I’m always hesitant to start a popular YA series, usually because they’re over-hyped and not that good. Most of them recycle the same old, tired tropes with the same brand of angst. I’m almost thirty, and I’m over it. I’d seen the Mortal Instruments series being promoted for years and always thought it sounded somewhat cool, but I knew there was a love triangle and supernatural beings and it all sounded vaguely Twilighty. Well, I finally picked up the first book and finished it.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare introduces Clary Fray, a teenage girl raised by a single mom, Jocelyn, in Brooklyn. Clary’s father died before she was born and her mom’s friend Luke has helped raise her. Clary and her bestie Simon, who is clearly in love with her, go to a nightclub where she catches sight of an intriguing blue-haired boy. She sees him walk off with a black-haired girl, quickly followed by two armed boys. She tells Simon to get help and follows the group into a closet where she witnesses the girl and the armed boys kill the blue-haired boy. They are shocked Clary is able to see them, and when Simon and the bouncer are unable to see anyone but Clary when they arrive to help. She is confused but acts as though nothing happened in the closet.
Things get weirder when Jocelyn comes home one day with boxes to pack up the apartment and tells Clary they’re moving away for the summer. Clary, in typical teenage fashion, is pissed she’s going to miss out on hanging out with friends and attending art classes she paid for and bitches her mom out. She goes to a poetry reading with Simon and sees one of the boys from the club, Jace. They go outside to talk and Jace tries to explain what she saw, telling her he’s a Shadowhunter and the blue-haired boy was a demon. While they talk, Clary gets a frantic call from her mom, which is cut short. She returns home to find her mother gone and the apartment trashed. A demon attacks Clary and she kills it with a Sensor she took from Jace, who shows up at the apartment. He takes her to the Institute where he, Alec (the other boy), and Isabelle (the black-haired girl) live, watched over by their tutor Hodge.
Throughout the rest of the book, Clary comes to learn of her mysterious mother’s past and her own ties to the Shadowhunters. A Big Bad named Valentine is supposedly back from the dead. Jocelyn’s disappearance is immediately linked to him. Clary, Jace, Alec, Isabelle, and Simon investigate Jocelyn and Clary’s roots to find Jocelyn and squash the possible revitalization of Valentine’s genocidal master plan.
I really loved the world building and beautiful descriptions of the setting in this book. The New York City shown in the book, while painted with broad strokes of fantasy, is much like the real-life city: gritty, dirty, dark, dangerous, sparkling, fragile, intricate, and elegant. This dualism extends to the characters and beings in the story. Most of the characters we meet are some sort of hybrid, whether human/angel or human/demon. They have positive and negative qualities. Alec is steadfastly loyal to his friends, but mean and standoffish to any outsider. Jace is fiercely protective, but suppresses his emotions.
The burgeoning romance between Clary and Jace was well done and wasn’t as overpowering as the romances in other YA series. Clary’s first concern is always saving her mother, whereas if Bella Swan were in the same predicament she’d have been like “Sorry Mom I’m too busy describing the color of Edward’s eyes for the fiftieth time so I can’t save you, I’ll learn to live without you.” The relationship wasn’t completely rushed where they meet, make googly eyes, and are suddenly ready to sign a suicide pact should anyone try to break them apart. This was not a short book by any means and throughout the 485 pages, the most Jace and Clary do is kiss. They don’t even get a chance to discuss their feelings in much detail. Speaking of talking, I really liked the snarky dialogue, especially between Clary, Jace, and Simon. Any combination of the above characters was ripe with sarcasm.
I really wanted to LOVE this book, but I wound up finding faults with the book that make me hesitant to pick up the next installment. First is the tired YA love triangle. They’re stupid. They’re not necessary to create an appealing story. I’m sick of them. Another stupid YA trope was the whole “Clary thinks she’s plain and average when in reality she’s BEAUTIFUL” thing. I’m SICK OF THIS. I’m a plain, average girl and when I read a book with a female protagonist who says how plain and average she is, I get excited to read about someone like me finding love. Then five pages later, everyone’s saying how she’s actually a freakin supermodel and I’m like, “Oh this doesn’t relate to me at all, there’s still no hope I’ll ever find love because I’m not gorgeous.” I’m not Princess Mia, who only needed a flatiron and contact lenses to become a babe. Dear YA authors, IT’S OKAY TO HAVE A PLAIN-LOOKING PROTAGONIST. PLAIN GIRLS ARE DESERVING OF LOVE. IT WOULD BEHOOVE YOU TO WRITE ABOUT THOSE GIRLS.
Some of the plot twists were obvious, like the identity of Clary’s father, Clary not being 100% human, but then there was the other STUPID plot twist meant to make us go “UGHHH EW I CAN’T BELIEVE IT” instead of advancing the plot. Clare could have chosen from a million other wrenches to throw into the romance to make it complicated, and she went for cheap shock factor.
Finally, any new series, especially fantasy, is going to spend a lot of time info-dumping so readers can immerse themselves in the book’s world. However, I felt like there was too much information being constantly dispensed and I had a hard time keeping up. There are types of supernatural beings and categories they fall under and abilities they have, places in the non-mundane world, organizations and clubs and coalitions and campaigns and weapons and I’m getting tired thinking of it all. I waited two days after finishing the book to begin writing this review because my head was spinning from all the information. It was overwhelming. I had to read multiple summaries to get both the story and all the intricacies straight and I’m honestly still confused about some things. And I kept notes the whole time I was reading. Maybe on a second read things would make more sense but I’m not totally eager to pick it up again any time soon. Maybe in a few months, we’ll see.
I enjoyed the concept, the setting, the dialogue, and the beginnings of the main romance in this book. It has more going for it than past popular YA series, but I’m not sure if I’ll continue reading. I’m already having trouble keeping up with the supernatural beings in this world and their origins, abilities, purposes, etc. I’m not interested in starting the next book and then having to consult copious notes to refresh my memory of everything happening in the story. In addition, Valentine came across less scary monster and more whiny idiot when we finally met him. If a Big Bad is going to be scary, I want to be legitimately afraid of him, like I was of Voldemort. Valentine was more Veruca Salt. If I did read the rest of the series I might do it for fun and forgo reviewing them, because I really did enjoy being in the Shadowhunter’s world but I don’t want to have to consult charts and diagrams to write a review. Never say never…
Rating: 3 out 5 midnight birthday picnics