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Review: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

My Cassandra Clare marathon of 2017 continues. This month I read Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, the second short story collection in Shadowhunter publication order. I had high hopes for this one, but honestly it didn’t impress me any more than The Bane Chronicles. This second collectiontalesfromtheshadowhunteracademy is co-written by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman.

About the book: There are ten short stories set around Simon’s time at Shadowhunter Academy, after the events of The Mortal Instruments novels. You should read those first to avoid spoilers. Each story is precluded with a key excerpt from the coming story, and a page of beautiful matching graphics. And now for the stories:

“Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy” : 3 stars. Nothing happens in this one that we don’t know already from the end of The Mortal Instruments. There’s a lot of angst about Simon’s missing memories, and a lot of snobby characters. Familiar faces from TMI appear like “guest stars.” Simon is trying to make a stand against prejudices at the school, but he’s a weaker character at this point because of his unknown past, and we’ve seen these same prejudices in Clare’s previous books. I was expecting a little more flare in this first story, but it’s heavy.

“The Lost Herondale” : 4 stars. This one, at least, follows a traditional story arc with steadily increasing tension to keep the reader engaged throughout the story. It starts a little slow, and trickles off after the tension fades, but it’s stronger than the first story. Most of the characters are still unpleasant, and the prejudices are back… I keep expecting Clare to make a big show of resolving conflict between the species and it just keeps… well, not happening.

” ‘We are all what our pasts have made us,’ Catarina said. ‘The accumulation of thousands of daily choices. We can change ourselves, but never erase what we’ve been.’ “

“Every decision you make, makes you. Never let other people choose who you’re going to be.”

“The Whitechapel Fiend” : 2 stars. Here are two stories in one, in which neither story seems to have a purpose. Especially the story Tessa tells– it’s heartening to see her in this context, but the moral to her story is “problems solve themselves.” There’s a second storyline with Jace and tree falls, which also has little point. “The Whitechapel Fiend” might have made a decent chapter in one of Clare’s novels, but it does not work as a short story. Stories are supposed to stand alone. And they’re supposed to be eventful. Halloween bonus for the demon child, though. She’s creepy.

“Nothing but Shadows” : 4 stars. Another story-within-a-story. Again, I believe a story is supposed to have a purpose, and when Catarina tells Simon her story, it seems at first that she’s going to offer some insight to help him with his current situation and instead she ends it with “you have to work these things out for yourself.” Which is what he would have done without her story anyway. It was a great tale, though. I could read a whole book about Jamie Herondale.

“That is the wonderful thing about making changes and meeting strangers, Jamie. You never know when, and you never know who, but someday a stranger will burst through the door of your life and transform it utterly. The world will be turned upside down, and you will be happier for it.”

“People are afraid of anybody who is different: It makes them worry everyone else is different too, and just pretending to be all the same.”

“Do not let any of them tell you who you are. You are the flame that cannot be put out. You are the star that cannot be lost. You are who you have always been, and that is enough and more than enough. Anyone who looks at you and sees darkness is blind.”

“The Evil We Love” : 4 stars. The back-and-forth narration of this one is more successful than the stories-within-stories. Both of the tales in this one have proper story arcs with increasing tension, and they feel properly related to each other. It provides a fascinating view of Valentine’s Inner Circle, and the difficult relationship between Simon and Isabelle; both are handled well, and even though they both fit into larger plots this story could stand on its own, which is something I’m looking for in a short story.

“Sometimes first impressions were misleading; sometimes they peered straight through to a person’s inner soul.”

“Love, real love, is being seen. Being known. Knowing the ugliest part of someone, and loving them anyway. And…I guess I think two people in love become something else, something more than the sum of their parts, you know? That it must be like you’re creating a new world that exists just for the two of you. You’re gods of your own pocket-universe.”

“Pale Kings and Princes” : 4 stars. Here’s yet another way to tell two stories: book-ending one with another. In this case, the two stories are connected with a single character, and the Shadowhunter prejudices against faeries. The best part of this story, as with much of Clare’s writing, is the trick of perspective: two people (or groups of people) will always tell the same story in different ways. That’s an important reminder in the real world as well as fiction, and it strengthens this story. This one works as a stand-alone, even though it features familiar characters. Thumbs up.

“Bitter of Tongue” : 3 stars. This story is compelling and emotional, but it doesn’t have much of a purpose here. It feels more like a chapter in the Blackthorn family history than anything related to Simon, or even to Shadowhunter Academy. The tension in the story is something that began before this story started and doesn’t end with it either, so nothing is resolved. Thus, the structure feels weak, though the prose is remarkably beautiful in places.

“Fortunate are the ones who know the name of their heart. They are the ones whose hearts are never truly lost. They can always call their heart back home.”

“Some were born with abs, some achieved abs, and some– like Simon– had abs thrust upon them by cruel instructors.”

