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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

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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: 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!

Review: City of Glass

This year I’ve been rereading/reading for the first time all of Cassandra Clare’s books, and couldn’t wait to pick up her third book, City of Glass. In fact, I’ve been enjoying them so much that  I went ahead and bought the whole series. On sale, of course. This will be a spoiler-free discussion of the third book, but if you haven’t read books one and two yet, check those out before reading further!

mortalinstruments1-3About the book: Clary has been informed that something in Idris may be able to revive her mother. Jace, however, doesn’t want Clary going somewhere so dangerous and will do almost anything to stop her. Simon would do less, but he gets roped into Jace’s scheme in an unexpected way that keeps him in the center of this novel’s intrigue. Clary, of course, won’t let anyone stop her from doing anything, no matter how much trouble she may find in the process. Clary’s plan to save her mother meets a surprising snag related to Valentine and his… assistant. He’s threatening the Clave even more strongly than usual now that the third mortal instrument is within sight, but there is one way he might be stopped. Even if Valentine is thwarted, though, it won’t change the fact that Clary’s heart is breaking. Or will it?

The Clary/Jace romance in these first three books is probably the strangest romance I’ve ever read. There’s a crazy Clace plot twist in this third book which I remembered from my first read seven years ago. With knowledge of how it ends, I had a lot more patience for all the angst, although I found that knowing where Clary and Jace leave things at the end of this book did not make their strange brother/sister/love relationship any more comfortable for me. It certainly is a unique take on a romance obstacle, though, and I appreciate that. It’s definitely a memorable relationship, if relationship is the correct term for a tortured, incestuous flirtation.

“I love you, and I’ll love you until I die, and it there’s a life after that, I’ll love you then.”

On another note, I do think this volume is less funny than the first two. Jace usually has some good lines, and Simon, but even in general Clare’s sense of humor gave me a good laugh in the first two books. This one, though, is more serious, more emotional, and is a little less laugh-worthy. The heavier subject matter in this one is certainly not a bad element, but I thought the difference in tone worth noting.

It also feels like there’s less action for a good chunk of the middle chapters in City of Glass. There’s some drama involved in the initial travel to Idris, and certainly there’s action toward the end of the book when Valentine’s plans wreak havoc for the entire Shadowhunter community, but in the middle there’s a lot of conversation and traveling from house to house for more conversation and then back to the first house and more talking and then back to the second house for more explanations. It’s mostly important information, and backstory is often described by Clare in a way that puts the reader into a sort of involved story-within-a-story, so it’s by no means boring. It even felt a little more typical of teenaged lifestyle, to be in a town/city in separate homes instead of all under the roof of a single Institute, and thinking that whatever it is the characters need to say is so important that they have to go immediately in person to discuss the matter. Of course, in the Shadowhunting world, some of these details actually are life-or-death scenarios, which keeps things interesting.

The funnest aspect for me stemmed from half-remembering bits of who’s who and what’s what from my previous read–there are so many people in this series who are not who they say or think they are, and I found so much enjoyment in trying to figure out who was lying about what. The good guys have faults, the bad guys have redeeming qualities, and everyone is influential for some reason or other. Clare does a great job of bringing back old characters, or introducing new characters with links to people the reader is already familiar with, so with every new name began a new guessing game. This has probably been one of my favorite series to reread for that reason. Even the characters I had strong impressions of being good or evil I had to second-guess because Clare’s writing excels at disguising a character’s true nature until the key moment of its reveal, making these characters feel more real and intriguing every step of the way.

“People aren’t born good or bad. Maybe they’re born with tendencies either way, but it’s the way you live your life that matters. And the people you know.”

An inspiring note from Clare’s foreword included in the edition I read:

“Clary and her friends are heroes who make their stories true–as, in the end, do well all.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. None of these characters are perfect, but that’s what I find so appealing about them. This is the last book in the Mortal Instruments series that I’ve read previously. I remember reading it the first time and feeling like it had a solid ending, but now that I’ve reread it, I can’t believe I was so satisfied by that ending that I didn’t want to read three more books of Simon and his vampireness, and Isabelle and Alec kicking demon butt, and Jace and Clary… well, doing whatever it is they’ll be doing for the next three books now that they know more about their pasts. I will definitely be reading on in this series as soon as possible (taking into account my already full TBR), but before I dive into City of Fallen Angels, I’ll be picking up the next Cassandra Clare book in publication order, Clockwork Angel. This is the first book in her Infernal Devices trilogy, which I’ve also read several years ago, but I remember it even less than I remembered the Mortal Instruments, except I recall having the impression that I liked it even more than the Mortal Instruments books, so I have high hopes.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but I’ll only be reviewing that briefly in my monthly wrap-up, so my next review will feature the next book on my TBR, Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything. This one’s about a teen girl who’s brother lands in jail, and to cope she makes friends with a family who runs a local pizza parlor who remind her that she’s got her own life separate from her brother and his (in)famous behavior. I anticipate having this post ready first thing next week, but in the meantime I have a list post for you tomorrow–my Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time. Stay tuned!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now check out my full review of the next book in this series, City of Fallen Angels!

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!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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

Review: City of Bones

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read about the Mortal Instruments world.

A little backstory: When I first read Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones in 2010, I was instantly hooked and sped through all three of the books of the Mortal Instruments “trilogy” that had been published at that time. In the end, I liked where I’d left off, and ended up picking up the first two books in the Infernal Devices trilogy instead of the second half of the Mortal Instruments series when books 4-6 were published. While I was waiting for the third Infernal Devices, I started wishing I’d finished the Mortal Instruments first, but I’d forgotten a lot of details already–so I planned a reread, but was too busy for it. Then more books were published, and it seemed like a huge task to read them all, especially since five would be rereads and I wasn’t big on rereading for a while there.

