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Book Review

This contemporary (urban) dark fantasy by Cassandra Clare is the first book in " The Mortal Instruments" series and is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, a division of Simon and Schuster Children's Books.

City of Bones is written for ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Fifteen year-old Clary Fray's life is turned upside down when she tries to stop what she thinks is a random knife attack at an underage dance club. The knife-wielding punks she follows into a storage room are actually Nephilim, creatures that are half angel and half human, and the boy they attack is a demon. Clary is stunned when she witnesses the Nephilim, or Shadowhunters, as they prefer to be called, destroy the demon.

Clary's life is further complicated when her mother disappears after a frantic phone call to Clary. When Clary and Jace, a confident and handsome young Shadowhunter, return to Clary's apartment, they find it torn apart. The two are attacked by another demon, which Clary ends up killing, but not before it poisons her.

Jace takes Clary to the Institute, a kind of embassy for Shadowhunters, where she can heal. When Clary's surrogate father, Luke, refuses to let her stay at his home, she is forced to live at the Institute with Jace and his fellow Shadowhunters — Alec, Isabelle and their tutor, Hodge. Clary and Jace are attracted to each other. Clary discovers that she is a Shadowhunter herself, the daughter of Valentine, one of the most feared and evil of the Nephilim. He wanted to use a relic called the Mortal Cup as a tool to create an army of Nephilim. His goal was to annihilate the Downworlders — vampires, werewolves, witches, fairies and sprites. Downworlders themselves are not demons, but some of their actions lead to evil. She learns that her mother fled Idris, the magical home of the Shadowhunters, before Clary was born in order to hide the Mortal Cup. The Nephilim now believe Valentine, who had been presumed dead, has returned to find the magical chalice.

Clary and the other Shadowhunters find the Mortal Cup. Before it can be placed in safe hands, Valentine steals it. He escapes with the cup and Jace through a portal to an unknown location, which disappears before Clary can follow.

With the help of Luke, who turns out to be a werewolf, and Simon, her best friend before her Shadowhunter realizations, Clary locates where Valentine has hidden her mother, Jace and the Mortal Cup. A battle ensues between the werewolves and Valentine's minions. Clary finds her mother in a trance and chained to a bed. Unable to rouse her, Clary searches for Jace. When she locates him, she tries to convince him to escape with her, but Jace refuses. Valentine is the father Jace believed had been murdered long ago. Valentine has convinced Jace that he [his father] has fought against a corrupt government in Idris and that all the evil stories about him are false. Jace and Clary realize they are brother and sister.

Luke confronts Valentine. Clary begs Jace to stop Valentine from killing Luke, the only father figure she has ever known. When Jace defends the werewolf, Valentine returns to Idris with the Mortal Cup, leaving Jace alone and fatherless once again.

Clary and Luke take her mother to a hospital where she is attended by not only human doctors but also magical ones in disguise. No one can wake her mother from her trance. Jace and Clary are left to sort out their conflicted emotions now that they believe they are siblings.

Christian Beliefs

Although the Nephilim are created from angels, it is unclear where the angels originally came from. When Clary tries to reason with Jace that if there are evil demons, there must be an opposite power of good, Jace disagrees. He is convinced that if God does exist, He doesn't care what happens on earth.

A boy tells Jace and Clary that when his brother and his friends went to fight a gang of vampires, they brought weapons blessed by a priest. The weapons failed to protect the boys, as they were never seen again. Later, when it's revealed that the boy is a vampire himself, Jace notes a gold chain around his neck and remarks that the vampire must wear a cross on it when he visits his family to convince them that he is still human.

Other Belief Systems

The Nephilim were formed when the Angel Raziel mixed some of his blood with the blood of humans in a magical chalice. When human children who were tested and proved strong enough to endure the transformation into supernatural beings drank from the Mortal Cup, they became Nephilim. The children of Shadowhunters inherit their powers. The Shadowhunters believe in the power of the Angel Raziel to help and guard them as they battle against demons.

Demons can infect humans with viruses that transform them into Downworlders — creatures that are part demon and part human. These creatures include vampires and werewolves. Sprites, witches and fairies are also Downworlders, but they are not considered dangerous. Witches and warlocks can use magic because of their demon blood. The Nephilim use magical tools only after rigorous training to protect them from the evil that magic possesses. Jace tells Clary that all religions incorporate the battle against demons into their belief systems; therefore the Nephilim can call on different religions for help. He also tells her that most myths are true, at least in part. This sentiment is echoed by one of Valentine's henchmen while looking at a statue of an Indian goddess. Hodge laments how being part angel and part human only gives the Shadowhunters a farther distance to fall. He doesn't clarify what they would fall away from.

Clary and the other Shadowhunters fight many demons, but one claims to be Abbadon, who lives in the dark places between the worlds — the demon, human and Shadowhunter worlds. Madame Dorothea uses tarot cards and tea leaves to predict the future.

