I read this book back in February 2013. I’m reviewing it now based on my Goodreads review of the time as well as retrospect and a renewed interest in the series after watching the film a couple of days ago, because I haven’t finished a book in weeks and didn’t like the thought of this blog never being updated just because I’m being slow.
For those who don’t know, City Of Bones is the first in The Mortal Instruments, a series by Cassandra Clare focused on a race of ‘Shadowhunters’, who hunt demons, and their conflict with the forces of evil.
Originally, I picked up this book because I’d confused it with Cassandra Clare’s other series, the Infernal Devices series, and having read the blurbs for those online, had been intending to track them down anyway. Hey, I knew they both had names like Philip Reeve books (when I came across a character called Valentine, I got really confused), and I didn’t know what the actual title was, so it was a justified conclusion. Only significantly later did I find out that the two series were interlinked with the Infernal Devices being prequels.
The confusion served a purpose, though: I didn’t read the blurb before borrowing it from the library. If I had, I’m pretty sure that and the cover would have made me put it straight back on the shelf. The two make it sound like the most boring, cliched teen romance novel in the history of cliched teen romance novels, and if there’s one thing I’m not interested in, it’s teen romance novels without anything else to recommend them.
(They’re always about infatuation masquerading as love, kisses are soul-searing and life-changing, and everybody is reduced to a wreck by their feelings for someone else. Illogical and pointless as a subplot.)
But this is not a cliched teen romance novel, even if the movie likes to pretend it was. I knew from the opening chapters that it was different. The main character, Clary, catches sight of a hot, otherworldly hot guy in a club. Blue hair etc. In 90% of the other YA paranormal romances I’ve read, that would be the guy she’s going to fall in love, right? Nope. Not here. Here, he only serves to introduce her to the fact that the world is a Very Odd Place, and plays no further purpose.
Minor spoiler alert: he dies, right there at the beginning of the book. . And it’s the guy who kills him who becomes the love interest. Not exactly typical of the genre.
Another thing that was different about this book, and the rest of the series when I read them six months later, is the humour. It’s full of sarcasm, witty one-liners, hilarious comebacks and incongruous pop culture references. Jace’s wit veers from self-deprecating to self-obsessed, while Simon uses nerdy jokes to deal with the fact that his best friend has dragged him into a world of demons.
Simon was a great character. Mostly, the ‘best friend’ is there as moral support, to give advice to the protagonist, and maybe to get kidnapped or nearly killed at the end to raise the stakes. Occasionally they get a sequel spin-off about them, and that’s awesome. (Such as Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater.) But Simon actually had a role, which became more significant as the book went on, and he was a fully developed character in himself.
All the characters were. There’s plenty to recommend Cassandra Clare, but one of the main things you notice about these books is the diversity. Non-white characters! Sympathetically portrayed queer characters! And these characters are so much more than these ‘diverse’ aspects of their personality. Magnus Bane is High Warlock of Brooklyn. Alec is a Shadowhunter. They’re not just cardboard cutouts thrown it to diversify the cast.
Clary borders on being overly-perfect, in some ways, but it avoids becoming annoying because there are reasons for her gifts. She’s not just a special snowflake with her powers: some of the more specific ones, she’s inherited from her mother. Her way of drawing runes is visible from the very start of the book, and doesn’t just crop up when it’s convenient.
There were several twists in plot that surprised me, and nothing entirely takes the direction you were expecting. There’s a ‘main plot twist’, if you can call it that, and I guessed it before it happened; to be fair, I’d been under the impression it was going to be a red herring, and it wasn’t. Knowing what was coming didn’t spoil my enjoyment, though, and the rest of the series continued in a similar manner.
I’m aware that Cassie Clare started out as a fanfic writer (I’m willing to bet that’s part of the reason there’s so much humour — mostly, fanfic authors don’t take themselves as seriously as everyone else does), and after I’d finished the book, I read a number of reviews on Goodreads that accused her of plagiarism. Now, I was way too young to have been around at the time of the events they were describing, nor have I ever been an active reader of Harry Potter fanfic. So I can’t speak for the truth of those allegations.
But I’d say this: the least convincing reviews I read were the ones that tried comparing the characters of TMI with Harry Potter, trying to undermine the originality of the novel. This book is its own book. The magic system is completely different. The characters themselves are different, with their own gifts and weaknesses. The only way they can be compared is through appearance, and come on, there are only so many hair colours in the world.
Maybe it’s because of all those negative reviews, but some part of my brain was automatically ashamed to be seen reading those books, particularly because of the super-romancey covers, and they occupied a section of my mental bookshelves dedicated to “trashy YA”. But honestly, in August last year when I was uncertain about my future as far as uni was concerned because of my AS results, I read pretty much everything Cassie Clare has ever written in the space of about ten days.
And it was brilliant. I read them one after the other, a book each day, and I had a great time. She managed to pull me right out of my worries and concerns into a completely different world. It was pure, unadulterated escapism. You know what? That’s what matters, with a book.
I rated it three stars on Goodreads (“liked it”), and maybe that’s fair. But in accordance with my reviewing policy, it’s getting four stars here. Because not only did I like it, I went and hunted down the rest of the series (please note that I haven’t read City of Heavenly Fire yet, so if you’re going to comment, no spoilers!), and I’ve recommended it to plenty of people too.
It’s funny, it’s clever, and it’s escapism. Really, what more could you want?