“The Fiery Trial” : 3 stars. This one seems longer than necessary for the small amount of events it contains. On top of that, the main parabatai bond discovered here is predictable. But there is some wonderfully mysterious confused reality in the middle of the story that’s incredibly compelling, even though the beginning and end are more drawn out than needed.

“Born to Endless Night” : 2 stars. This story offers a unique mix of Magnus’s and Simon’s perspectives. But again, it’s too long. I don’t mind long stories when something is happening; there is only one really notable event in this story, it happens early on, and it has little to do with Simon or Shadowhunter Academy. The rest is all about everyone’s feelings, which can be nice too, but it doesn’t feel like the meat of this story. Also, I dislike babies being named after someone else. A name can affect a person. I think all people should have their own chance to make their own name significant instead of living in the shadow of whoever made the name significant before them. I do understand the desire, I just don’t support it for the naming of human (or warlock) babies.

“I think sometimes it’s too hard to believe in yourself. You just do the things you’re not sure you can do. You just act, in spite of not being certain. I don’t believe I can change the world– it sounds stupid to even talk about it– but I’m going to try.”

“Angels Twice Descending” : 4 stars. Here is an example of a story that is predictable and filled mostly with internalized emotion, but still makes a compelling story. This one could stand on its own, but it’s also full of now-familiar characters and memories. It’s an end and a beginning. It’s a beautiful exploration of meaning and determination that readers can apply off the page, despite all of the fantasy details that also make it the heart of this fictional collection. This is the reason I read the book.

“Choosing what’s right for you, maybe that’s the bravest thing you can do.”

“The point wasn’t that you tried to live forever; the point was that you lived, and did everything you could to live well. The point was the choices you made and the people you loved.”

Simon is one of my favorite characters in the Shadowhunting world, but at times he felt like a weak character in these stories because he’s constantly dwelling on his memory loss. It makes him less certain of himself and more anxious than usual. Also the academy is a disgusting place. It’s not like Hogwarts, which is whimsical and sometimes dangerous but still essentially a good place– Shadowhunter Academy is slimy, with bad food, prejudiced professors, torturous “classes,” horrible students, infestations, and a lack of plumbing. Every new detail about the school is something equally disturbing. It seems like an uninhabitable place, not a zany and educational one. Bad environments make my whole reading experience less pleasant.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. My average rating was actually 3.3. Although Shadowhunter Academy did not live up to my expectations, I am glad that I included it in my Shadowhunter marathon because it’s likely that certain details from this collection will crop up in future novels. It also added extra closure to TMI. But… I finally get to read Lady Midnight! Most of my Shadowhunter marathon has been enjoyable, but the biggest reason I wanted to read/reread all of Clare’s books this year was for The Dark Artifices, except I wanted to read those without missing anything from the previous books. So even though most of these stories did not even meet my standard expectations of what a short story should be, this collection was worth my time.

What’s next: I’m still reading George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords and will review that as soon as I finish. But I’m also picking up Matthew J. Sullivan’s Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, an adult mystery/thriller about a book-related death.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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Review: The Bane Chronicles

I wanted to read all of Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books this year, and at first I was unsure about whether that would include the two volumes of short stories, but clearly I’ve decided not to leave anything out. I just finished reading the first of the short story books, the collaborative The Bane Chronicles by thebanechroniclesCassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Maureen Johnson.

About the book: Near the end of City of Heavenly Fire, Magnus Bane gives Alec a little book full of some of the most important adventures of his life. Although The Bane Chronicles is written in the third person, I assume that this is the sort of volume that Alec received. The book contains eleven short stories, all around 50 pages, that take place at various points in Magnus’ long, warlock life.

Here’s a look at the stories –>

“What Really Happened in Peru” : 2 stars. There seems to be little point to this story. It’s a wandering tale that spans centuries, and the explanation at the end of the story does not answer the question that the narration set out to answer in the beginning. Some interesting things happen, and yes, it all takes place in Peru, but otherwise there is no coherence here, and Magnus does not even seem like the familiar Magnus Bane from the novels proper. It’s a weak start for this book.

“The Runaway Queen” : 4 stars. This one does take a more traditional story form, with mounting tension and a clear beginning and end. It starts a little slow, but the rest grabs the reader’s attention in true Cassandra Clare style. Magnus seems like his usual self again and the story feels like one of those crazy Shadowhunter and co. schemes that goes nothing like planned but is entertaining along the way.

” ‘Someday,’ Magnus said, looking at the crumpled royal person at his feet, ‘I must write my memoirs.’ “

“Vampires, Scones, and Edmund Herondale” : 3 stars. I found this one much more interesting than the previous two because it is directly connected to some of the main characters from The Infernal Devices. The backstory in that regard kept me engaged in reading this story, even though again, it was a wandering sort of story more fit to be a chapter in a novel than a complete story within itself. Short stories are supposed to stand alone, even if they connect to other stories, and this one does not.

