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Embracing the Shadow World: A Critical Look at The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare

book review

Ah, the intoxicating thrill of first love interwoven with demonic exorcisms and an age-old war between good and evil. Just another Monday, am I right? Only this time, it’s wrapped up in six riveting novels that span a world within our world, where teenagers wield weapons of angelic might and the night is crawling with unseen terrors. Welcome to “The Mortal Instruments” series.

These books take a bite out of the Big Apple, chew it up, and spit it back out in a fantastical, demonic form. If I were to write my own “Book of the Shadowhunters,” Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series would be inked into its pages. In this series, love is a weapon sharper than any Seraph Blade, the past is a feral creature forever gnawing at the present, and angels and demons walk among us—or rather, New Yorkers.

In the six books of the Mortal Instruments series—City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls, and City of Heavenly Fire—Clary Fray and her band of demon-hunting misfits traipse through an alternate, parallel New York City, a place Clare dubs “The Shadow World.” It’s a universe brimming with Downworlders, Shadowhunters, and all sorts of creatures from the deepest recesses of myth and folklore.

At the heart of it all is Clary, a fiery redhead with a knack for getting into trouble. This time, it’s not detention or a grounded weekend she’s facing. No, she’s tumbling headfirst into a world where her mother disappears, her new best friend is a demon-slaying warrior, and oh, she’s the only hope to save the world from the ultimate evil. No big deal, right?

Plot Summary:

“In the world of shadows, everything is possible, and nothing is as it seems.” That’s the reality we are plunged into as we open the pages of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. The series starts with a seemingly ordinary teenage girl, Clary Fray, whose world takes an exciting, and terrifying, turn when she starts seeing things that others can’t. She finds herself in a world of Shadowhunters—warriors committed to ridding the earth of demons and keeping the uneasy peace between the otherworldly creatures—vampires, werewolves, and faeries.

Clary learns that she is one of them, a Shadowhunter, and she’s thrown into their dangerous and complex world. Alongside the brooding Jace Wayland and her loyal best friend, Simon, Clary is embroiled in a story of love, friendship, and battling inner demons.

Notable Quotes:

“When you love someone, you don’t have a choice. Love takes your choices away.”

“Every single one of us can be a dark force or a light force. Every single one of us can choose the right or the wrong road to walk down.”

“Is this the part where you start tearing off strips of your shirt to bind my wounds?”

“If you wanted me to rip my clothes off, you should have just asked.”

“Heroes aren’t always the ones who win. They’re the ones who lose, sometimes. But they keep fighting, they keep coming back. They don’t give up. That’s what makes them heroes.”

The Mortal Instruments Series in Order:

  1. “City of Bones” (2007)
  2. “City of Ashes” (2008)
  3. “City of Glass” (2009)
  4. “City of Fallen Angels” (2011)
  5. “City of Lost Souls” (2012)
  6. “City of Heavenly Fire” (2014)

Each of these novels expands the Shadow World, delves deeper into the characters’ arcs, and raises the stakes in their epic battle against darkness.

Believe me, once you start, you’ll be as possessed as any of the characters within these books. Each novel expands Clare’s Shadow World, delving deeper into the characters’ arcs, and raising the stakes in their epic battle against the dark forces. And remember, in the words of our dear Clary Fray, “Heroes aren’t always the ones who win… They’re the ones who lose, sometimes. But they keep fighting, they keep coming back. They don’t give up. That’s what makes them heroes.” In that sense, we’re all Shadowhunters, battling the demons of our everyday lives, one day at a time.

My Review

Like a carefully crafted rune, The Mortal Instruments series is a blend of magic, raw emotion, and the raw grit of reality, a fact that can’t be ignored. It’s a world that, while teetering on the brink of the fantastic, still remains relatable to its audience.

Cassandra Clare’s writing is immersive and vivid. She doesn’t just tell the story; she lets you live it, experience it, and be consumed by it. In every twist and turn, we’re left reeling with the characters, gasping for breath as we navigate through the treacherous waters of the Shadow World.

It’s true that Clare’s works can be viewed as a blend of the familiar themes and elements we’ve seen in the genre, but her storytelling prowess and character development make the series a standout. The love triangle, for instance, is not just any love triangle. It’s complex, heart-wrenching, and evokes the type of empathy and passion that has you rooting for characters and mourning their losses.

Clare drags us into the plot like a demon with a Shadowhunter in its clutches. And once you’re in, there’s no exorcism strong enough to pull you out. Clary is not your typical damsel in distress, waiting for a knight in shining armor. She’s the knight, the armor, and the darn horse, all rolled into one. There’s a fire in her that mirrors her fiery hair, and it’s a fire that’s mirrored in the narrative itself.

Clare paints the Shadow World in such exquisite detail that I found myself flinching at the scrape of a demon’s claw and sighing at the soft flutter of an angel’s wings. The relationships between the characters are complex and fraught, woven together with threads of love, duty, and no small amount of self-sacrifice.

Then there’s the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue. It’s sharp enough to skewer a demon and sassy enough to bring a chuckle even amidst the blood and gore. I found myself both crying and laughing while reading, sometimes simultaneously. It’s been a while since a book series had me reaching for the tissues for two entirely different reasons.


I’m giving “The Mortal Instruments” series a solid 4 out of 5. The world-building is sublime, the characters lovable in their own unique ways, and the plot kept me on the edge of my seat. But there were times when the angst felt a tad overdone, and I wished the narrative focused a little less on romantic entanglements and a little more on the impending doom. But hey, who am I to deny star-crossed lovers their angst-ridden soliloquies? The Mortal Instruments series is a pulse-pounding, gut-wrenching, and captivating read. However, some elements may feel slightly derivative, albeit Clare’s unique execution.

Author Bio

Cassandra Clare is a renowned American author who has garnered international acclaim for her young adult fantasy series. She has a knack for crafting immersive worlds, compelling characters, and storylines that keep readers on the edge of their seats.

FAQ or Book Club Questions

  1. How does Clary’s character evolve throughout the series?
  2. What role does friendship play in the series?
  3. How does the love triangle between Clary, Simon, and Jace evolve and affect the overall story?
  4. Discuss the theme of “inner demons” and how it plays out with various characters.
  5. How does the Shadow World serve as a metaphor for our own society?

Where to Buy

You can find the Mortal Instruments series on Amazon.

Movie/TV Adaptation

The series has been adapted into a movie, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” released in 2013, and a television series “Shadowhunters” that aired from 2016 to 2019. The movie and TV series have added visual depth to the characters and settings, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the source material and varying receptions from fans and critics alike. As always, I highly recommend reading the books before diving into the screen adaptations.

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