City of Bones – book review

Cover of "City of Bones" by Cassandra Clare.
Cover of “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare.
Many authors dream of their first novel becoming a cult favorite that scores a movie deal. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare has since spawned five books and a new series. Back in 2007, however, all readers knew was that the book was a fun fantasy series where Nephilim, the children of men and angels, battled with Demons as well as Downworlders like fairies, vampires & werewolves.

The story featured a sympathetic female lead as well as good supporting characters (with the exception of one). Clary Fray, the lead, is an entertaining and spunky girl who has discovered she has the Sight—the ability to see the invisible denizens of this world. Finding out why her mother kept this a secret is the purpose of Book One.

Ages ago, the Angel Raziel mixed his blood with that of mortals in the Mortal Cup to create his race of Shadowhunters. These powered up Nephilim helped them keep the forces of evil at bay over the centuries, but eventually their numbers began to dwindle. There just weren’t as many Shadowhunters being born as there were dying in battle.

One enterprising young lad, Valentine Morgenstern, had a suggestion: Use the Mortal Cup to make more Shadowhunters and rid the world of Demons & the dirty Downworlders once and for all. So what if not every mortal who drank from the cup survived the Shadowhunter process. Some sacrifices needed to be made.

Valentine staged a coup but was soundly defeated, and his inner circle was mostly slaughtered in battle. Weary of war, Clary’s mom went into hiding in the mortal realm. Without offering too many spoilers, the story is about Clary recovering memories and embracing her forgotten legacy.

The story was marred for me by a few elements. First, the foreshadowing was lacking subtly. Often, incongruous details would be inserted into the story, letting me know for certain I had just encountered some foreshadowing. Second, the story’s plot felt drawn out to leave room for more books. You could sense the breaks put on in conversations where relevant information would have naturally been forthcoming.

Lastly, I had problems with Alec. He simply wasn’t integral to the plot. His struggles with same sex attraction felt tacked onto the story. In fact, he might as well have been an Alexis. He was pouty, jealous, catty, clumsy, always getting hurt, and needing saving. He was hardly a gay role model, but rather a stereotype, like a male damsel in distress.

That being said, his same sex attraction to Jace was handled much more believably later in the story. However, I’m not sure I should be excited about him hooking up with Magnus as the story seems to hint. If a 500 year old man started dating an 18 year old girl, would we be applauding it?

Still, there was much to like about the story. The magic system was well thought out. The societies of Nephilim, Downworlders, and Demons blended together convincingly, including the politics which gave the book a deeper edge. Then there were moments that were truly magical, like when the Mortal Cup was discovered. There were also examples of very good writing, from the relationship between Clary and Simon to the settings details which sparkled off the page.

When one considers that City of Bones was Cassandra Clare’s debut novel, one can forgive her the blemishes, and appreciate the large scope of her first effort.

Release Date: March 27, 2007 (USA)
ISBNs: 1416914285 (9781416914280)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 20%


Alcohol/Drugs: 3 (parties, drinking, smoking)
Language: 2 (deity, mild curse words)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 3 (character with SSA issues, smooching, but no petting)
Violence: 4 (battles, chase scenes, peril, murder, execution, swords, ichor)

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