City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass

Shadowhunters: Looking Better in Black Than the Widows of our Enemies Since 1234.

Cassandra Clare, City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments is Cassandra Clare’s first series set in the Shadow world. The story follows Clary Fray, a red-headed girl whose mother goes missing, sending Clary into the very world that she was trying to protect her from. As Clary realizes that she is a Shadowhunter, she meets Jace Wayland and Isabelle and Alec Lightwood who attempt to help her find her mother. Secrets about Clary’s parentage begin to arise as the Shadowhunters begin to deal with an old faction of rogue shadowhunters hell-bent on changing their way of life, led by Valentine Morgenstern. It’s up to Clary, her best friend Simon, and the new shadowhunters that she’s met to stop Valentine from upsetting the balance all while Clary attempts to battle her feelings for Jace. 

Normally I would review these books as I read them, but since I read them many years ago, I figured I would clump these three together during my re-read. Cassandra Clare has consistently been one of my favorite authors since I read City of Glass. She has the most captivating prose and plot structure and she does a wonderful job of developing the plots so that they’re genuinely interesting. She continues to write about the same Shadowhunter families throughout her series, so I think that it’s impressive that her characterization throughout these families is consistent with what we’ve seen in prequel/sequel series, such as The Infernal Devices and The Dark Artifices. I realized when re-reading these books, there is a clear plot structure throughout these books that allows this series to be split into two trilogies. 

City of Bones, the first novel in this series, is the audience’s introduction to the world of the Nephilim and the Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and faeries). The audience gets to follow Clary as she learns about her own heritage while attempting to find her mom. I definitely wouldn’t say that this is the book that caught my attention. I’d been recommended this book many times and when I finally did end up picking it up, I wasn’t all that impressed with it because it felt like there were too many plot twists. After some point, the story felt predictable and the revelations that were happening just reiterated points that the reader should’ve already figured out just by some simple calculations. But, what made me continue to read the series was her characterization. Each character is realistically complex with genuine emotions and backstories. Considering that this is the first book in a series, the reader becomes captivated with the Shadowhunters and Simon. The characters don’t run together and are incredibly distinct and fall into traditional societal (for the Shadowhunters) norms that Clare takes great care to explain. 

City of Ashes was when I realized that Clare had the potential to be great. She began to shy away from seemingly unnecessary plot twists and develop the relationships that she had set up in the first book. The plot twists in City of Bones proved to be necessary to further the plot and after reading this book, it was easier to appreciate its predecessor. I often felt as though this book is often overlooked when talking about The Mortal Instruments as a whole but it sets the standard for the perfect filler book. Enough happens that the readers feel like the plot is moving along and the events don’t feel as though they are moving too fast or too slow. Clary is growing accustomed to the Shadow world and it’s clear by Clare’s prose. She begins to assume that the reader understands much of what she set up in the previous book and by not wasting her word count on reiterating the events from the first book, Clare proves that she has the ability to create a story with incredible depth. While this isn’t something that would normally be considered remarkable, Clare manages to understand the necessity of depth in her stories. This is why it is so easy to get lost in her books. Also, she sets the standard for many YA authors that create flimsy worlds and skimp over character development.

When I think of City of Glass, I realized that Clare’s true talent is creating the ultimate climax. Valentine is a complex villain; he is not portrayed as all evil (many of the characters spend time defending him and justifying their reasons for following him). He is shown as a character that truly would’ve had a good character had he not suffered from the sin of pride. He believed that he could do better and he ultimately failed when he was confronted by an angel. Valentine is also painstakingly human. He is shown as a father that has lost his humanity and much of that comes in the form of being able to sacrifice what he loves for what he believes in. Divine intervention is literally needed to defeat him. As for Clary, she isn’t a traditional heroine. She doesn’t gain badass fighting abilities overnight. Clare is consistent in her characterization because Clary always relies on what she knows best, even at the climax. Clare also has a knack for understanding how and when to kill off a character. No death in the novel felt senseless, instead, it was easy to mourn deaths because we understand what the dead were to the living characters. This is what sold me on Clare’s talent and this series as a whole.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that this is Clare’s best work. This series demonstrates Clare’s potential to be truly great. This is the kind of series that draws you in with its depth and complexity and creates an addiction to her work that can only be satisfied by countless sequels. She has written a few series that have been set in the Shadow world and it still doesn’t feel like it’s enough. This series is incredible and believe me when I tell you, Clare’s work only gets better from here. 

Rating: 7/10

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