the series the last time I hit the bookstore. I just HAVE to find out if…well, I won't spoil it for you.