Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.
Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.
Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.
I have to start out this review by saying that although it's been less than a year since I read the Mortal Instruments books. I don't think the book suffered much for me forgetting, though. I found it easy to get into and understand without remembering much about the world and the people. I really liked the main character, Tessa. She was believable and strong yet flawed enough to be likeable, even with her hints of Mary-Sue specialness. It will probably depend on the result of said Mary-Sue special and how it's handled, so I'll hold out hope. I'm a little more tenuous on the relationship angles in the book. Perhaps it is my disdain of Twilight-ish books who try to proclaim "but when he insults you it means he loves you!" No, in my world that means he's a jerk and you should run. Or it could be my low tolerance of romance in the first place. The rest of the book's plot is redeeming, though. The Victorian setting is well done and believable. The characters are fleshed out and consistent. The MacGuffin is . . . well, MacGuffin in this book, although there are flashes of its future use. In all a solid read, although I'm tempted to advise people to wait and read the book with its sequels when the series is finished. There may be too much left unsaid for the casual reader.