But this is the year. I’ve heard great buzz about Lady Midnight; the second book in the Dark Artifices trilogy comes out this year, and I want to be back on the Cassandra Clare train. I want to be caught up. So I’ve started over from the beginning, and will be reading all of Cassandra’s books in publication order as the year progresses. (Wish me luck. It still seems daunting.)

And now to review.

First of all, this is a great series to reread. I remember being pretty confused in the beginning my first time through, especially with the scene at Pandemonium, and even the second time it took me a beat or two to place names with descriptions and plot points I remembered, but it’s definitely more fun seeing Clary learning about the Shadowhunters and their world after already having been acquainted with them myself. I’d forgotten how amusing rereads could be. Here are some thoughts, old and new:

cityofbonesAbout the book: Clary Fray is an ordinary girl with an ordinary life and a strict mother. Her best friend Simon helps keep her out of trouble, but if trouble is on the agenda, he’s always ready to tag along–which is a good thing, because suddenly Clary’s mom is attacked, and “Uncle” Luke turns hostile, leaving Clary stranded with strange rescuers that are sometimes invisible to the general public. Jace, Alec, and Isabelle hadn’t expected Clary to see them at all, much less interfere with Shadowhunter business, and don’t know what to do with her at first. They won’t, however, leave her to die, and begin to realize that Clary’s mom may have been mixed in with Shadowhunter matters herself–soon everyone is hunting for Clary’s mom, including some notable enemies that wouldn’t mind seeing Clary and her friends dead. Somehow she stepped into a world of Nephilim and demons that she’s never known, but which seems oddly familiar as she and Simon learn about the world that passed unseen beneath their noses for nearly sixteen years. Suddenly Clary’s life is full of excitement, both good and bad, and anything is possible.

“Jace, Clary thought, was the sort of person who liked it when things were happening, even things that were bad.”

I forgot how well-crafted the plot of this book is. The reader never knows where the story’s going next, and yet it all flows together from one event to the next so smoothly that once you arrive at the next big thing it’s impossible to imagine the story going any other direction. The progression of time is a little clunky sometimes–things that would take mere seconds are explained in enough careful detail that it takes much more time to read about what’s happening that it would take for the event to occur, and in other instances, hours with no actions pass in a single sentence in the middle of a chapter. Readers should pay close attention to words indicating duration of events to stay on top of the timeline, but otherwise the plot is fantastic and easy to follow.

The best part of the book, however, is the GREAT CHARACTERS. Every single one of them is compelling and intelligent, as different from each other as night and day, and yet their differences draw them together. In addition to main characters the reader would follow anywhere, this book also has an excellent portrayal of diversity that’s not in-your-face about it. The use of additional part-human species furthers the sense of equal representation. No extra attention is drawn to blue hair or purple skin or any other traits–they’re simply mentioned as though there’s nothing odd or fantastic about their presence, and that’s the way I want diversity to be in books. It feels too forced when too much attention is called to each represented race and gender and predilection. I don’t want to have to pick up a book about diversity, I want to pick up an interesting book and have the diversity neatly woven in. I want to read about worlds so equal that all manner of people and species coexist without being highlighted for how unusual that is. Equality wins when it’s a casual thing, and this book has that. Am I making any sense?

Despite the wide variety of characters, it’s easy to understand every single one of their perspectives. The girl who’s world is turned upside down when she realizes her world isn’t the place she thought it was; the best friend who can’t have the relationship he really wants; the tough guy who’ll stand strong through anything, even when he needs someone to pick up his own pieces; the voice-of-reason friend with the secret crush; the girl who won’t be overlooked or left behind. Everyone has their own story, but all woven together they make one heck of an addicting crew. If I could meet fictional characters in real life, these are the characters I’d want to meet. They already feel real.

“Every teenager in the world feels like that, feels broken or out of place, different somehow, royalty mistakenly born into a family of peasants. The difference in your case is that it’s true. You are different. Maybe not better–but different. And it’s no picnic being different.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I loved this book the first time I read it, and I think I liked it even more the second time around. I’d forgotten just enough that the surprises were mostly still surprising but I had a much better grasp on the characters, which made everything so much better. This is the beginning of one of the best YA series available–it has an engaging plot and amazing characters, but underneath its surface details are worthwhile messages about equality, loyalty, love, and friendship, among others. There is nothing bad I can say about this book, and if I remember correctly, Cassandra’s writing just keeps getting better as the books progress.

Further recommendations:

  1. Meg Cabot’s Avalon High is a great stand-alone YA novel with a supernatural twist and a whole lot of good-vs.-evil. The main characters seem to be reliving the famous tragedy of King Arthur’s demise, and endeavor to save the world–and themselves–by breaking the cycle of victory for the bad guy.
  2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is another superb choice for YA fans who prefer fantasy worlds. This one features faeries and all sorts of magical creatures, but it is essentially a love story on a Beauty and the Beast track. This one has some adult content mixed in, so read with caution if you’re under 16 or so.

Coming up next: I immediately started reading Cassandra Clare’s City of Ashes after turning the last pages of this first book in the series, so I’ll be reviewing that soon as well–probably first thing next week. I’ll take a short break from the Mortal Instruments after volume two, but before I get there, I’m eager to relearn how the sibling situation turns out for Clary, and see where Simon ends up. In the meantime, I’ll probably also post a short review on a short story I read earlier this week–Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup. This is a book for lovers of mind-boggling ghostly puzzles and odd situations; it’s spooky, it’s a bit confusing, but it’s a lot of fun.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now check out my complete review of the next book in this series, City of Ashes!