Book Review: The Mortal Instruments: Book One, City of Bones

My brother got me hooked on fantasy fiction before it was as popular as it is today. Fantasy is a real mixed bag. Not only does it attract more than its share of low-quality authors, but it also has a tendency to stray far beyond the boundaries of biblical morality. As much as I still love fantasy, I have a deep-seated inclination to abandon the genre altogether. (My reasons for this are pretty thorough and complex, so I will save them for another full post at some point.)


However, I keep trying to justify my return to a particular type of fantasy that is becoming increasingly popular. I am afraid I am ignorant of the term for it. I am referring to the type of fantasy that is set in our contemporary world but imagines a fantasy underworld to which most people are oblivious. The specific version of this subgenre that I am interested in is the version that depicts a constant struggle between good and evil happening all around us.


This type of fantasy interests me because it is akin to what is taught in Scripture. Ephesians 6 teaches us that there is a war being waged in this world – a war which requires enlightened eyes to see. The war is between supernatural forces of good and evil. The eternal fates of human beings hang in the balance.


C. S. Lewis has been able to reach generations of children (and adults) for the gospel by embedding truth in another type of fantasy – the type where the children travel to and from a separate fantasy world. I think if someone wants to accomplish the same thing today, it will be by depicting the biblical battle of good and evil as happening as a kind of fantasy underground in our world.


I am saying all of this to explain why I would pick up the book City of Bones in the first place. I excuse myself by explaining to myself that it is research. I like to explore these kinds of fantasies to see if this fantasy subgenre can be put to use for the kingdom. As more and more kids and adults get sucked into the escape-from-reality offered by fantasy(in books, movies, video games, etc.), I am wondering if the church needs to consider the possibility of offering similar fantasies designed to draw people back to reality – the biblical reality.


So what do I think of City of Bones? I thought it was a quick, easy, pleasant read. The characters were easy to get to know and like. There was humor, action, and romance. The writer is far more talented than I.


I have three main issues with the book. The first is the [spoiler alert] plentiful use of clichés. For instance, there is the love triangle between the main character girl Clary (Clarissa), Clary’s best friend from childhood Simon (who has been in love with Clary for years, but Clary is oblivious), and the super-handsome and super-awesome warrior Jace who saves Clary’s life. All kinds of cliché material here. Simon tries the old look-like-I’m-interested-in-somebody-else-to-make-her-jealous routine. Jace, of course, turns out to actually be Clary’s brother, although we only find this out after they’ve already kissed.


The second issue is that the book is generally morally bankrupt from a biblical perspective. There is an awful lot of sensuality and innuendo between the teenage main characters. Clary turns sixteen two-thirds of the way through the book. I believe most or all of the teenagers are minors, yet there is frank discussion about the possibility of the various characters sleeping together. This always confuses me. If we photographed it, we would go to jail, but it is OK to write about it? Also, one of the male main characters is in love with one of the other male main characters. Again, this runs counter to a biblical perspective. This is all on top of the normal fantasy problems of the use of magic, witchcraft, etc.


My third main issue is related to my preceding discussion. I was not pleased with City of Bones as a model of the fantasy underground. It expressed doubt as to the existence of God. It treated all religions as equal. It considered angels and demons to be beings from another dimension. Basically, it de-spiritualized everything. Also, the book did a very poor job overlapping the fantasy world with the normal human world. Most of the fantasy people are limited to a single region of the globe that has been magically hidden from the “mundanes.”


The book was good entertainment fiction. Its plot, characters, and setting were not original. It was relatively amoral and irreligious (even blasphemous at times). And it did not provide a good model for a biblically-driven fantasy. Overall, I have no plans of watching the movie or reading any of the rest of the books by Cassandra Clare.

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