Anyone who has visited New York City can tell you that it’s a magical place. But what if the magic that resides there is more than hectic energy and a bunch of tourist-friendly sites . . . what if it’s real? What if there’s another layer to this world that most people can’t see, a layer that’s full of faeries and vampires, werewolves and demon hunters, protective runes and evil overlords? In The Mortal Instruments trilogy, Cassandra Clare peels back the glamour to reveal the magic that is usually hidden from us.
In City of Bones, Clary can hardly believe her eyes when she sees a trio of teens slay a demon at her favorite nightclub. Little does she realize that it’s merely her first glimpse into a world that she was born into—a world that her mother, Jocelyn, has tried desperately to keep from her. But with her mother missing and Luke—her mother’s oldest friend and the second most important person in Clary’s life—pushing her away, Clary must turn to these same demon-slaying teens, known as Shadowhunters, for answers. Along with her best friend, Simon, Clary struggles to absorb all that she is learning. Demons attack her; Simon is turned into a rat at a warlock party and stolen by vampires; Valentine, an evil Shadowhunter long thought dead, is back and trying to find the Mortal Cup so that he can create a Nephilim army. Through it all, though, there is Clary’s intense attraction to Jace, the Shadowhunter who both drives her crazy and draws her to him. Can Valentine be right? Can Jace really be her brother?
The story continues in City of Ashes, with Clary attempting to forget her love for Jace by avoiding him and dating Simon. All that changes, though, when she hears that Jace has been imprisoned in the Silent City by the Clave’s Inquisitor, who refuses to believe that Jace isn’t working for Valentine. When Valentine chooses that night to kill the Silent Brothers and steal the Mortal Sword, it only makes Jace look more guilty. After figuring out that Valentine is killing Downworlders in order to perform a ritual that will turn the Mortal Sword into a powerful instrument of evil, the teens visit the Seelie Court to ask the Faerie Queen for her help. In short order, Clary’s love for Jace is revealed, Simon is turned into a vampire, and Jace confronts Valentine on a ship in the East River. Clary discovers that she has the ability to create new runes, which serves her well during the climactic battle on board Valentine’s ship, as the Nephilim fight a host of demons and Clary tries to keep Valentine from converting the Mortal Sword. Clary manages to destroy Valentine’s ship, but not before he escapes, many Nephilim are injured, and Simon finds that drinking Jace’s blood has made him impervious to sunlight. Things seem to be getting back to “normal” when Madeleine Bellefleur appears to tell Clary that she knows how to wake up Jocelyn, who had been captured by Valentine’s demons and into a deep sleep.
City of Glass takes place mostly in Idris, where Valentine is believed to be looking for the Mortal Glass so that he can complete his plan to overturn the Clave and eliminate all the Downworlders. Clary is in Idris too, hoping to find a way to wake up her mother. In the course of doing this, she discovers that, before they were born, Valentine infused Jace with the blood of a demon, and Clary with the blood of an angel. When demons attack the supposedly impenetrable city of Alicante, the revelations fly fast and furious. Simon has been imprisoned next to Hodge, Sebastian is a spy for Valentine, and Max Lightwood is killed. Luke offers the help of the werewolves as the Nephilim decide whether to fight Valentine, but it seems that there’s no way for the two groups to work together, and Valentine will be unopposed. . . . Until Clary creates a rune that binds a werewolf to a Shadowhunter, allowing them to fight together and share powers. Magnus Bane brings Jocelyn to Idris, and she and Clary make up while the rest of the Nephilim prepare to fight. Clary also marks Simon with the Mark of Cain so that he can fight with the rest and secure a place for the vampires in the new world that is being built. At a final showdown between Valentine, Jace, and Clary, Jace is killed, but not before finding out that he’s not really Valentine’s son. When Valentine raises Raziel from Lake Lyn, he doesn’t realize that Clary has changed the summoning runes just enough to control the angel. Valentine is killed by Raziel, who then brings Jace back to life at Clary’s request.
The Mortal Instruments series speaks to the outsider in all of us as we try to figure out who we are and how we fit into the world, without letting anyone know how scared we are. By finding a balance between the worlds of the mundane and the Shadowhunters, Clary defines what sort of adult she will be. She finds out who she loves, where she belongs, and what she’s willing to fight for.
· When Clary learns that Magnus Bane had erased her supernatural memories, she says that she had always felt like there was something wrong with her. How much of this is because she didn’t know her history, and how much is caused—as Magnus says—by the simple fact that she’s a teenager? Does she belong in the Shadowhunter world?
· How much of what mundanes see in this world is a glamour, constructed by those with magical powers? Why do these glamours exist? How do things change for Clary once she can see through them?
