City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
City of Ashes is the second book in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy, a young adult series set in New York City in which Shadowhunters battle with demons and strive to keep the peace between witches, vampires and werewolves.
I picked up the first of Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy with mixed feelings, and — while I enjoyed the story — my fears came true: much of City of Bones was reminiscent of Clare’s infamous Harry Potter fanfiction.
Thankfully City of Ashes is a much stronger piece in which the unique world of Shadowhunters — as well as the individual characters — really begin to shine.
Plot: Clary has family problems. Her mother’s in a magically-induced coma, her feelings towards her newfound handsome brother Jace are incredibly complicated, and her father is an evil villain set on taking over the world. It doesn’t help that she’s torn between her new place in the demon-slaying Shadowhunter world, and her old human life, of which best-friend-and-maybe-more Simon is part. Where does Clary belong? And how can she stop her father from destroying everything she loves?
Thoughts: The escapism is phenomenal. The world of Shadowhunters is so finely thought out and detailed, with its own amusing quirks like flying demon motorcycles. And the main cast of teen characters is very well-developed. It makes you want to believe in the story.
But what truly sells this novel to me is that it doesn’t follow the bestseller hype, nor does it feel like a mish-mash of recycled plots. Here there is none of that “girl meets mysterious boy, falls irrevocably in love, finds out he’s supernatural, and — hey look! — a werewolf loves her too”. The elements of romance in City of Ashes really pull at my heartstrings, and let me tell you I have never wished so strongly that two people were not related. My book-critic side may have been scoffing, but my fangirl side loved every minute of it.
My book-critic side did have some good points though.
Firstly, while Clare’s writing has improved considerably, she has a tendency to be repetitive with her descriptions. Everything in this book was metallic, from the flash of Jace’s eyes, to the smell of blood in the air, to the way Jace’s hair glinted in the sunlight etc. A little variety wouldn’t be amiss. Has she considered plastic, or styrofoam?
Secondly, while the teen characters were very well-characterized, the adults were not. I realize this is a young adult novel, but the black-and-white categorization of adults irked me. Those adults that were helping the kids were good and generous and kind-hearted, those that stood in the kid’s way were evil and spineless. A prime example being Maryse, who is cold and cruel at the beginning when she doesn’t believe in Jace, and only becomes strong and good near the end when she changes her mind. I would like to see an adult who is a good person, but isn’t on the kid’s side.
On that note, my final complaint was with Valentine, Clary’s father and the archvillain of this story. He’s depicted as an intelligent, manipulative and all-round evil man. But I found him far too predictable. Near the beginning of the book, the kids figure out what he’s plotting, and then decide how to stop him, and — barring a few tiny mishaps — all goes to plan. Surely an evil overlord like Valentine would have a much more complex plot in store? One that the kids would not have been able to predict within minutes? I kept expecting their assumption to backfire and for Valentine to unveil an even grander plan, but it didn’t happen. I think Clare missed a trick there.
In sum, despite my nitpicks, I am definitely going to read the rest of the Mortal Instruments series along with Clare’s new Infernal Devices trilogy. It’s guilty pleasure reading, but the setting is amazing and the romance gripping. Besides, what’s life without a little sin?