Review: City of Ashes

I recently read the sequel to Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, entitled City of Ashes. This was a reread, but it’s been seven years since my last encounter with this book, so reading it again now was almost a new experience (I have a horrible memory for plot). Check out how this one compares down below. This will be a spoiler-free review of the second book, but I will mention some details about where we left off at the end of book 1, so if you haven’t read that yet, take a break and check it out before reading further!

cityofashesAbout the book: Clary’s and Jace’s relationship has reached a new level of awkward since their parents waited to reveal that the two were siblings until they’d begun falling in love. Then, of course, the reader must consider that their mother is under a magic spell of unconsciousness and their father is the evil Valentine who basically wants to take over the world with his army of demons. Simon and Jace are both blinded with infatuation, complicating matters with their inability to see what’s right in front of their eyes. There’s hardly time for love, though, with the Inquisitor hounding the wrong people for Valentine’s crimes. Speaking of Valentine’s crimes, it turns out that the mortal cup isn’t the only mortal instrument he’s after, and he’s got dastardly plans for the second object. When most of the adults refuse to see what’s happening, can Clary and her friends stop Valentine before it’s too late?

” ‘I remember you saying that growing up happens when you start having things you look back on and wish you could change. I guess that means I’ve grown up now.’ “

My favorite part of this book, of course, is the characters. Although I wish Clary was a more active participant in the Shadowhunters’ adventures, her role is already broadening in this second volume and I have a sense that it’ll only improve from here. Simon, on the other hand, has been a great character from the beginning, and I loved him even more here. He becomes a whole new person, practically. Although he, too, is a bit of a tag-along at times, Simon is a wonderful character because no matter how much crap he faces, he keeps plowing forward into the unknown. Alec and Isabelle are finally ready to accept that their group is bigger than three now, and though they don’t always like that fact, they’re fiercely loyal and will leave no one behind. And Jace–he’s stronger and funnier than ever, and never gives up. His character is truly tested in this book, and no matter how difficult it may be to make the right choices, no matter how lightly he seems to take dire situations–

” ‘I don’t want to be a man,’ said Jace. ‘I want to be an angst-ridden teenager who can’t confront his own inner demons and takes it out verbally on other people instead.’ “

–he’ll stand on the right side until his final breath, which may come sooner than he thinks. There are so few people who understand Jace, so he can’t help but keep Clary close. He wants something he can’t have with her though, which makes things harder for everyone. Still, in the end he’ll make what is arguably the best choice.

“Not everything Jace did was insane and suicidal, she reminded herself. It just seemed that way.”

We also have a new character in this book–Maia the werewolf. New characters after the first book always make me wary, but Maia makes a nice addition to the story. Allowing the reader to see Maia’s past and grow to appreciate her personality gives City of Ashes more impact when she is one of the characters threatened by Valentine’s new plan. I have a theory about how Maia will grow more involved in the story as the next volume progresses, and I certainly won’t be upset to see her there. She gives the reader a new angle from which to view some of the characters who are already familiar, which helps keep this sequel from becoming repetitive or disappointing after the end of a remarkable first novel.

Last but not least, our villain has some intriguing depth. Instead of being merely evil, Valentine has opinions and ideals that are not entirely wrong–his fault is that he takes his fight for them too far before he figures out which things he is wrong about. He’s blind to the possibility that he may be causing more problems than the problems the Shadowhunters were already facing. With a dark past and some serious cunning, Valentine is the sort of nefarious character that keeps readers guessing. Despite his outrageous methods, he’s not short on intelligence and can spin some remarkable arguments. He’s not quite likeable, but far from dismissable, as any good villain should be.

“Demons, to you, are hideous creatures that leap out from the shadows to rend and attack. And there are such creatures. But there are also demons of deep subtlety and secrecy, demons who walk among humans unrecognized and unhindered.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I originally gave this one a 4-star rating in 2010, but I think that was my petulant teenaged response to the ending going a way I didn’t prefer and the friction between Jace and Clary that (necessarily) slows their relationship. This time through, perhaps with the skewed perspective of knowing a little of what’s coming in book three, I was more impressed with the character growth the reader is shown through the difficulty of the ending for Clary, Jace, and Simon. I think I had more patience for this sequel now that I’m past my own angsty teenager stage. I’m more and more impressed all the time with how well Cassandra Clare draws her readers into the Shadowhunter stories; personally, I’m hooked. Carrying on in the Mortal Instruments series with City of Glass is one of my most-anticipated reading plans for February. Despite how much I know I’ll love the few books I’m reading now in my break between Mortal Instruments books, it’s hard to read other things when I’m so in the mood for the Shadowhunters right now. I couldn’t put down City of Ashes and I can hardly wait to get my hands on City of Glass .in early February.

Further recommendations:

  1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown is perhaps more adult that YA, but if well-developed characters and non-stop action / plot twists are your thing, you absolutely must check out the first book in his dystopian trilogy. Fans of Cassandra Clare will not be disappointed by the world-building and diverse cast of characters in this rebellious tale of an underling seeking to upset the oppressive balance of power on Mars.
  2. Graceling by Kristin Cashore would be another great YA choice for readers who want a little more fantasy in their TBRs with the same great sense of woven plot and smoldering atmosphere that Cassandra Clare utilizes. This is the first in a set of three companion novels, and a staple of YA fantasy. The main character is gifted, or “graced,” with killing, and must prevent her talent from being claimed by the wrong masters.

What’s next: I’ll be briefly reviewing a very short book I read last week (a short story bound in book format)–Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup. It’s a spooky story about a haunted house, a ghost, a mysterious child, a fake psychic, and more. Stay tuned for more info tomorrow!


The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now read my review of the next book in this series, City of Glass!


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