Review: City of Lost Souls

I started reading Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books in January, and I’m up to book 7 in publication order. The next two are both end-of-a-series books (book 3 in the Infernal Devices trilogy and book 6 in The Mortal Instruments series) and now that it’s been about 7 years since I picked up a Cassandra Clare book for the first time I must find out how things are going to end. But I’m not quite there yet. I just finished reading TMI book 5, City of Lost Souls, and I enjoyed it even more than I expected to. No spoilers below for City of Lost Souls, but if you haven’t read the previous four books, from City of Bones through City of Fallen Angels, you’ll probably want to do that before continuing with this review.

cityoflostsoulsAbout the book: Jace is bound to the imposter Sebastian, who everyone knows is Valentine’s evil son Jonathon, though he doesn’t use that name. What’s new is that the dark magic used to bind Jace to “Sebastian” affects his motivations, and thus his actions. When Jace and “Sebastian” go missing from the rooftop Clary left them on, the Clave prioritizes finding them–but the Seelie Queen warns Clary that she might not find Jace in the same condition as she left him. When the Clave tires of searching, Clary and her friends continue not only to try locating Jace, but to thwart Sebastian’s plans entirely so that Jace can be pulled free and clear of the evil influence. This will require spying, lying, and brute force, in the end. Except just as Jace may have been changed by the binding magic, Clary might find a softer Sebastian than she was expecting. Is redemption possible for her brother? Or is it all an act, like her instincts are telling her?

“We’re meant to protect each other, but not from everything. Not from the truth. That’s what it means to love someone and let them be themselves.”

Although Clary and Jace were my favorite characters in TMI books 1-3, they’re becoming more frustrating in these later books. These aren’t exactly short novels, especially books 4-6, so the tension between Clary and Jace is getting a little drawn-out. They love each other, but there’s always some reason they can’t be together the way they want to be. I understand that some romantic tension is necessary to the series–no one wants to read about people being happy and everything going right all the time, and emotion is just as important to Clare’s Shadowhunter books as plot. But the reasons Clary and Jace are being driven apart are getting pretty weird and elaborate at this point, and I wish Cassandra Clare had found some other way to keep the tension alive than to keep planting variations of the same barrier between Clary and Jace. For much of this book, the sections in Clary’s perspective often looked more or less the same: the twisted but repetitive “I love him but I can’t be with him but I love him anyway so I must find some way to be with him” angst, while not much else was actually going on.

But Clary’s not all bad. For the first time in the series, Clary has some real Shadowhunter skill. It’s not just luck or conveniently timed ideas for creating new runes; in City of Lost Souls, we finally see some of Clary’s combat training pay off with learned maneuvers. It’s so good to see her as more than a damsel in distress, and as more than an odd, exceptional case of a Shadowhunter lacking the typical know-how. She’s finally starting to be notable for more than her stubbornness and parentage, which is a huge plus.

“You don’t need anyone’s permission to do anything. You’re Clary Fray. You go charging into every situation without knowing how the hell it’s going to turn out, and then you get through it on sheer guts and craziness.”

And yet, even though the plot is all wrapped up in Clary/Jace drama, some of the other main characters are becoming much more interesting in City of Lost Souls. There are some interesting developments between Alec and Magnus, Isabelle and Simon, Maia and Jordan. Maureen is creeping out from the plot shadows. Camille makes an interesting offer. Rafael refuses to be forgotten. And Jonathon/Sebastian is, as always, a wild card at best. I found some of these other character developments and smaller plot threads more interesting than Clary’s angst for about 3/4 of the book, although Clace did leave off in an interesting situation.

“He was like the ocean ceaselessly throwing itself against a rocky shore, and this Jace was… a calm river, shining in the sun.”

Clare is great at twisting characters so that you never quite know who is who or what they’re going to do next. You might think you do, but then Clare shows a whole other side to their character. Morally gray characters are so much more interesting than bland heroes and villains, especially these morally gray people who all have some connection either to heaven or hell that shapes them in uniquely powerful ways.

And I suspect it will just keep getting better in the final volume, when everything comes together at last.

“If you keep hope alive, it will keep you alive.”

“Battle was like a whirlpool […] Things came at you and then surged away so quickly that all one was really aware of was a sense of uncontrollable danger, the struggle to stay alive and not drown.”

There was also a bonus scene the end of my copy, which I read in conjunction with City of Lost Souls. The scene is called “Becoming Sebastion Verlac,” and features an inside look at Jonathon’s past. This scene disappointed me. No new information is provided through it, and there are no surprises or even points of intrigue. On top of that, it didn’t  quite match up with the commentary from the book proper. In City of Lost Souls, Jonathon tells Clary that when he encountered Sebastian Verlac he hadn’t expected him to fight back. In this scene, the real Sebastian is portrayed as a “trusting fool”, without the presence of mind even to be afraid before his death. Bonus content is always hit-or-miss for me, and this one was a miss.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Even though my feelings about Clary and Jace are cooling off, there’s more going on in this book than the usual penultimate-novel tension build-up. There are some unanswered questions left at the end though, which is making me more eager than ever to finally reach the end of this series. I’m invested in a lot of these characters now, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll all end. I haven’t actually read any of Clare’s series endings yet, but I suspect it’s not going to be a flat happy ending where everyone lives and evil is thwarted forever. Next in publication order is Clockwork Princess, but I want to get to City of Heavenly Fire soon as well, while this one’s still fresh in my mind.

Coming up next: I’ve also recently finished reading Emily Henry’s new release, A Million Junes, a YA magical realism romance. I’ve been reading a ton between the end of June and beginning of July, so I have a little backlog of reviews to work through, and lots of great reads on my TBR for July, so stay tuned. More Cassandra Clare reviews within the month, but first I can’t wait to share everything I loved about the ghosty Romeo-and-Juliet type story of A Million Junes.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now read my full review of the next book in this series, City of Heavenly Fire!

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