Clary’s life is ticking along quite nicely. Her mother’s been acting a bit odd and overprotective lately, but that’s how mothers are. It doesn’t stop Clary and her best friend Simon from going to an all-ages club. But things start to take a turn for the very weird when Clary witnesses three teenagers at the club lure another boy into a back room and kill him. Three teenagers that no one else can see, and a dead body that immediately shrivels up and disappears.
Clary is confused and freaked out, but she doesn’t have a chance to shrug it off, because almost immediately her entire family is under attack. Apparently her mother, long-term family friend Luke, and possibly even an unwitting Clary have become entangled in the mysterious world of the Shadowhunters, demon killers living beyond the awareness of most humans. With her mother kidnapped – or worse! – Clary takes refuge with the three teenagers she met at the club – beautiful and aloof Isabelle, her brother Alec, and the infuriatingly attractive Jace. But what can three highly trained teens and one overwhelmed girl do against the powers of evil?
Cassandra Clare does a great job of world building in this book. The not-magic (Shadowhunters are adamant that their special abilities are not magic, that not being able to do magic is part of their humanity) is consistent throughout. Non-humans are complex, with their own agendas and cultural sub-groups. The general attitude of “why should we help you?” seemed less a plot device and more the reflection of centuries of bitterness and uneasy truces.
This is the first in a trilogy, but it doesn’t have a “introduction” feel to it. The relationships are dynamic and realistic. Betrayals abound, but so do burgeoning friendships, and Clary’s awkward attempts to understand both her life-long friendship with Simon and her recent – and complicated- feelings for Jace. Some of the reactions are a little extreme, but so is the situation, and this can be understood as simply a reflection of emotions running high in a stressful situation. The main villain of the piece has no real subtlety, at least in this first installment, though several of the lesser foes are complicated and three-dimensional.