Today I read City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, the first book in the best-selling The Mortal Instruments series.
Clary Fray and her best friend Simon are out for a night of fun when she sees two boys following a couple—but Simon can’t see them. When Clary tries to intervene to stop the two boys and the girl from killing the other cute boy, they tell her he is a demon. Claws, black blood, body disappearing—whatever is going on, it isn’t normal.
The next day, Clary gets a call from her mother telling her to stay away from home, which ends with the sound of screaming and things breaking. When she gets home she finds her mother missing and a Ravener demon in her apartment, which promptly tries to kill her. The demon-killing trio—Jace, Isabelle and Alec—find her tell her that they are Shadowhunters—descendants from an angel whose sworn duty is to kill demons and Downworlders who make trouble—vampires, werewolves, warlocks, fairies. Most mundanes can’t see any of them, but Clary can. But there are bigger problems than the fact that Clary’s mother has disappeared after lying to her for her whole life or arrogant, rude, beautiful boys named Jace who won’t leave her alone. The Downworlders are whispering that Valentine is back—a rogue Shadowhunter who tried start a war and break the Covenant that lets Shadowhunters and Downworlders live in (relative) peace. Except that Valentine is supposed to be dead.
I’ve heard that The Mortal Instruments series is supposed to be the next big YA series, now that Harry Potter and Twilight are over, although The Hunger Games is still going strong. The first movie, starring Lily Collins as Clary, is due out this year. There is one particular issue that I’ll be interested to see how they handle in the movie—it is revealed in the first book that Clary and Jace are actually brother and sister, and the children of Valentine. This obviously complicates their burgeoning epic romance, and adds considerably to the angst quotient. It’s like if Han Solo was Princess Leia’s brother and the son of Darth Vader instead of Luke Skywalker, but Han was still the love interest. It can’t be omitted, because it’s a fairly important plot point that continues through several of the books—I’ll discuss it further in those reviews. Incest tends to be a fairly serious taboo in modern culture.
The story is very much a soap opera with monsters, with secrets from the past being revealed, complicated relationships, and long-running feuds between the various groups. Clare’s strength is how individual each character is—even the ones who don’t get much direct time in the spotlight still have very distinct personalities, and eventually they all get their time to shine. Loyal Luke, flamboyant Magnus, overlooked Simon, perfect Isabelle, hiding Alec, arrogant Jace, determined Clary, manipulative Hodge, evil Valentine…but each is so much more than just one simple adjective, no matter what they initially appear to be.
I won’t call this an instant favourite (at least not mine), but it is addictive to see what happens next, with a good balance of relationship drama, mysteries from the past being revealed, and action.
“Of course I can see you,” Clary said. “I’m not blind, you know.”
“Oh, but you are,” said Jace, bending to pick up his knife. “You just don’t know it.” He straightened up. “You’d better get out of here, if you know what’s good for you.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Clary said. “If I do, you’ll kill him.” She pointed at the boy with the blue hair.
“That’s true,” admitted Jace, twirling the knife between his fingers. “What do you care if I kill him or not?”
“Be-because—,” Clary spluttered. “You can’t just go around killing people.”
“You’re right,” said Jace. “You can’t go around killing people.” He pointed at the boy with blue hair, whose eyes were slitted. Clary wondered if he’d fainted. “That’s not a person, little girl. It may look like a person and talk like a person and maybe even bleed like a person. But it’s a monster.”
“I told you before, my name is not little girl,” she said through her teeth. “It’s Clary.”
“I know,” he said. “Pretty name. Like the herb, clary sage. In the old days people thought eating the seeds would let you see the Fair Folk. Did you know that?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t know much, do you?” he said. There was a lazy contempt in his gold eyes. “You seem to be a mundane like any other mundane, yet you can see me. It’s a conundrum.”
“What’s a mundane?”
“Someone of the human world. Someone like you.”
“But you’re human,” Clary said.
“I am,” he said. “But I’m not like you.” There was no defensiveness in his tone. He sounded like he didn’t care if she believed him or not.
“You think you’re better. That’s why you were laughing at us.”