“Magnus had been alive hundreds of years himself, and yet the simplest things could turn a day into a jewel, and a succession of days into a glittering chain that went on and on. Here was the simplest thing: a pretty girl liked him, and the day shone.”

“One can give up many things for love, but one should not give up oneself.”

“The Midnight Heir” : 3 stars. This one is addictively mysterious, ties even more directly back to The Infernal Devices, and feels just like a chapter from Cassandra Clare’s books. That was the problem with this one, though– it felt like a chapter, not a short story. If you’re not familiar with The Infernal Devices characters and plot, this story will make little sense, and seems to serve more as a glimpse back into that world than as a crucial event in Magnus’ life. Also, I was a little disappointed that the strength of a Tessa/Will/Jem reunion would take attention away from the struggling child in this story– it’s nice to see them again, but… priorities.

“The Rise of the Hotel Dumort” : 3 stars. The strengths of this story are its mystery and impending sense of doom. It’s weakness is that it features two disasters that should probably be linked in some way, but do not seem to be. If there is some connection, readers are left entirely to their own devices in making it. The setting is compelling, and both disasters kept me engaged in the story, but the end was not much of an ending. I believe some information about the vampires’ possible involvement might have tied it all together, but alas, that info was sadly missing.

“Saving Raphael Santiago” : 3 stars. This one starts strong. It opens with a mystery, and with a connection to The Mortal Instruments. It has strong, evocative and emotional prose in places, and the end is satisfying. But the mystery is concluded in the first half of the story, which kills most of the tension. I think this story would’ve benefited from a shorter page count.

“Love did not overcome everything. Love did not always endure. All you had could be taken away, love could be the last thing you had, and then love could be taken too.”

“The Fall of the Hotel Dumort” : 2 stars. Again, we have a mystery of sorts concluded too early, though the drop-off of tension was better managed. Unfortunately, the big details of the story are already clear from The Mortal Instruments– I knew what ailed the vampires because I remembered a comment Magnus made about it in TMI. And one has only to look at the date of this story and of TMI to know what does (or doesn’t) happen to Camille. The worst part though, for me, was the dreary descriptions throughout the story. Much like the underlying sense of gray and rain and confusion in the beginning of Clockwork Angel, the relentless heat and sickness and griminess pervading this story gives an unpleasant atmosphere to the whole story. I wanted to like this one, but all I got from it was a headache.

“What to Buy the Shadowhunter Who Has Everything (And Who You’re Not Officially Dating Anyway)” : 2 stars. I was happy to see some of my Mortal Instruments faves again, but sadly, this story felt more like a forced reunion with them than an actual story. Why couldn’t they have been doing something fun? Seeing Malec from Magnus’ perspective just makes them seem more perfect for each other though, so that’s a plus.

“The best one could hope for from Shadowhunters, if you were a Downworlder, was to be left alone.”

“Even the Shadowhunters Magnus had met and liked had been, every one, a trouble sundae with dark secret cherries on top.”

“The Last Stand of the New York Institute” : 4 stars. This was a step back in time from the last story, but I had been waiting for exactly this story to appear so I didn’t mind the jumble in chronology. The setting is great– the attention to timely matters, particularly– and the characters are portrayed loyally from details provided in The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices. This is the first story in the book that has a strong story arc without relying on dramatic mystery, and there are some great one-liners and avenues for thought about prejudice and equality. The title of the story is a bit misleading, but this is a strong piece of the collection.

“It was one of the few things he had to believe in, the possibility of beauty when faced with the reality of so much ugliness.”

“The Course of True Love (And First Dates)” : 5 stars. Yes. Just yes. A little predictable, especially since the timeline here is in the midst of The Mortal Instruments, but this story is wacky and sweet and as much unexpected fun as City of Bones.

“The Voicemail of Magnus Bane” : 3 stars. Although admittedly humorous, this one does not read like a story at all, which disappointed me. I love when a cool format tells a good story. But there was no plot here, and nothing unexpected after having read The Mortal Instruments. I was hoping to be surprised, but perhaps the only point of redemption for this “story” was the moment Raphael had to call Simon a babelicious rock god.

My overall reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. My average rating was actually 3.1. I want to mention (miscellaneously) that the illustrations at the start of each story were one of my favorite things about this book, but also that I was sad not to see more Mortal Instruments characters make an appearance. It’s fascinating to see a closer perspective from someone outside the main Shadowhunter thoroughfare, and Magnus has proved a great candidate for that– he’s a genuinely kind person, who sees beauty in almost everything, whether it’s a man, a woman, or an elegant piece of clothing. He gives readers a whole new look at Shadowhunters that is multi-faceted and not always flattering. It provides readers a rounder view of the Shadowhunter world by leading them into Downworld, and eventually combining the two very different ways of life. I am glad I gave this one a chance, but I don’t think I’ll ever be rereading it, even if I want to revisit other Shadowhunter books in the future. I will be reading Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, from the same authors, in the near future.

