When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray went out to the Pandemonium Club with her best friend, Simon, she didn't expect to witness another boy being murdered by three teens. Stranger still was the fact that no one seemed to be able to see any of them except her. The next day, one of the teens, a handsome, fair-haired young man named Jace, appears to her again, explaining that they are demon hunters known as Shadowhunters, and he too wonders why it is that Clary can see him. While visiting with Jace, Clary's mother calls her, frantic, but when Clary arrives home, her mother has mysteriously disappeared and Clary herself is attacked by a vicious demon. Clary wakes up in the Institute, the place where the Shadowhunters live, and realizes that her life has taken a very odd and unexpected detour. Determined to find her mother, she sets out on a dangerous mission which will forever change her and reveal a destiny she never could have anticipated.
City of Bones is the first book in Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments, a highly imaginative, new-to-me, YA fantasy series. The book reminded me of Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Secret Circle all mixed together and combined with a flavor that's all its own. I enjoyed the intriguing world building of the series. The main characters are based on the Biblical legends of the Nephilim who some believe were the descendants of the union between angels and humans. In our present day world they are known as Shadowhunters, and they basically hunt and kill all demons. There are also a broad range of half-demon creatures known as Downworlders, which encompasses vampires, werewolves, witches/warlocks, and fairies. For the most part, the Shadowhunters leave the Downworlders alone unless they're causing trouble, but there is some bad blood between them because of an uprising instigated by the villain of the story years earlier in which many Downworlders were slaughtered. A tentative peace agreement exists between the two groups, but it is in the process of being renegotiated when the story opens, leaving many uncertainties in their world. Overall, this novel contains a very complex and interesting new mythology.
Virtually the entire book is written from the third-person perspective of our intrepid heroine, Clary. All her life, she thought she was a normal human girl, until one night, when she witnesses what appears to be a murder and no one but her can see the people involved. The next day, her mother mysteriously disappears, and Clary is attacked by a vicious demon, barely escaping with her life. Through these experiences, Clary discovers a whole new world she never knew existed, as well as uncovering deeply buried family secrets and a potential destiny she never would have imagined. Clary was a very strong and determined young lady, not to mention open-minded. In the beginning, she experiences some classic teen angst in her relationship with her mom, but for the most part, she manages to take all of the new developments in her life in stride. She is very brave when it comes to fighting demons and adamant about doing whatever it takes to find and rescue her mother. Along the way, she becomes embroiled in a bit of a love triangle and must try to sort out her feelings for two very different young men. Overall though, for a fifteen-year-old, she has a pretty strong sense of self and is not easily manipulated by others. In her heart, she knows the truth and sticks to her guns when her beliefs are tested.
The other main character is Jace. He is a talented young Shadowhunter and a very intriguing hero. He embodies a certain arrogance about him, but he can also be rather charming. He is definitely something of an enigma. Jace is an orphan who witnessed his father's murder and has lived with another family since he was ten. There are hints that his father was a harsh man, but at the same time, Jace obviously loved and respected him enough to want to avenge his murder. When the unexpected happens, he is faced with some extremely difficult choices and his loyalties are put to the ultimate test. At the tender age of seventeen, he is outwardly a hardened warrior, but inside, he's still that hurt little boy who wants to please his father. Jace hides that hurt behind his witty, sarcastic humor, his thirst for danger, and a devil-may-care facade. As such, he has some of the best one-liners in the book.
The other teen characters include siblings, Alec and Isabelle, who are also like a brother and sister to Jace, because he grew up with them. Both of them can be rather prickly, especially toward Clary, but mainly because they are so protective of Jace. Isabelle is a fierce warrior herself and loves her brother to a fault. Outwardly, she's a girly girl, but inside she has the heart of a lion and doesn't always play fair. Alec has a strong bond with Jace and when Clary comes into the picture, he feels like she's encroaching on that special connection. Then there is Clary's best friend, Simon, who I absolutely adored. He's a musician and kind of geeky. He's a real sweetheart who would do almost anything for Clary, so it was hard to see him mixed up in the love triangle. I couldn't help feeling bad for him, but by the end of the book, I was feeling somewhat better about it. As for adult supporting characters, Valentine makes a dastardly villain. Hodge, who looks out for the kids at the Institute, at first, kind of reminded me of Giles from Buffy. He has that same bookish nature and played a similar mentoring role. Then there was the warlock, Magnus Bane, who gets his own spin-off series, The Bane Chronicles. Last but not least, was Luke, Clary's mother's best friend who was like a father to Clary growing up. He has a lot of secrets of his own that were fascinating to unearth.
City of Bones is written for a YA audience, and as a parent of teens, I have no trouble recommending it for a mature teenage audience of about fifteen and up. I compared it earlier to Harry Potter, but it is a bit more mature in content, so in my opinion, not really appropriate for the fifth and sixth graders who typically read that series. Still, it doesn't contain anything truly objectionable. The violence level is a bit bloodier and gorier than Harry Potter, but still well within the bounds of a PG-13 movie. There are a few mild to moderate profanities, but not a lot, and nothing that kids aren't likely to hear at school. Lastly, there is also some mild sexual innuendo, but nothing more than kisses actually take place during the story. One character is revealed to be gay which might bother some sensitive readers, but nothing takes place for this character from a relationship standpoint. Overall, I'd say that this book is appropriate for the teen audience for which it is intended.
When I first started reading City of Bones, I have to admit that I didn't exactly find it un-put-downable, but the further I got into it, the more exciting it became. In my opinion, the character development could have gone a little deeper, but the strength of the other aspects of the story helped to make up for that small deficiency. The action scenes were very well written and easy to follow what was going on even with multiple characters in a scene which is always a plus. There were also lots of plot twists and turns, especially as it got closer to the end. I did correctly guess one big plot twist before it was revealed, but it didn't really diminish my enjoyment of it, as it played out far differently than I would have imagined. Overall, City of Bones was a great reading experience that I'm already recommending to my family and friends, and I'm very much looking forward to continuing the series soon, as well as checking out the movie version.
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