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Book Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Updated on August 4, 2015

Why I Read This Book

A friend and I had decided to geek out and do a book swap of some of our favorite books. Happily (or sadly, I haven’t decided yet), I received the first three books in the Mortal Instruments Series in exchange for A Song of Ice and Fire and the Abhorsen trilogy. I missed out on a lot of young adult fiction when I was a teenager, as I went from books like Goosebumps right to Stephen King. Therefore, I was excited to sit down and dive into something like City of Bones, a book that I envisioned as a nice distraction from my dry, boring school reading. The result was a mixture of pain and pleasure.

Brief Synopsis

For all the issues I have with the novel, the plot is fairly intricate and has many different layers. I will do my best to give a concise yet informative little summary on the plot.

Ok, so this is how the story goes: Clarissa “Clary” Fray is the fifteen-year-old protagonist. She and her friend zoned buddy, Simon, get plummeted into the world of magical beings, demons, and Shadowhunters when Clary’s mother disappears. The Shadowhunters are, according to legend, part-angel, and they use mystical runes and weapons in order to defeat demons and other nasty things. Clary teams up with a group of three teenage Shadowhunters (brother-and-sister duo, Alec and Isabelle, and sexy blonde womanizer, Jace) led by an old, shut-in academic. Their goal is to find the Mortal Cup, a mystical item that can create new Shadowhunters, in order to find and rescue Clary’s mother.

Poster for the film adaptation
Poster for the film adaptation | Source

Angsty Love Triangles

Although the plot at its core is very interesting and action-packed, there are so many detours the reader is forced to take due to the love triangle between Clary, Jace, and Simon. I guess perhaps many readers tend to feed on and enjoy the sexual tension and teenage issues between the characters because it makes the characters seem more plausible, but I’d personally rather have less angst and more demon slaying, but maybe that’s just me. All in all, I felt that I just wanted the characters to quit stressing over their crushes and cut to the chase. I won’t even say that the fact that the book is geared towards young adults is the cause of the angsty melodrama that pervades the text, as many adult-adults thrive on the same sort of tension and heartache (romance novels, anyone?). Hell, even the queen of teen angst herself, Stephenie Meyer, wrote a blurb for the book that goes as follows, “The Mortal Instruments series is a story world that I love to live in. Beautiful!” If that’s not a warning sign, then nothing is.

A screenshot of a romantic moment between Clary and Jace. Gross.
A screenshot of a romantic moment between Clary and Jace. Gross. | Source

I Spy With My Little Eye...A Mary Sue!

The main problem with the book is hard to ignore and get past, as it is no other than the book’s very own protagonist, Clary. The novel reads as a self-indulgent romance fantasy in parts, utilizing the idea that every woman wants to be desired by more than one man and, therefore, have sexual power over both or all of them. (I’m not saying that this may not be true, but I am saying it’s an idea that is very much overused in books, especially urban fantasy ones, including the Twilight series, the Vampire Diaries series, and the Sookie Stackhouse series.) It doesn’t take much to imagine that the author began writing this as a sort of romantic fantasy, starring herself, or at least starring a character who is oddly like the author herself in little, very telling ways. Clary is a redhead (just like the author) and has an ivory complexion (just like the author). Hmm, what a startling coincidence.

Clary’s not very complex, either. Her focuses are very much skewed, at least in my opinion. While she should be focusing one-hundred-percent on finding her mother, she gets sidetracked with her romantic intentions with Jace, who is supposed to be enigmatic and alluring but reads more like a typical high school jerk. She inadvertently takes advantage of her buddy, Simon, who is in love with her (not really a spoiler there, by any means, as his function is to provide a male on the home front for Clary to experience anxiety over). She’s not entirely bright, especially with regards to other people’s intentions, which makes for a plodding pace. The idea that Clary just can’t figure things out allows for the author to have time and space to dwell on Jace and Simon to the breaking point. It’s a sad and upsetting experience when the reader is light years ahead of the novel’s own protagonist.

City of Bones Trailer

Similes Abound!

The writing style of the book is cringe-inducing in spots. (I hope that the author got a new editor somewhere down the line, or else this series is going to be slow moving.) Some of the writing is admittedly beautiful, but the author destroys it by putting simile after simile after simile in one single paragraph. I guess she missed the day in high school on metaphor, as she only seems to want to use similes.

Let’s try something, shall we? I’m going to open the book to a random page and count the number of similes that breed (like rabbits) with one another all over the page. Page 145 in my loaner copy: there are two very concrete ones and two others that a good debater could make a decent argument for. They aren’t bad similes, per say. One of them on this page I even like: “the polished oak surfaces of the furniture seemed to smolder like somber jewels.” There are just too many. Keep in mind that the print is fairly big and it’s spaced out quite a bit. There isn’t a lot of text on the page, especially not enough to warrant two to four similes.

