The Shadowhunter Chronicles is one of the biggest series in Young Adult literature right now, and with the latest installment coming out in just under a month, the hype is building yet again. If you’ve ever been in any way involved with the online book community, you’ve definitely heard of these books before, and you’re about to hear a whole lot more about them.
But the thing about The Shadowhunter Chronicles is that there are so many books out already, spanning so much time, that trying to figure out how to read the books feels like trying to figure out how to watch the MCU. Everyone has very strong opinions about it, too.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re interested in hopping on this bandwagon, but you aren’t entirely sure where to start. Don’t worry, I’m here to help! Or maybe make things worse. It could go either way, really.
If you’re worried about reading these books in the right order, there are a few things you should understand.
#1: They follow a three-book arc
Yes, The Mortal Instruments is a six book series, but you can think of it more as two trilogies. They mostly follow the same characters, but they have a different arc and slightly different themes.
Also, yes, there are companion books and novella bind-ups. Some of them are well worth reading, but none of them are mandatory. Focus on the five trilogies:
The Mortal Instruments, Part 1
The Infernal Devices
The Mortal Instruments, Part 2
The Dark Artifices
The Last Hours
#2: It’s not all one series
Each series follows its own arc, and its own cast of characters. You do not need prior knowledge of past series in order to understand what is happening. You can start with City of Bones, Clockwork Angel, Lady Midnight or Chain of Gold, and you will not be lost. The book will explain everything you need to know in order to understand what’s happening.
Some books, of course, will be more thorough than others in their world building, but in general, you should be able to follow the plot.
#3: Yes, some series do spoil other series
With that said, yes, some Shadowhunter series build off of the events of other Shadowhunter series, meaning that they have to explain major plot twists from previous books. They don’t tell the full story – if anything, they’ll probably make you want to read the other series – but they do contain spoilers.
If you want to avoid spoilers, start with either City of Bones or Clockwork Angel.
Lady Midnight spoils both The Mortal Instruments and The Dark Artifices. Chain of Gold spoils The Infernal Devices. Do not read either of those books unless you are okay with being spoiled for other series.
Also – and this is the confusing part – while you can start reading The Mortal Instruments before you read The Infernal Devices, the final book in the The Mortal Instruments does kind of spoil the final book in The Infernal Devices. You might not catch the spoilers, but they are there. Be careful.
#4: They get better with every book
This is why I said that you can start with Lady Midnight or Chain of Gold if you want to. Because, let’s be honest, the first few Shadowhunter Chronicles book are not Cassandra Clare’s best work. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and they can be difficult to get into. If you’re ready to sit through some heavy worldbuilding and slightly problematic stuff, go for it, but just know that the later books are much better.
Basically, if you don’t know where to start, here is my advice:
If you want to start from the beginning and get the full experience – including pushing through some very slow parts – start with City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, Book 1). Reserve judgement until at least book 3, though.
If you want to avoid spoilers and get the full experience, but aren’t totally sold on The Mortal Instruments, or just want something that’s a little easier to get into, start with Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1).
If you don’t care at all about spoilers and would rather jump right into an entertaining murder mystery with a fun cast of characters that is absolutely fantastic from start to finish, start with Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices, Book 1).
You can also start with Chain of Gold (The Last Hours, Book 1) if you really want to, but I would personally not recommend this option just because there is a massive cast of characters, and it’s confusing enough even for people already familiar with The Shadowhunter Chronicles. But you do you.
My recommended reading order:
City of Bones
City of Ashes
City of Glass
City of Fallen Angels
City of Lost Souls
The Bane Chronicles (optional – can read later)
City of Heavenly Fire
Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy (optional, but highly recommended)
Lord of Shadows
Queen of Air and Darkness
Ghosts of the Shadow Market (optional, but highly recommended)
The Red Scrolls of Magic (optional – can read later)
Chain of Gold
The Lost Book of the White (optional – can read later)
Chain of Iron
Of, if this is easier, here’s a handy flowchart:
The next Shadowhunter book, Chain of Iron, comes out March 2nd, 2021.