Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

You know how some people make new years resolutions like: Read Fifty Books in One Year? Well, I think one that better applies to me is: Read Less Books & Do More Work & Other Stuff because by January 3rd I'd already read three books. But that's not entirely my fault. Cassandra Clare shares a large part of the blame.

Here is what the back cover of City of Bones has to say for itself:

When Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder. Much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with odd markings.
This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons - and keeping the odd werewolves and vampires in line. It’s also her first meeting with gorgeous, golden-haired Jace. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in an ordinary mundane like Clary? And how did she suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know...

Clary Fray is a fifteen-year-old artist (because YA heroines always want to be artists or writers when they grow up & never accountants or publicists or occupational therapists*) whose world is turned upside-down when she realises she can see through the glamour that demons & other Downworlders use to become invisible to humans ("mundanes": the new muggles). Then her mother disappears & Clary & her nerdy, bespectacled best friend Simon team up with teenage Shadowhunters Jace, Isabelle & Alec, to find out where she is.

Clary soon discovers that her mother was once a Shadowhunter herself, & that all of Clary's early memories of the demon world have been erased. Also, serious Bad Guy Valentine, an evil ex-Shadowhunter previously presumed dead, wants to summon demons to help him eliminate any Shadowhunters who don't agree with his Death Eater-ish beliefs.

Evil supernatural purists, mysterious tattoos, demons, werewolves & vampires, a beautiful boy with a serious attitude problem: City of Bones (along with its sequels, City of Ashes & City of Glass) sounds like your typical young adult urban fantasy. Which it is. Only not all typical young adult urban fantasy is this addictive. Here's what really worked for me about this series:

1. Good prose. One of the reasons this series is so easy to read is because it's just really well written. The descriptions are gorgeous, the dialogue is snappy & often very funny & the pace is perfect. I could hardly put it down (I read an entire trilogy in three days, of course I could hardly put it down).

2. Good stock characters. In some ways Clary is like every other YA urban fantasy heroine (she's artsy, she thinks herself plain but boys love her even if she doesn't realise they do, she ends up with unusual powers), only somehow, probably related to point 1, she's very likeable & not annoying in the slightest. She's also maybe more fleshed-out than the other heroines I'm thinking of: she's kind of nerdy, a little flighty & quite short-tempered, which makes for a pretty realistic supernatural teenager.

Similarly, Jace is the Regulation Hottie. He's a bad boy with an attitude problem & a blatant disregard for authority who functions as one-third of the love triangle that always seems to involve a "plain" girl, her nerdy but wise-cracking best friend & an aloof & mysterious new boy. But Jace isn't idealised in the way that some Regulation Hotties are (*cough*Edward*cough*); he has a carefully & sensitively crafted backstory to his brooding & can get pretty exasperating (which also makes for a pretty realistic supernatural teenager). So while I'm generally always on Team Best Friend when it comes to love triangles, I have to admit that the chemistry between Clary & Jace can get pretty electric.

Some of the secondary characters include sexy, ass-kicking Shadowhunter Isabelle & her moody, closeted brother Alec; Dungeons-&-Dragons-playing, curly-haired best friend Simon; sarcastic, glittery warlock Magnus Bane; & charismatic but manipulative bad guy Valentine. All pretty standard characters (except Magnus, perhaps, who is too awesome to be counted as a stock character) but all excellently written, engaging & complex. This is how all YA fantasy characters should be written.

3. Forbidden love. I LOVE forbidden love. Tortured romance is so much more satisfying than regular romance, & although this series does action & adventure really well, it often feels like the romantic tension is leading the plot. And with the intensity of the will they/ won't they/ can they/ can't they, that's hardly surprising.

4. ALL the supernatural creatures! If you like vampires & werewolves & faeries & warlocks & angels & demons & you just don't know which to chose, this series has 'em all. Now I have to admit I'm not a big fan of angels. Angels in fiction (especially in YA) tend to make me roll my eyes a lot (unless they belong to Philip Pullman or Neil Gaiman). In the Mortal Instruments series Shadowhunters are humans with distant angel ancestors, & there's a fair amount of angel lore to go with all the demon stuff (while somehow avoiding discussing if any particular god exists within the word of the series) which I suppose makes sense, but I'm not particularly fond of it. The demons of the series are great, however, sort of like Buffy demons only with less of the kitten-eating & more of the human-ribcage-cracking.

Actually, the Mortal Instruments series reads sort of like a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Harry Potter. (These are a few of my favourite things...) It's good, reliable young adult fantasy & I highly recommend it.

*It used to vaguely annoy me that so many characters in novels want to be or become artists & writers until I realised that for every character who achieves their childhood dream of becoming a writer, there is an author writing these characters who achieved the very same dream.  


  1. I read some of Cassandra Clare's stuff over ten years ago back when she wrote Harry Potter fanfic. It's actually the only Harry Potter fanfic I read consistantly but it was really high standard for a fanfic (as compared to the overwhelming pile of crap there is) and I've always wondered what her novels were like. I might give them a try, for the fun of it. I'm usually quite partial to YA novels, I read loads of them, so I'll probably enjoy them!

    Thanks for the review! =)

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