A Clip from the Movie

Parting Thoughts

Although I had many issues with the book, I will be reading the others, if only for the sake of completion. Overall, the book was soul-crushing in parts due to the lack of strong characterization and the poor writing style, it was a quick enough read that the experience was virtually painless. If books like the Twilight saga is not your thing, I don’t know if I would recommend this book, as, characters and romance-wise, there are too many similarities to count. But if you’re in the mood for something that’s fairly fast-paced and mindless, than perhaps this book is for you to add to your To-Read list. Along with this series, Cassandra Clare is writing a prequel sort of spin-off series called The Infernal Devices. This takes place in Victorian England, but still revolves around the Shadowhunting world. The third one comes out this month.

Overall, I’d give this book a 6 out of 10. Not unbearable, but not quality literature, to be sure.


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    • Kelsey Farrell profile image

      Kelsey Elise Farrell 2 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I enjoyed your review but I would have to argue that for me the series is at least a 7 (at least the first three books). The sister set of novels, the Infernal Devices, is much better and way more interesting to read, and while there is a love triangle, I can't help but think it's one of the ONLY love triangles I've read where I didn't see an immediate choice or way out (I of course had my choice for who I would've liked the main character to end up with but it was up in the air for much of the novel).

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      UndercoverAgent19 3 years ago

      Thank you, Ethan, for your comment. I haven't read any of Cassandra Clare's more recent books, so I'm curious to see if her character development and prose style has noticeably strengthened or not. I mean, I suppose the joke's on me, since she is very, very rich now even if she isn't the best writer.

    • profile image

      Ethan Digby-New 3 years ago

      I've read Cassandra Clair only a few times, and I do agree that while her plot may be interesting, she lacks development in characters and vivid prose. But of course, she does have much time to improve. I enjoyed your informative as well as honest review of the book. I think I'll check it out, really good Hub!

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      UndercoverAgent19 3 years ago

      Thanks for your feedback, Besarien! I do think Cassandra Clare has the potential to be a great writer, because the passion is certainly there, and, like you said, she is a young writer. That being said, I think all writers come from humble beginnings. All writers start off not knowing how to write and slowly go about finding what works and what doesn't. Perhaps the book could have benefited from another draft or a better editor. Maybe that would have helped her kind of get a better grasp on the areas she struggled with.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 3 years ago

      Fair and thoughtful review and good subject to hub! I started reading Cassandra when she was writing Harry Potter fan fiction (hers was quite good and well-received within the fandom.) I think perhaps some of her writing challenges ( namely character development and memorability) stem from her humble beginnings. She is a young writer, though, and has a lifetime to hone her craft. I do think it is awesome and inspiring when someone makes the leap from posting work online for free to becoming published, best-selling, and award-winning with movies made based on her work.

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      UndercoverAgent19 3 years ago

      Thanks for commenting, Hallie. Yeah, I wasn't a big fan of Clary, either. I definitely thought some of the supporting characters were more interesting and showed more potential for depth.

    • profile image

      Hallie 3 years ago

      This book, isn't the best read, I kind of wish it was based on Alec and Magnus vs. Clary.

    • LisaKoski profile image

      Lisa 4 years ago from WA

      I've been debating whether or not to add this to my "to read" list ever since I saw the preview for the movie. I don't think that it looks like the best movie ever but I thought that it could make an interesting read. However, I think based on what you've said here, it doesn't sound like something I'd enjoy. I'm all for a YA book now and then but I'm not a big fan of too much unnecessary and/or predictable romance.

      I really enjoyed your review. You're very good at keeping concise and you made some solid points. As someone who reads plenty of reviews before reading a book, I very much appreciate that. Thanks!

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      UndercoverAgent19 4 years ago

      Thank you for your comment. I do agree that it's easy to escape from the real world for a bit while reading her books, although I do have mounds of problems with the story and her writing style. I am also definitely going to see the movie, although I wasn't very much captivated by the trailer.

    • LastRoseofSummer2 profile image

      LastRoseofSummer2 4 years ago from Arizona

      Great review! I agreed with pretty much everything you said. "City of Bones" was a bit of a disappointment for me - although I am looking forward to the movie coming out. And I do like Cassandra Clare. Her books are good escapist reads.

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      UndercoverAgent19 4 years ago

      I definitely agree with you in that the story isn't that memorable. Although it's very popular at the moment, I think that it will fade into obscurity. I don't think it has the influence that other teen-oriented books have, such as The Hunger Games or Harry Potter.

    • CroftRoan profile image

      Kate Rolands 4 years ago

      I had read this same book and I will say it's better plot wise than some of the other recommendations I have been given. It is, in my opinion, not as memorable of a story as people make it out to be. I agree that there is a strong resemblance to Twilight in feel and flaw.