What’s Next: I’m currently reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which is September’s classic of the month for me, and which I won’t review until my Sept. wrap-up. My next full review should feature Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice that I’m planning to pick up immediately after finishing with Austen’s classic. But I’m also extremely tempted to pick up one of my Book of the Month choices for September alongside my Pride and Prejudice quest, so don’t be surprised to see an extra review of undetermined title sneak in before Eligible. 😉

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: City of Heavenly Fire

Drum roll, please… because I’ve finished the Mortal Instruments series! I didn’t really expect my Shadowhunter marathon to take me this long when I started rereading City of Bones in January, but I’ve now read nine of Cassandra Clare’s books, and finished both the Infernal Devices trilogy and the Mortal Instruments series, both of which I had started previously and failed to complete. And now the end is here! Sort of. There are a few more Clare books left on my list, but reading City of Heavenly Fire was a big milestone. And it’s a big book, so it’s doubly pleasing to have finished.

About the book: Sebastian/Jonathancityofheavenlyfire wants to rule the world (what’s new?). He couldn’t reach heaven, so he’s raising hell. He’s gathering allies and creating Endarkened forces to battle the Shadowhunters and anyone else who gets in his way. As usual, the Clave is being less than helpful and the real work falls to Clary and co. The problem is that Sebastian wants Clary and Jace beside him, and if it would save the world to hand them over, the Clave might consider making a trade. So when a clue falls into their hands about where Sebastian is hiding, Clary, Jace, Simon, and the Lightwoods set out on their own to end things once and for all– literally, because even if they win, there’s a chance they won’t be returning from this particular trip. With more at stake than ever before, it’s vital that Clary can harness her Rune-creating power, and that Jace can master the Heavenly Fire still raging through his veins; they’re going to need every advantage they can find to prevent total world domination.

” ‘Heroes aren’t always the ones who win,’ she said. ‘They’re the ones who lose, sometimes. But they keep fighting, they keep coming back. They don’t give up. That’s what makes them heroes.’ “

This is a long book. It’s massive. It gives all the same perspectives the reader expects after reading the first five books in this series, plus a few new characters. And yet, despite it’s size, City of Heavenly Fire is not slow and bogged down with detail as I feared. There are a few repetitive conversations, but for the most part all the information feels new and vital to the story. Unlike some of Clare’s other long books, I don’t think this one would benefit from any shortening.

“I think sometimes we are reckless with our hearts the way we are with our lives. When we give them away, we give every piece. And if we do not get what we so desperately needed, how do we live?”

The characters feel older in this final volume. So little time has actually passed– six months, I think– but all of these characters feel so much more mature than where this series started out. They’re still teenagers, and a few of the newer characters to the series are even younger, but Clary, Jace, Simon, Isabelle and Alec… they’re familiar at this point, and the reader knows they can fight and strategize and persevere. The going may be tough, but now they have experience. Their friendship is stable and reliable. The reader is expected to know what they’ve been through together, because the narration isn’t dropping those constant, lengthy, annoying recaps that series sometimes use. The characters have come to feel like family, for better or worse.

“There are things we want, down under what we know, under even what we feel. There are things our souls want, and mine wants you.”

One of the best things about Clare’s books are the overlapping details. Between the (last half of the) Mortal Instruments and the (entire) Infernal Devices, there are small clues to a bigger picture, and together the two time frames begin to construct a history, an entire world that extends beyond a single book, or in this case even a single series, and that makes Clare’s entire fictional universe so much bigger. I read Clare’s first nine books in publication order, and I think that’s a great way to go, but it seems like the distribution of detail would be interesting to read in other arrangements as well. If I do another big reread marathon someday, I’ll want to pick up these books in a different order, and I think the detail and the morals will be just as rich.

“Because the world isn’t divided into the special and the ordinary. As long as you have a soul and free will, you can be anything, do anything, choose anything.”

A downside, though, is that I think for these first two Shadowhunter series at least, the reader must read all nine novels to learn the entire story. There are little pieces that just don’t entirely make sense otherwise. For example, Clary meets Tessa in City of Heavenly Fire, and if the reader doesn’t understand who Tessa is, or how her friends connect to Clary’s, Tessa seems entirely inconsequential to the book. Nothing important happens in their meeting beyond the fact that they’re meeting, which is something that readers won’t care about without reading the Infernal Devices trilogy in conjunction with the Mortal Instruments. This is only one example; there are so many little comments and details that tie the two series together, so I highly recommend reading both sets together.

“So much magic, Clary though, and nothing to mend a broken heart.”

