I’m a huge fan of books that don’t let me go until I’ve reached the last page. Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, the first in her Mortal Instruments series, is that kind of book. Ostensibly written for young adults, this is a novel that adults will enjoy just as much as teenagers, for all that the protagonist and her friends are high-school aged.
Clary and her friend Simon — not boyfriend, much as he’d like to claim that title — visit the Pandemonium Club in Manhattan, a borough away from their homes in Brooklyn. A cute boy with blue hair and bright green eyes catches Clary’s eye, and she watches him until a beautiful girl in a long white dress beckons him into a room marked “No Admittance.” She watches long enough to see two other boys following them, one of whom pulls a knife just before entering the room. Startled and scared, Clary sends Simon off to get a security guard and, ignoring his instructions to stay put, heads off to rescue the blue-haired boy.
Clary gets quite a surprise when she enters the room, but she gives one as well. She shouldn’t be able to see any of the occupants of the room, they tell her. The blue-haired boy is a demon, while the other three are Shadowhunters. When Jace, one of the Shadowhunters, kills the blue-haired boy, the boy disappears, returning “to his home dimension,” Jace explains. Jace is immediately suspicious that Clary might be more than the “mundane” she seems to be, especially when Simon returns with a bouncer and proves unable to see the Shadowhunters, just as they know should be the case.
Something is definitely up, Clary quickly learns, because the next day her mother is suddenly insisting that they are “going on vacation” for the rest of the summer. Clary rebels at this news, as she had a season’s worth of plans, including art lessons she’s already paid for. She storms out of their home when Simon arrives, and the two of them head for a coffeehouse for a poetry slam. And who should be there but Jace? Just as Jace is explaining to Clary that she needs to come with him to “the Institute,” Clary’s mom calls and warns her, clearly in terror, not to come home. Clary hears the sound of falling, a buzz of static, and a harsh, slithering noise before the connection is severed. Clary rushes home, finds her mother comatose, and runs into a huge, malignant spider demon, a Ravener — and that’s when Clary knows her life has changed forever.
Clary’s discoveries follow fast and furious from that point. Most importantly, she learns that she is not who and what she thought she was, but comes from a lineage she shares in common with Jace, his adoptive sister Isabelle, and his adoptive brother, Alec. The three take her in and try to figure out why she has been raised as a mundane — and to give her shelter, as she cannot return to her home and her mother’s good friend, Luke, has harshly told Clary he isn’t her father and she should stay away from him.
Clary is quickly immersed in a world of demons, vampires, werewolves and mages that she never knew existed, learning how to deal with an entirely new level of reality even while she searches for a way to bring her mother out of her coma. She learns that her father may not have been a man who died before she was born, but someone altogether different — and evil. Soon it becomes clear that she has talents neither she nor anyone else suspected, and a fate awaiting her that has nothing to do with the gentle life of an artist she had anticipated.
The action is nonstop, with characters the reader quickly comes to love in nearly constant peril. It seems almost no one is who he or she purports to be. And the problems Clary faces go far beyond her mother’s unexplained coma; they encompass the future of humankind. You’ll want to read all of the nearly 500 pages in one sitting, if you can, and once you’ve turned the last page, you’ll want to reach immediately for the next book in the series.
Cassandra Clare knows how to hold a reader’s attention, no matter the reader’s age. The themes are appropriate for teens, with most of the violence occurring offstage, except for the killing of demons, who are the baddest of bad guys. Clare manages to avoid profane language and yet still have her teenagers sound like teenagers, and while there are plenty of intimations of sexual attraction, there are no X or even R-rated scenes. I think my nearly 12-year-old nephew would call this book “Awesome!” — and I think I know what he’s getting for his birthday.