I spent hours at the library before picking this novel at the last minute. I always seem to find myself in such a situation when I visit the library. Just the sheer vastness of the place momentarily befuddles me and I end up endlessly browsing until I actually end up picking up the same book over and over again (being attracted for the same reason each time) and discarding it (for the same reason) each time. I was very determined I wouldn’t leave without a novel, so I told myself to just pick one damnit. I was very impressed by the one I did pick.
City of Bones is Book One of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. On the front cover is a comment by Holly Black that the novel is “Funny, Dark, and Sexy. One of [her] favorite books”, which seemed very encouraging even though I’d never read any of Holly Black’s works. Flipped open the book to the front page and there is a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “I have not slept. Between the acting of a dreadful thing/And the first motion, all interim is/Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream…”, which I admit, I’ve never read either, but the quote was quite mystifying. So, I flipped to the next page quite eagerly and, there was yet another quote, this one from Milton’s Paradise Lost: “I sung of Chaos and eternal Night,/Taught by the heav’nly Muse to venture down/The dark descent, and up to reascend…”.Again, admittedly, I’ve never read Paradise Lost (but I’ve been wanting to read it and Julius Caesar too!). So, all these mysterious quotes from works that I’ve never read made me contemplate all the more about what this novel could be about, and I actually got excited to start in on it. And I was not disappointed.
Clary lives in a normal, “mundane” world with her mother and her mother’s friend, Luke. Like a typical angst ridden teenager, she rolls her eyes at mom’s nagging and sneaks out with her pal Simon to the Pandemonium nightclub (is there really one in NYC?). That night, she witnesses events that no one else seems to be able to see. Slowly, as the story progresses, she is able to see more and more of the hidden, other world lying under the glamor of protective spells that exists right in her own neighborhood. Clare’s style of writing is very vivid and deliberate, making me wonder if she reads and watches a lot of manga and anime. The scenes can be very dramatic, and sometimes a little corny (on purpose?), but very strong when it counts like at the climax and crucial turning points of the story.
Art is an underlying theme in this novel, from the Shadowhunters’ use of the Stele to scrape themselves symbols of protection to the constant references to art and art history that had me on my toes (i.e. the vampire’s motorcycles compared to a Giger painting). It was unique how art is the vessel for ancient magic to manifest itself and great Shadowhunters must be carefully trained to harness it into a weapon or as protection. Clary herself must give into the deep artistic energies inside her in order to see past the illusions cast across NYC and discover truths about the mystery surrounding the mystical Mortal Cup.
Clare doesn’t hesitate to emphasize the “modernity” of the setting, mentioning ipods and X-men – I’m not a dedicated fan of Supernatural, but the premise of the story seems like an episode out of that show. The Shadowhunters are sort of be like those two dudes in that show (fighting demons and such). I suppose this novel would be categorized as an urban fantasy or punk fantasy? We get a great taste of it in the first chapter where the club’s full of neon colored hair, glinting chains, leather, multiple piercings and just a plain rocker-punk-goth aura. I’ve never read one so urban and modern before, and I like it! The plot is also rather intricately woven, with many carefully placed clues within the text to build up on the reader’s suspicions of the final outcome.
In some ways the story really reminded me of the Harry Potter series (evil, essentially racist powerful dude returns from the dead). I also got the Star Wars vibe from it (the whole, “I am your father” thing). Oh, and also, one can’t help but be reminded of how popular vampires and werewolves are at this age in time (thanks Twilight). Regardless, this novel was still unique in its own right. I loved how Cassandra Clare melded the urban grittiness of modern New York City with elements of dark fantasy. Clare really knew how to combine well-loved storylines and add her own flare to it to make it one of a kind. Loved it.
Aside from the high fantasy, the mystery, the adventure, the urban grittiness of the story, there was just plain teen drama. Clary struggles with teenage love just like any TV show you watch now-a-days. A mysterious hunk comes into her life, who has a sarcastic sense of humor and an impenetrable exterior, hiding a lonely, fragile interior. Who, on the onset is vain and arrogant, but readers are quick to see past it. It’s kind of cheesy in some ways, but it works and I’m sure it satisfies many readers.
My favorite scene is in the epilogue where Clary has mastered being able to see past the boring glamor (she’s basically soaring above the city on a motorbike that is powered by demon energies that Jace was obsessed about):
There it was spread out before her like a carelessly opened jewelry box, this city more populous and more amazing than she had ever imagined: There was the emerald square of Central park, where the faerie courts met on midsummer evenings; there were the lights of the clubs and bars downtown, where the vampires danced the nights away at Pandemonium; there the alleys of Chinatown down which the werewolves slunk at night, their coats reflecting the city’s light. There walked warlocks in all their bat-winged, cat-eyed glory, and here, as they swung out over the river, she saw the darting flash of multicolored tails under the silvery skin of the water, the shimmer of long, pearl-strewn hair, and heard the high, rippling laughter of the mermaids.
I love that description. It gives me shivers. It sums up what I liked about this story, how behind the facade of that old abandoned building, there is something strange going on that is not of this world. That’s the great thing about modern fantasy – it helps you see the world in a light other then the “mundane” one you’ve been seeing all your life. It brings eerie, mystery and magic to the waking world in a way that is close to home. It’s fun to read, basically.
The novel is very fast paced, and, if you had time, you could easily read it in one day. It’s full of sarcastic humor and it, overall, melds together very well. I definitely recommend you to try it! I wouldn’t be surprised if a movie was based on it sometime in the future (what with the trend now).
Check out Cassandra Clare’s webpage to find out more about the other Mortal Instrument Books! I’m thinking about reading the next one – City of Ashes.
Rating: 4.5/5 Steles