City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments, Book 1

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Exciting start to teen fantasy series in urban setting.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 33 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 203 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers have the chance to compare the angel, nephilim, demon, vampire, fairy, and werewolf lore presented here with other depictions of fantasy creatures. The book also includes an intriguing use of runes, which may entice readers to find out more about their historical significance.

Positive Messages

The series as a whole explores what makes a family and whether it's OK to hide a big part of yourself away from loved ones, even if it's in the name of protecting them from harm. It also tests the friendship and bravery of teens. And of course, with characters such as half-angels and demons it's good against evil, but there's also a gray area with an evil half-angel and some good vampires and werewolves.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Clary is brave, both facing scary demons and scary truths about who she really is. She owns her new identity gracefully. Jace and Simon may dislike each other, but are willing to come together to help Clary. A trusted adult advisor turns against the teens in his care.


Lots of fantasy violence, often with swords and knives, some rather gory, including throat cutting and fountains and puddles of blood. Battles between humans and other creatures such as grotesque-looking demons, a house full of vampires, and werewolves. The main character's mother is kidnapped and she imagines the worst.


Some kissing, a mention of having sex.


One use of "bitch," "ass," and various other mild insults.


Shoe, eyeglass brands, and video games mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Herbal Ecstasy mentioned, plus some drinking and smoking by teens in bars. Simon accepts a drink at a party and really pays the price.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there is lots of fantasy violence with swords and knives here, including some that is gory, with fountains and puddles of blood, throat stabbing and cutting, etc. Also, there's some kissing. This is the start of a series that explores some compelling ideas, such as what makes a family and whether it's OK to hide a big part of yourself away from loved ones, even if it's in the name of protecting them from harm.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 12-year-old Written byBookNerdMom July 23, 2018

Vampire and werewolves and romance, oh my!

I'm baffled by the parents and teachers who rated this novel for 15+ or 16+. I am a parent of a 12 year old, an English teacher (I've taught grades 7-... Continue reading
Adult Written bySierra D. October 19, 2017

Everyone's getting confused!!

To clear things up first and foremost, the "drugs" that people believe they are hearing about in the first few chapters of the book aren't actual... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byDayCassi0peia August 2, 2019

I’d give it a 10000 star rating of I could

In 7th grade I was browsing my school’s library and came across this title. I immediately got lost in it, and the rest of the books accompanied me for the rest... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySky Trekker February 6, 2012

Really really good!

I thought this book and series are amazing. It is funny, interesting, and gripping. And really, why is it a big deal that there's minor swearing and gay ch... Continue reading

What's the story?

Clary goes to an all-ages nightclub, and there encounters Shadowhunters and demons, all of whom are invisible to everyone else. This encounter, and her mother's subsequent kidnapping, brings her into a shadow world of age-old warfare between the Shadowhunters and the demons, from whom they protect humanity. Clary discovers that her mother and her own past are not what she thought, and that she is intimately involved in a power struggle among the Shadowhunters.

Is it any good?

Teen urban fantasy is a popular sub-genre, and this first installment of a new series has all the essential elements. A city-dwelling teen discovers an invisible world of magical beings and monsters living hidden among us, and that she has a place and power within that world due to a past that has been kept hidden from her. It's the variations the author wrings out of the formula, and the attitude, that make the difference. Author Cassandra Clare doesn't go for the teen sarcasm and black humor (much), nor the hip urban cool, of some of the other members of this small but growing category.

Instead, she offers an intriguingly complex world with reams of backstory involving numerous characters, creatures, factions, and relationships. In addition to the various sides among the Shadowhunters, there are vampires, werewolves, faeries, warlocks, and others, each group with its own politics, powers, and agendas. Then she wraps it all up with exciting action told in vivid, occasionally melodramatic, but always engrossing, prose that sweeps the reader along and makes even the exposition fascinating.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of the book series. Why do you think teens are interested in reading a story with several installments? What do authors and publishers have to gain by creating a series? 

  • How does this book compare with other fantasy novels you've read? What similarities and differences do you notice in the types of characters, their struggles, their romances, etc.

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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