Authority Roles

When Clary is ordered to pack for a summer away from home, she and her mother argue. When her mother calls and orders her to stay away from their apartment, it is the first place Clary goes. Later Clary discovers that her mother has lied to her about her ancestors. Also, Clary's mother had a warlock place a spell in Clary's mind when she discovered Clary could see the magical world. This spell makes Clary forget any magical beings she saw. Every two years since Clary was young, Clary's mother visited the warlock to have the spell recast.

Luke knew Clary her whole life, but he never told her of the Shadowhunters' world or his being a werewolf. Clary thinks Luke has rejected her when he orders her to keep away from him after her mother's disappearance. Luke becomes the leader of a werewolf pack in order to help protect Clary.

Hodge, the tutor at the Institute, betrays the other Shadowhunters in order to gain his freedom.

Madame Dorothea, another adult to whom Clary turns for help, is possessed by a demon.

Jace's father killed Jace's pet falcon when Jace was a child because Jace tamed it instead of training it to be a hunter. His father taught him that to love was to be weak.


Profanity is laced throughout the dialogue of the story, including d--n, a--hole, a--hat, bas---d, b--ch and d--khead. God's name is used several times in vain with help, dear, thank and oh my. It is also taken in vain in Spanish. Jesus is used as an exclamation. H--- is used as both an exclamation and in reference to the place.

Violence abounds in the story as Clary and the other Shadowhunters battle various demons, vampires and other creatures. The battles are graphically described and typically involve a lot of blood, both red human blood and black demon blood. The demons fight with teeth, claws and venom, while the Shadowhunters use magical daggers, swords, whips and arrows. Many of the Nephilim are injured — bones broken and deep cuts — but they can be healed by touching magical tools to runes tattooed on their bodies. Clary's best friend, Simon, can't be healed by the runes; he spends time recuperating from attacks in the infirmary of the Institute.

The first demon Clary sees killed looks like a teenage boy. The demon gurgles and twists as black liquid erupts from its wound before it folds in on itself and disappears. The demon that attacks Clary at her apartment whispers that it wants to kill and eat her.

Valentine's plan to create a new army of Nephilim will entail the murder of thousands of innocent children as he forces those who haven't been tested for strength to drink from the Mortal Cup.

When a demon possesses Madame Dorothea, it tears her body apart, leaving pieces scattered on the floor. Demons are described in graphic detail with running sores, skull-like heads and claws for hands.

Valentine's cruel history of murder is recounted at various intervals throughout the book.

Jace threatens to kill Valentine, but is unable to drive the sword into his father's chest. Valentine mocks him for being weak.


Clary and her friend Simon talk about potential girlfriends for Simon. Clary suggests someone from school who wears thong underwear and likes to pretend to drop her pencil so she can show it off. A girl asks Clary if Simon is gay. When Clary tells Simon her mother might not let her go to a poetry reading, he argues that it's not like he's taking her to an orgy. In an effort to see if Clary is listening to him, Simon remarks that he's been cross-dressing and having an affair with her mom.

Much is made of Jace's good looks. He flirts with several girls and is referred to as "sexy." He and Clary are mutually attracted to each other, sharing several brief, but passionate, kisses. Their feelings don't change when they discover they are brother and sister, but they no longer act on their attraction. Because of this and other teenage romances in this story, some of the dialogue is teasingly suggestive.

Jace's fellow Shadowhunter Isabelle dresses evocatively and seems to draw males to her like a magnet. Simon pretends to have a crush on her in order to make Clary jealous. When Isabelle and Simon dance together, Clary notes that Isabelle looks like she wants to take him into a corner to have sex with him.

Isabelle swears Clary to silence when Clary asks if her brother, Alec, is gay. Homosexuality is frowned on by older Shadowhunters, and if his parents found out that he was a homosexual, they would disown him. Alec's love for Jace is evident by the way he talks to Jace and his jealousy of Clary and Jace's relationship. Magnus Bane, the warlock who placed the spell on Clary's memory, is also a homosexual and makes several comments about being attracted to Alec.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Humans are referred to as "mundane."
  • What does that word imply about how the Nephilim view humans?
  • What is God's perspective regarding humans?
  • What does the Bible say about our relationship to angels?

  • Throughout the book, human eyes are often deceived by magic — seeing things differently than how they truly are.

  • What can deceive our eyes today?
  • What roles do television and computers play in your daily life?
  • How do advertisers and the media manipulate information?

  • Clary ran from her apartment during an argument instead of coming to an agreement with her mother.

  • What is God's desire for your relationship with your parents?
  • How would you have handled the situation differently?

  • Jace has closed himself off emotionally because he believes that to love someone is to risk being destroyed.

  • How does his lack of commitment affect his relationship to others?
  • How does he change his perspective in the story?
  • How do you view love?

  • Why do the Shadowhunters view themselves as superior to Downworlders and humans?

  • Have you seen this kind of prejudice in your life?
  • Have you seen it in the world?

  • Clary's mother lied about the magical world.

  • What was her motive?
  • How would you have felt if you were Clary?
  • How could Clary's mother have handled the situation differently?

Additional Comments/Notes

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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