A little compare and contrast: I rated the Mortal Instruments books and the Infernal Devices books very similarly, but now that I’ve completed them both, I must say that I enjoyed the Mortal Instruments books a lot more. The plot is more action-packed, each character feels important to the story, the wrap-up is emotional but it’s still focused primarily on the events of the series. I found the Mortal Instruments less overly-dramatic, and also funnier.

“I was going to kill someone today. I just wasn’t sure who when I woke up this morning. I do love mornings. So full of possibilities.”

The biggest disappointment for me– in all of Clare’s books that I’ve read so far– is the Clave. The individual members that the reader sees seem so human and comprehensible, but somehow when all the big decisions get made, the Clave seems to repeatedly (and obviously) choose incorrectly. I kept thinking this series would end with some equality between all the different species we see coming together in these books, or at least with a repairing of a clearly defunct government system that might one day lead to equality. I can understand that Clare wants to end her books with room for future strife, but how long is it really going to take the Shadowhunters to realize that they’ll save a lot of lives and make a lot fewer enemies if they’ll try something different? I’m still hoping that a better balance of power will be reached in later books, although I’m not sure how many more hundreds of pages I’ll be willing to read to find out.

“Have you ever felt that your heart contained so much that it must surely break apart?”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This has been one of my favorite Cassandra Clare reads to date. Definitely in the top 3, though I don’t have an official listing of the order of my favorites and dislikes. I’m planning to move on to The Bane Chronicles soon, which was Clare’s next publication after the end of the Mortal Instruments series. It’s a short story collection with other contributing authors, so I’m a little wary, but I’m a lot more intrigued about it after City of Heavenly Fire than I ever have been before.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading the collaborative new release Because You Love to Hate Me, a short story collection about villains collected from a dozen or so popular YA authors. Big name bloggers and booktubers also contributed to this one, but I’m primarily reading it as a sampling of authors, to help me decide which writers I might want to see more from, and which ones I’ll want to skip. Also, it’s all about villains, which is fun to experience.

Who’s your favorite YA fantasy author?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Clockwork Princess

I’m on a mission to read all of Cassandra Clare’s books this year, and after months of feeling like I was stuck in the middle, I have reached an end–not the end, because I still have two collections of short stories and three full novels to go, but I have officially reached the end of the Infernal Devices trilogy. Although I had read the first two books of this series previously, this was my first time through book three, Clockwork Princess. This will be a spoiler-free review, but you should read Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince before continuing below.

clockworkprincessAbout the book: Mortmain’s evil plans are coming to fruition–the automatons are now nearly unstoppable and countless in number. All he’s missing is Tessa, the final piece toward completing his scheme, and he won’t be missing her for long. Charlotte and the other residents of the London Institute are preparing to end things once and for all–if they can manage it, with only nine fighters. More likely, they’ll fight to the death and make no more than a dent in Mortmain’s army. Defeat would mean disaster for all shadowhunters, but the Consul is looking for any excuse to remove Charlotte from power at exactly the wrong time–no one else will help her now. With Jem and Tessa and Will all tangled up in conflicting love and honorable intentions, there are threats of broken hearts on the horizon, as well as the potential end of all Shadowhunters.

” ‘There must always be a first,’ said Jem. ‘It is not easy to be first, and it is not always rewarding, but it is important.’ “

I would easily say this is the best book of the three. The action starts right away, but without the momentary confusion of coming into the middle of a scene. From the beginning there’s a wider range and more equal distribution of character perspectives presented than we’ve seen in the earlier Infernal Devices books–Will, Tessa, and Jem are still our main characters, but the reader also sees secondary points of view early and often throughout the book. Sophie, Charlotte, Cecily, the Lightwoods…

“We see our better selves in the eyes of those who love us.”

First of all, there’s a plot hole here. In this volume, the reader finally learns about Mortmain’s “creation” of Tessa, and what he’s planned for her. But even if he played a role in her existence, how does that explain his knowledge of her unique shape-shifting talent? This is a question for anyone who’s already read this book–if Tessa’s the first of her kind, how could anyone (Mortmain included) have known what specific power she would display, even before Tessa knew?

But back to the review. My only real complaint about Clockwork Princess, and to a lesser extent, the other books in this trilogy, is its length. I do not mind reading long books, but I think most of the issues I had with Clockwork Princess could have been resolved on their own if Clare had been restricted to a shorter page/word count. First we have Jessamine, a largely pointless character. This trilogy failed to make me sympathetic to her case, and her reappearance in this volume provides only a reiteration of information. She does very little to further the plot throughout the trilogy. Secondly, we have annoying repetitions, which I mention in more detail in my review of Clockwork Prince, but which also appear in this book. The reader follows multiple perspectives, which I enjoy, except for the parts where the characters discover the same things at different times and the reader is forced to read a repeat of the same information. I wish Clare would have found a way around that. I also wish some of the Jem/Will/Tessa angst had been left to the reader’s imagination. Because thirdly, we have nonstop angst. It was clear from book one that they all love each other, and the looks and gestures between them would’ve been enough to convey the difficulty of that situation without each character describing their love and pain in every chapter. Will’s curse from book one and Jem’s and Tessa’s engagement from book two (and something else I won’t describe from book three) are the only real changes between the three of them, and yet we are given hundreds of pages of reasoning as to why each of them shouldn’t be in love with the other but is anyway.