“I was laughing at you because declarations of love amuse me, especially when unrequited,” he said. “And because your Simon is one of the most mundane mundanes I’ve ever encountered. And because Hodge thought you might be dangerous, but if you are, you certainly don’t know it.”
“I’m dangerous?” Clary echoed in astonishment. “I saw you kill someone last night. I saw you drive a knife up under his ribs, and—” And I saw him slash at you with fingers like razor blades. I saw you cut and bleeding, and now you look as if nothing ever touched you.
“I may be a killer,” Jace said, “but I know what I am. Can you say the same?”
Hodge jerked upright, so abruptly that Hugo, who had been resting comfortably on his shoulder, launched himself into the air with an irritable caw. “Valentine?”
“Yes,” Clary said. “I heard the same name in Pandemonium from the boy—I mean, the demon—”
“It’s a name we all know,” Hodge said shortly. His voice was steady, but she could see a slight tremble in his hands. Hugo, back on his shoulder, ruffed his feathers uneasily.
“No. Valentine is— was—a Shadowhunter.”
“A Shadowhunter? Why do you say was?”
“Because he’s dead,” said Hodge flatly. “He’s been dead for fifteen years.”
Clary sank back against the couch cushions. Her head was throbbing. Maybe she should have gone for that tea after all.
“Could it be someone else? Someone with the same name?”
Hodge’s laugh was a humorless bark. “No. But it could have been someone using his name to send a message.” He stood up and paced to his desk, hands locked behind his back. “And this would be the time to do it.”
“Because of the Accords.”
“The peace negotiations? Jace mentioned those. Peace with who?”
“Downworlders,” Hodge murmured. He looked down at Clary. His mouth was a tight line. “Forgive me,” he said. “This must be confusing for you.”
He leaned against the desk, stroking Hugo’s feathers absently. “Downworlders are those who share the Shadow World with us. We have always lived in an uneasy peace with them.”
“Like vampires, werewolves, and…”
“The Fair Folk,” Hodge said. “Faeries. And Lilith’s children, being half-demon, are warlocks.”
“So what are you Shadowhunters?”
“We are sometimes called the Nephilim,” said Hodge. “In the Bible they were the offspring of humans and angels. The legend of the origin of Shadowhunters is that they were created more than a thousand years ago, when humans were being overrun by demon invasions from other worlds. A warlock summoned the Angel Raziel, who mixed some of his own blood with the blood of men in a cup, and gave it to those men to drink. Those who drank the Angel’s blood became Shadowhunters, as did their children and their children’s children. The cup thereafter was known as the Mortal Cup. Though the legend may not be fact, what is true is that through the years, when Shadowhunter ranks were depleted, it was always possible to create more Shadowhunters using the Cup.”
“Was always possible?”
“The Cup is gone,” said Hodge. “Destroyed by Valentine, just before he died. He set a great fire and burned himself to death along with his family, his wife, and his child. Scorched the land black. No one will build there still. They say the land is cursed.”
“Possibly. The Clave hands down curses on occasion as punishment for breaking the Law. Valentine broke the greatest Law of all—he took up arms against his fellow Shadowhunters and slew them. He and his group, the Circle, killed dozens of their brethren along with hundreds of Downworlders during the last Accords. They were only barely defeated.”
“Why would he want to turn on other Shadowhunters?”
“He didn’t approve of the Accords. He despised Downworlders and felt that they should be slaughtered, wholesale, to keep this world pure for human beings. Though the Downworlders are not demons, not invaders, he felt they were demonic in nature, and that that was enough. The Clave did not agree—they felt the assistance of Downworlders was necessary if we were ever to drive off demonkind for good. And who could argue, really, that the Fair Folk do not belong in this world, when they have been here longer than we have?”
“Did the Accords get signed?”
“Yes, they were signed. When the Downworlders saw the Clave turn on Valentine and his Circle in their defense, they realized Shadowhunters were not their enemies. Ironically, with his insurrection Valentine made the Accords possible.” Hodge sat down in the chair again. “I apologize, this must be a dull history lesson for you. That was Valentine. A firebrand, a visionary, a man of great personal charm and conviction. And a killer. Now someone is invoking his name …”