· Where did Nephilim, witches and warlocks, vampires, werewolves, and faeries come from? Do their origins justify the roles they play and the rivalries between them?
· Why did Valentine rebel against the Clave in the first place? What does he hope to accomplish by stealing the Mortal Instruments and fighting the Clave now? Whose best interests does he have in mind?
· At one point, Jace says he doesn’t believe in God (City of Bones, p. 256). Do you think this is true? Can someone be a Shadowhunter and not believe in God?
· What is it about the Silent Brothers that is so disturbing to Clary and the others? Do you think the Silent Brothers play up this aura of creepiness?
· Why was Jace, who rarely felt fear, so afraid when he was imprisoned in the Silent City?
· How do Jace’s feelings about danger and death differ from Alec’s and Isabelle’s? Why does Jace feel the way he does about putting himself in the line of danger? How does Clary change this?
· Shadowhunters are charged with protecting mundanes, but they seem to have very little respect for those they serve. Why do you think their feelings for normal humans are so complicated? Why do they continue to serve mundanes if they don’t like them?
· After Valentine takes the Mortal Cup and returns to Idris, why does the Clave find it difficult to trust Jace? What does Jace do to earn their trust? What should he have done? Does Maryse Lightwood really distrust him?
· What role does Luke play in Clary’s life? Does this role change as the story progresses? How does the Clave feel about Luke? Why does he inspire such strong feelings in others?
· When Simon becomes a daylighter, how will this keep him from finding his place in the world? In what ways is it helpful to him?
· Discuss the character of Hodge. Why did he betray his young charges? Was he just self-serving and bad, or did he do some good with his life? Was he right to fear Valentine more than the Clave?
· How did Jace and Clary get their special abilities? Why do you think they developed different skills? Will the other Shadowhunters view their abilities as a gift or a curse?
· What is the significance of Clary creating the binding rune? Does its origin tell us anything about how Shadowhunters and Downworlders should treat each other?
· What sacrifices does Simon make? Why is he willing to do these things? Does he gain anything by doing this?
· Valentine’s plotting and lies cause a lot of confusion about who his children are. How does Clary define family? Who had the greatest influence on the formation of Jace’s character? Where does Jace belong? Which of the three children—Clary, Jace, and Jonathan—was most affected by Valentine?
· Several people, including Jace and Luke, accuse Clary of rushing into situations without any regard to how her actions will affect others. Do you think this is a fair assessment? Do any other characters act like this? In the end, does this trait harm or help Clary?
· Why does Alec have such a hard time telling people about his relationship with Magnus Bane? What changes his mind?
· What does the phrase “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin” mean? Where did it originally come from? How does it apply to the situation with Valentine? How does it compare to what Clary was thinking when she wrote it?
· Clary and her mother are both artists. How does this figure into their gifts as Shadowhunters? Overall, is Clary’s gift creative or destructive?
· Discuss the many biblical references in the book, particularly those that make up the chapter titles—East of Eden, All the Host of Hell, Where There is Sorrow, Sins of the Fathers, etc. Do these chapter headings add to the actions that take place in the chapters they begin? Why do you think the author chose so many quotes from the Bible? Is the Bible important in the lives of any of the characters?
· The author starts each book and each section within the books with a quotation. What do you know about the sources of these quotations? What sort of works are they from? Is there a common theme? Why do you think the author chose these quotes?
· Write a research paper on ancient runes. When were they used? By whom? What did they look like? Are they still used today? What is their connection to modern written language?
· Clary is able to identify a problem and create a rune that will solve that problem. Choose a problem that is currently being faced by you, your school, your community, or your government and create a rune that will help. What do the different lines in the rune stand for? What will the rune do? What were you thinking when you drew it? Write a story about how the rune is used to solve the problem you chose.
· Hodge knew many tricks for healing physical ailments using herbs, plants, and other natural remedies. Compare and contrast different branches of alternative medicine—homeopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture, etc. How do they compare to the practice of medicine as we traditionally think of it?
· There is a rich mythology surrounding angels, Nephilim, demons, vampires, and other creatures in the book. Choose one of these magical creatures and find out more about them. Find other books and movies that cover the subject, and compare the world found there to the world of The Mortal Instruments.Write a short paper about the history of the creature you’ve chosen and the different ways it has shown up in literature throughout the years.
· Shadowhunters devote their lives to making the world a safer and better place for those around them. What can you do to make the world a better place? Choose a cause you believe in and then volunteer.
· Clary is a talented artist, and often uses art to make sense of the things that are happening in her world. Express yourself through some art form—drawing, painting, sculpting, or collage—and draw someone or something from the books.
· Shadowhunters have strong ties to their ancestors. Trace the family trees of the Shadowhunters and discover their connections to one another.