That’s a hard point to criticize though, because the overly drawn-out love triangle angst is basically the purpose of the book. The mystery with Mortmain could have fit inside one book if all the relationship drama were removed from the trilogy; after the first book, he’s barely present. We don’t see him at all in Clockwork Prince, and in this book he makes one big play for total control of the Shadowhunter world, which is significant, but hardly takes up 568 pages. I’m not sure it even takes more than 100. Clearly the tension between Jem and Will and Tessa is the majority of the book. And just below that is the romantic tension between the secondary characters…

” ‘Life is a book, and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read. I would read them together with you, as many as I can, before I die–‘ “

Not all of Cassandra Clare’s books are that way. There’s always angst, but this trilogy in particular is full of the complications of love. Others are much more plotty. Clare writes some great plot twists, but very few of them can be found in Clockwork Princess. What can be found, though, is a sort of elegant exploration of love and all its complications. And through that, the largest weakness of this book–its overstated romantic tension–also becomes its main strength.

“Life was an uncertain thing, and there were some moments one wished to remember, to imprint upon one’s mind that the memory might be taken out later, like a flower pressed between the pages of a book, and admired and recollected anew.”

And if you’re only reading for the love story, you’ll appreciate this ending. The last 80-100 pages of this book lay plot entirely aside to explore how things turn out for our main characters after everything settles down.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Personally, I could have done with a little less angst. But the story between all the heartache was well done, and even the heartache had its moments. I admit I was wary of this trilogy when I read Clockwork Angel this year–I didn’t like it as much as I’d remembered, and I was afraid the rest of the series would feel the same; but the three books steadily improved, and I think the rocky start was worth reading just for this third volume. I believe there’s a spin-off series (also by Cassandra Clare) starting publication in 2018, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for that. I’ll also be continuing onward through the rest of the Shadowhunter works, including a read of City of Heavenly Fire in August, which will be another satisfying end, I hope.

Coming up next: I’m presently reading my classic of the month, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Classics reviews only appear in my monthly wrap-ups, so you’ll find my thoughts on Treasure Island there, and my next full review will feature Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game. Ware’s book features a group of boarding school friends who’ve grown up and are dealing with an unexpected death, and the uncovering of lies they’d vowed not to tell each other.

Do you like starting a great series, or finishing it? There’s such a big difference between the anticipation of a great first book and the satisfaction of concluding the last one. While I liked the conclusion better in this trilogy, I think generally I’m a fan of first books–they excite me. Which do you prefer?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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!

Review: Clockwork Prince

“When I think of you, and you are not there, I see you in my mind’s eye always with a book in your hand.”

I’m reading all of Cassandra Clare’s books in publication order this year, and I’m up to Clockwork Prince, book two of the Infernal Devices trilogy. This is my last Shadowhunter reread for the year, so the next five books will be all new to me and I feel like I’ve reached a milestone in my 2017 Shadowhunters journey. I was a little nervous because I didn’t like Clockwork Angel (the first book in this trilogy) as much as I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised with this second volume. No spoilers for book two here, but please read Clockwork Angel before continuing below.

About the book: The Consul has given clockworkprinceCharlotte two weeks to find the missing evil mastermind Mortmain, or lose leadership of the London Institute. Some of the Institute residents are determinedly helping her achieve this goal, but others make for surprising hindrances to her success. Benedict Lightwood wants control of the Institute for himself and will stop at nothing to wrest it from Charlotte; his leadership, of course, would leave the Institute uninhabitable for Charlotte’s friends, as well. Benedict would be enough to handle on his own, but there is also the slippery nature of Mortmain and his helpers to contend with, who always seem to be a step ahead of the Institute crew. These two adversaries Charlotte and her adoptive family must deal with at once are almost more than they can manage–but not so much to keep the teenaged orphans too busy to fall in love, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

“You are in love and you think that is all there is in the world. But the world is bigger than you […] and may have need of you. You are a Shadowhunter. You serve a greater cause. Your life is not yours to throw away.”

About the characters: in Clockwork Angel, I was put off by how rudely all of the characters seemed to be speaking and behaving toward each other. In Clockwork Prince, the reader is given explanations for some of the more deliberate cases of rudeness (which doesn’t quite excuse them from being so awful to each other, but at least it shows the reader that they’re not always cruel, soulless creatures intentionally hurting each other). Furthermore, one of the main characters’ pasts is examined much more closely in this novel, providing evidence for the fact that underneath the insults lies a caring heart.

