Review: City of Bones

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read about the Mortal Instruments world.

A little backstory: When I first read Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones in 2010, I was instantly hooked and sped through all three of the books of the Mortal Instruments “trilogy” that had been published at that time. In the end, I liked where I’d left off, and ended up picking up the first two books in the Infernal Devices trilogy instead of the second half of the Mortal Instruments series when books 4-6 were published. While I was waiting for the third Infernal Devices, I started wishing I’d finished the Mortal Instruments first, but I’d forgotten a lot of details already–so I planned a reread, but was too busy for it. Then more books were published, and it seemed like a huge task to read them all, especially since five would be rereads and I wasn’t big on rereading for a while there.

But this is the year. I’ve heard great buzz about Lady Midnight; the second book in the Dark Artifices trilogy comes out this year, and I want to be back on the Cassandra Clare train. I want to be caught up. So I’ve started over from the beginning, and will be reading all of Cassandra’s books in publication order as the year progresses. (Wish me luck. It still seems daunting.)

And now to review.

First of all, this is a great series to reread. I remember being pretty confused in the beginning my first time through, especially with the scene at Pandemonium, and even the second time it took me a beat or two to place names with descriptions and plot points I remembered, but it’s definitely more fun seeing Clary learning about the Shadowhunters and their world after already having been acquainted with them myself. I’d forgotten how amusing rereads could be. Here are some thoughts, old and new:

cityofbonesAbout the book: Clary Fray is an ordinary girl with an ordinary life and a strict mother. Her best friend Simon helps keep her out of trouble, but if trouble is on the agenda, he’s always ready to tag along–which is a good thing, because suddenly Clary’s mom is attacked, and “Uncle” Luke turns hostile, leaving Clary stranded with strange rescuers that are sometimes invisible to the general public. Jace, Alec, and Isabelle hadn’t expected Clary to see them at all, much less interfere with Shadowhunter business, and don’t know what to do with her at first. They won’t, however, leave her to die, and begin to realize that Clary’s mom may have been mixed in with Shadowhunter matters herself–soon everyone is hunting for Clary’s mom, including some notable enemies that wouldn’t mind seeing Clary and her friends dead. Somehow she stepped into a world of Nephilim and demons that she’s never known, but which seems oddly familiar as she and Simon learn about the world that passed unseen beneath their noses for nearly sixteen years. Suddenly Clary’s life is full of excitement, both good and bad, and anything is possible.

“Jace, Clary thought, was the sort of person who liked it when things were happening, even things that were bad.”

I forgot how well-crafted the plot of this book is. The reader never knows where the story’s going next, and yet it all flows together from one event to the next so smoothly that once you arrive at the next big thing it’s impossible to imagine the story going any other direction. The progression of time is a little clunky sometimes–things that would take mere seconds are explained in enough careful detail that it takes much more time to read about what’s happening that it would take for the event to occur, and in other instances, hours with no actions pass in a single sentence in the middle of a chapter. Readers should pay close attention to words indicating duration of events to stay on top of the timeline, but otherwise the plot is fantastic and easy to follow.

The best part of the book, however, is the GREAT CHARACTERS. Every single one of them is compelling and intelligent, as different from each other as night and day, and yet their differences draw them together. In addition to main characters the reader would follow anywhere, this book also has an excellent portrayal of diversity that’s not in-your-face about it. The use of additional part-human species furthers the sense of equal representation. No extra attention is drawn to blue hair or purple skin or any other traits–they’re simply mentioned as though there’s nothing odd or fantastic about their presence, and that’s the way I want diversity to be in books. It feels too forced when too much attention is called to each represented race and gender and predilection. I don’t want to have to pick up a book about diversity, I want to pick up an interesting book and have the diversity neatly woven in. I want to read about worlds so equal that all manner of people and species coexist without being highlighted for how unusual that is. Equality wins when it’s a casual thing, and this book has that. Am I making any sense?

Despite the wide variety of characters, it’s easy to understand every single one of their perspectives. The girl who’s world is turned upside down when she realizes her world isn’t the place she thought it was; the best friend who can’t have the relationship he really wants; the tough guy who’ll stand strong through anything, even when he needs someone to pick up his own pieces; the voice-of-reason friend with the secret crush; the girl who won’t be overlooked or left behind. Everyone has their own story, but all woven together they make one heck of an addicting crew. If I could meet fictional characters in real life, these are the characters I’d want to meet. They already feel real.

“Every teenager in the world feels like that, feels broken or out of place, different somehow, royalty mistakenly born into a family of peasants. The difference in your case is that it’s true. You are different. Maybe not better–but different. And it’s no picnic being different.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I loved this book the first time I read it, and I think I liked it even more the second time around. I’d forgotten just enough that the surprises were mostly still surprising but I had a much better grasp on the characters, which made everything so much better. This is the beginning of one of the best YA series available–it has an engaging plot and amazing characters, but underneath its surface details are worthwhile messages about equality, loyalty, love, and friendship, among others. There is nothing bad I can say about this book, and if I remember correctly, Cassandra’s writing just keeps getting better as the books progress.

Further recommendations:

  1. Meg Cabot’s Avalon High is a great stand-alone YA novel with a supernatural twist and a whole lot of good-vs.-evil. The main characters seem to be reliving the famous tragedy of King Arthur’s demise, and endeavor to save the world–and themselves–by breaking the cycle of victory for the bad guy.
  2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is another superb choice for YA fans who prefer fantasy worlds. This one features faeries and all sorts of magical creatures, but it is essentially a love story on a Beauty and the Beast track. This one has some adult content mixed in, so read with caution if you’re under 16 or so.

Coming up next: I immediately started reading Cassandra Clare’s City of Ashes after turning the last pages of this first book in the series, so I’ll be reviewing that soon as well–probably first thing next week. I’ll take a short break from the Mortal Instruments after volume two, but before I get there, I’m eager to relearn how the sibling situation turns out for Clary, and see where Simon ends up. In the meantime, I’ll probably also post a short review on a short story I read earlier this week–Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup. This is a book for lovers of mind-boggling ghostly puzzles and odd situations; it’s spooky, it’s a bit confusing, but it’s a lot of fun.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now check out my complete review of the next book in this series, City of Ashes!

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