Study Guide

City of Bones Setting

By Cassandra Clare


City of Bones takes Clary to a variety of locales, some exotic, some mundane. But as Clary soon learns, even the mundane has magic in it.

New York City

Clary's story opens in what might be, to some, a magical place of wonder: New York City. Heard of it?

Well, to Clary, it's nothing special. So what if it's one of the biggest cities in the world, filled with everything you could possibly imagine? She's lived there her whole life. For half the book, she doesn't voice any sort of awe or appreciation for the urban jungle. She's too occupied gazing at Jace and marveling at the secret wonders the city holds: Shadowhunter strongholds, demon lairs hidden from mortal eyes by magical glamor, and the haunting Silent City hidden under the New York Marble Cemetery, one of the oldest public cemeteries in the city.

Her slowly emerging Sight changes her view of the city, letting her see these previously hidden things. But her adventure also gives her a new perspective on the city. Quite literally. When she flies over the city on one of the vampire's bio-bikes with Jace, she sees the city in a whole new light (before that whole new light—the sunlight—causes the bike to come crashing down, anyway): "It was lovely, [Clary] could see that: the city rising up beside her like a towering forest of silver and glass" (15.73).

She's scared though, never having flown in a plane before, so she doesn't get a good long look at it. By the end of the book, she's overcome this fear. Flying over the city, Clary "kept her eyes open, so that she could see it all" (Epilogue.176). She sees the true beauty of the city, and everything she had taken for granted: "It was spread out before her like a carelessly opened jewelry box, this city more populous and more amazing than she had ever imagined" (Epilogue.167).

Pandemonium Club

In case you missed it, the book opens with a quote from one of Shmoop's all-time favorite poems, Paradise Lost. Just like Paradise Lost, City of Bones gives us a glimpse of Pandemonium. Milton's Pandemonium was the capitol of Hell. Clare's Pandemonium might be the same for you, depending on your feelings for overcrowded, teen-filled raves and ridiculous clothes.

Clare said she modeled The Mortal Instruments on Dante's descent into, and return from, the Underworld in Inferno (source.) So it's fitting that Clary's journey begins at a dance club named after this iconic fictional city. If the club were named Pooh Corner, it just wouldn't have quite the same feel.

We only see the Pandemonium Club once during City of Bones, but it's a memorable start to the journey, and one that Clary will surely never forget. But that might just be because there are more parachute pants on display than in MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" music video.

The Institute

The Institute is a theme park with rides inspired by different panels of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. No, we're kidding. It's—shocker—an institute, a building devoted to housing and educating young Shadowhunters. We guess after they had to name all sorts of crazy supernatural beings—Nephilim, djinn, fae, Eidolon demons, etc.—they ran out of ideas.

Regular humans can't see the Institute. Shadowhunter glamor keeps it hidden from mortal eyes. When Simon first sees it, he only sees a shabby old cathedral, but once inside he sees something more stunning and beautiful than even the cathedral would have been in its prime.

Clary spends a lot of time at the Institute, and it seems to have everything a Shadowhunter would need to sustain his or her rough-and-tumble lifestyle: a hospital wing, a modern kitchen, a fully stocked library, and even a beautiful greenhouse, which acts as an ersatz Garden of Eden for Clary and Jace's first kiss. See Jace's "Character Analysis" for more information on their forbidden love.

Renwick's Ruin

Valentine's stronghold is not only a real-life place, it's a historical landmark. The Roosevelt Island Historical Society describes it as "a fine example of the crenellated Gothic Revival Style, that it was designed by one of New York's most prominent 19th century architects, that it long served as the only center for the treatment of smallpox in the City, and that it is a romantic and picturesque ruin, evoking memories of the past" (source).

What's more romantic and picturesque than smallpox? Maybe a power-hungry jerk bent on ethnic cleansing like City of Bones villain Valentine Morgenstern who lives inside the Ruin.

Thanks to Valentine's magic, the Ruin has never actually decayed. We mundies just see it that way. Clary's Sight allows her to see through the glamor and right to the heart of its Gothic splendor. Too bad she doesn't have time to sightsee before getting attacked by an army of bloodthirsty Forsaken obeying Valentine's every command.