“There is a soul under all that bravado. And he is really alive, one of the most alive people I have ever met. When he feels something, it is as bright and sharp as lightning.”

Speaking of character development… I should mention that so, so much of this book seems dedicated to a certain love triangle. SO MUCH LOVE TRIANGLE. I mean, all three of the triangle characters are fully developed and a choice is made, but there’s no getting around the triangle. I think several relationships within and surrounding this triangle would’ve been forced to a very different place if either of the two suitors had been aware of the other’s pursuit, but alas, all of the one-on-one friendships/relationships growing here seem to be occurring primarily in private. I’m guessing that the final decision of who will be with whom will have to be remade again in book three, when they’re all finally honest and open with each other and the full truth comes out. All the secrecy is unsustainable.

“I feel myself diminished, parts of me spiraling away into the darkness, that which is good and honest and true– If you hold it away from yourself long enough, do you lose it entirely? If no one cares for you at all, do you even really exist?”

While Mortmain evades capture, hundreds of pages focus instead on the characters constantly present, and all their complicated feelings. All of the “research” and “discoveries” made by the Institute’s Shadowhunters involve little to no contact with their adversaries, or even, hardly, with acquaintances who may be able to help. There are a couple of brief conversations, but overall there is little advancement in any regard but romance in Clockwork Prince.

“I had always thought one could not be truly lost if one knew one’s own heart. But I fear I may be lost without knowing yours.”

A non-romance-related writing tactic worth noting is the repetition involved in the revelation of information in Clockwork Prince. These characters are each independent, but they all also have unique relationships inside the group, in which information is revealed piecemeal. The reader will learn a bit of a character’s past, and then the narration will remind the reader that other characters do not hold the same information, and later page space will be taken up by those other characters learning what the reader has already been told. It can be interesting trying to piece together new layers to clues that are divided this way, but it’s annoying to be given a piece of information and then forced to wait patiently as the other characters continue guessing at a truth that has already been revealed to someone else. A key point of Will’s past is disclosed in Clockwork Prince, for example, and I believe I read the same information about it three times as different characters discovered it, with several incorrect guesses and assumptions mixed in between. Each instance focused on the shock of the reveal all over again, rather than presenting unique perspectives or additional layers to the information that would have provided the reader with something new to discover through the repetition.

And yet, the emotions and mysteries of the characters drive the plot steadily onward, and there is less general unpleasantness than I found in Clockwork Angel.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I’m still not loving the series, but this one did improve my opinion of it and I suspect the third book will be even better. This one was definitely an improvement from Clockwork Angel, and I’m still planning on reading onward to see if it keeps improving. I first started reading this trilogy in 2012, I think, and I read Clockwork Prince for the first time right after its release, so I’m excited to finally be getting around to finishing the series. For as much as I loved all the Shadowhunter books when I first experienced them, I’ve been putting off reading the endings for an awfully long time, and I’m ready to fix that. Next up in publication order will be City of Lost Souls, and then on to the third and final book in this trilogy, Clockwork Princess. I have high hopes for wrongs being righted there.

Further recommendations:

  1. Cassandra Clare quotes lots of classics in the Shadowhunter novels, and especially in the Infernal Devices trilogy. If you like the Clockwork books, you should check out some of the novels that inspired Cassandra Clare–like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  2. Shakespeare also makes a few appearances in references in the Infernal Devices; if you want something a little more poetic but just as classic and inspiring, try Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play full of magic and revenge and romance.

Coming up Next: I’ll be reading my classic(s) of the month next, both of Harper Lee’s books. I only review classics in my monthly wrap-ups, so you’ll have to wait until then to find my responses to Lee’s books. I think I’ll take a short break between them though, to read another book from my May TBR, so my next review will be of JP Delaney’s The Girl Before, a recent thriller about two girls who’ve inhabited the same apartment space and found similar disaster within.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now read my full review of the next book in this series, Clockwork Princess!

Review: City of Fallen Angels

I finally picked up Cassandra Clare’s fourth book in the Mortal Instruments series, the fifth book she published: City of Fallen Angels. I won’t spoil anything from this one, as usual, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series (City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass) you should probably check those out first, just in case.

Now, I was pretty darn sure I had stopped after reading the first three in this set, the original trilogy, but I kept having moments of something like deja vu while I was reading this one. I wonder if I did read this one when it was first published and have just somehow blocked it mostly from my mind, because the plot didn’t feel as familiar to me as in the first three books, but there were definitely some people and details that made me think, “Oh yeah, I knew that;” I’m not sure how else I could have known about Simon’s fourteen year-old fan and the return of Maia’s ex-boyfriend and Jace returning to the Silent City. So the jury’s still out on how new of an experience this book was, but I can certainly say I enjoyed it.

