Upon opening The Mortal Instruments: Book 1 – City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, one finds oneself under the sparkling steel and neon lights of Manhattan, where a race of ethereal warriors called Shadowhunters fights malicious demons. Artist Clary Fray is blissfully ignorant of the existence of Shadowhunters until one hazy night at the Pandemonium Club when she sees Jace Wayland pull a knife on a demon disguised as a blue-haired boy. When she follows Jace out of the pulsating club and into a scene of supernatural murder, his partners in otherworldly crimefighting are surprised to learn that she, a Mundane, can see them. Mundanes, or everyday folk, aren’t supposed to be able to see the preternaturally swift Shadowhunters.
Clary is ready to ignore the incident until Jace shows up at a coffee shop she’s visiting with her best friend, the almost witty, slightly bumbling Simon. Jace won’t forget Clary’s remarkable vision, and while he’s explaining the basics of his paranormal underground existence, Clary receives a disturbing phone call from her mother. She races home to find her artisan’s apartment trashed, her beloved (if sometimes antagonistic) mother missing and a scaly, fanged demon in her hallway. With the carefully dispersed, often frustrating knowledge imparted to her by Jace, his tutor Hodge and his snooty fellow Shadowhunters, Alec and Isabelle, Clary finds that she has a Shadowhunter legacy through her mother, Jocelyn.
Knowing she cannot go back to her demolished, demon-infested apartment, Clary stays in the underground home of the Clave. The Shadowhunters are part of a diverse and complex world of beings that most earthbound Mundanes have only heard about in fairy tales. By legend, the Shadowhunter race is over one-thousand years old, and a magical cup was used at one point to create Shadowhunters out of humans. The magical cup is missing, and Clary believes that her mother’s disappearance is tied to it.
Amid the dry lessons in Shadowhunter politics and history, Clary continues to look for her mother. Her search takes her to a party hosted by a blue-lipped man with glitter nail polish, abandoned hotels and houses, and the apartment of her downstairs neighbor, a tea-serving, scarf-clad psychic with knowledge of the Shadowhunters. In the end, Clary’s tireless search will reveal much more to her than just her mother’s history.
Author Clare’s first novel has a problem. The characters are terribly flat, cliché, and inconsistent. Clary is “shy” but slaps people she barely knows; she’s “clumsy” but the reader never sees her act that way. It frequently seems that cast of characters doesn’t have personalities; only unbelievable dialogue, redundant and clunky metaphors, and little tics that are supposed to identify them.
Despite that fatal flaw in the novel, it was an entertaining enough story, once the character issues were overlooked. With there being five more novels in the series, one can only hope for improvement in that area. City of Bones has also been made into a motion picture, released in 2013.
In addition to serving as an associate librarian with the Howard County Library, Nicole Tracy has years of experience in literary fields. She writes an exclusive weekly column for The Nashville News.