FullSizeRender (13)About the book: Clary is finally undergoing proper Shadowhunter training, but she’s still nowhere near as skilled as her friends–except at drawing runes. Jace should be having the time of his life now that he can have a legitimate relationship with the girl he loves, but other things keep getting in the way. He’s having nightmares that leave him afraid of being around her at all. Meanwhile, Simon is feeling the long-standing Nephilim prejudice against Downworlders and vampires in particular, though he doesn’t exactly fit in with them, either. Maia’s past comes back to bite her–or maybe it already has. Isabelle is coming to terms with her place in her family, with her friends, and maybe with her boyfriend, if he’ll stop two-timing her. Alec is also having boyfriend issues, but they’ve been hidden behind a lot of traveling and the standard Magnus glitter. With everyone dealing with their own problems, it’s difficult for them all to realize how the dreams, the dead Shadowhunters, the new (old) vampire in town, and Sebastian’s fate all tie together in a disturbing way that concerns them all.

“…it didn’t matter; the world, the city, and all its lights and life seemed to have narrowed down to this, just her and Jace, the burning heart of a frozen world.”

One way in which this book feels disparate from City of Glass (book 3) is its use of new plot. There are significant details from prior events in this series that come back in City of Fallen Angels, but whereas City of Glass was originally the end of a trilogy with everything from those first three books all coming together inside it, City of Fallen Angels feels like the beginning of something new rather than a continuation of what came before. It seems more like City of Bones, when the group is setting off on an adventure they don’t really understand yet; little mysterious things are happening but it doesn’t all make sense until the last hundred pages or so. And then it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger that will definitely connect this volume to further books. I didn’t expect this one to feel so much like the beginning of a second trilogy, but it does.

On another note, I did not like the weird Clary/Jace situation in this book. It just seems so pointless to me when two people in a book who love each other can’t just talk about their problems and they let them spiral out of control instead until they’re forced to talk about the problems eventually anyway. Exceptions to this rule usually involve a third party who is protected along with the secrets, but there’s no third party here. So that was frustrating, but it did eventually right itself. And really, after the happy ending for Clace at the end of the third book, I’m not surprised to see new problems with very little backbone arriving between them because where can you go from perfection? Everything going right makes for a boring book. I just hope Cassandra Clare has something more substantial in mind for them in the upcoming volumes.

“What they had wasn’t ordinary, or subject to the ordinary rules of relationship and breakups. They belonged to each other totally, and always would, and that was that. But maybe everyone felt that way? Until the moment they realized they were just like everyone else, and everything they’d thought was real shattered apart.”

A side warning: Do not try to look up reminders on who’s who in the Shadowhunter series if you haven’t already read it all. Cassandra Clare ties lots of details together between books and series within the Shadowhunter realm, and it is apparently impossible to double check details online without being spoiled on what’s still coming. This has been a bigger problem for me with the Clockwork series than the Mortal Instruments, but it’s definitely worth noting, and highly annoying.

That said, while I was reading this one, I did really love the connections I spotted to Clockwork Angel, and it seemed like even though I could recognize some names and details from that companion trilogy there may be even more hints at plot points from the Infernal Devices that would be fun to see after having read all of those books, rather than just the previous books in publication order. Cassandra Clare is one of my favorite authors when it comes to cross-novel references to her other works; that level of detail really brings a world to life, and I wish it happened more often in fiction. I like to think of fiction as one giant multiverse, and I wish different parts of it bled together more often.

In the Shadowhunter world, that aspect is especially great because the main characters are all somewhat connected (so far, anyway) so the references to what happened in the past has more emotional appeal and seeing seeds laid in the Infernal Devices trilogy for what will come into New York in the future is also exciting. It’s like the ripple in the pond, every action affecting what comes after it.

Don’t you know better? Hearts are breakable. And I think even when you heal, you’re never what you were before.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I was worried about this one after I didn’t like Clockwork Angel as much as I’d expected, but it turned out there was nothing to worry about. I’m invested in the Shadowhunter world all over again, and even though I’m still wary because my next Clare book will be Clockwork Prince, back in the Infernal Devices trilogy which I wasn’t loving as much this time around, I cannot wait to find out how that series will improve and then get back to the Mortal Instruments for another exciting round of demon-slaying in Brooklyn.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman is more adult than YA, deals with magic in a more scientific/mathematical way than the supernatural nature of the Shadowhunter world, but it contains an interesting band of friends on a magical adventure, fighting the Beast and learning about a secret magical world.

What’s next: I’m currently reading my classic of the month, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in college, and always was a bit sad that my high school didn’t have more mandatory reading of classics like that. So I’m getting around to it now on my own. I will add my thoughts on this one to my monthly wrap-up, but my next full review post will feature Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger, the thrilling just-published companion to All the Missing Girls, a murder mystery told backward. I hope this new edition to the set will be just as interesting.

Which new releases are high on your radar at the moment?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant.

Update: you can now read my complete review of the next book in this series, City of Lost Souls!