City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable.
City of Ashes is book two in the Mortal Instruments trilogy by Cassandra Clare. This installment picks up generally where book one (City of Bones) left off. The main characters, Clary and Jace, continue to struggle with their confusing sibling-but-not relationship, and to deal with their destructive, villainous father who is determined to crush the Clave, a secret society of Shadowhunters (humanoids with gifts descended from the angels) who are duty-bound to protect Earth from demons. Whereas City of Bones was largely about Clary’s introduction to the Clave and the various supernatural elements which exist in the world, leading to a show-down between herself and her brother, versus their father; book two is much more of an action-adventure, most of which is devoted to the movements and machinations of Valentine Morgenstern (Clary’s & Jace’s father, a Shadowhunter-gone-rogue). Valentine is seeking ultimate power – the likes of which can only be achieved by possessing all three of the Mortal Instruments and Valentine will stop at nothing – will sacrifice anything – to get his hands on these devices. As in book one, the characters discover much about themselves and others as the story progresses. Certain changes happen to the various prominent characters from the first installment – new characters are introduced, while recurring characters make their final appearances.
3 – Characters well-developed.
Clare is on the cusp of great characterization and character development. She certainly has a solid handle on teenage angst and family strife. The interplay between Jace & Clary (and their very odd relationship) is also masterfully done – so well done, in fact, that it is actually a bit unsettling at times. Clare manages to cast some doubts in readers’ minds about the path certain characters might take – but these doubts are shaky at best, and are soon settled, so the mystery which could have added intrigue and tension to the plot was short-lived. Still, the development of the major characters from City of Bones is interesting to watch – particularly as their relationships grow. There are static elements for each of the recurring characters – they do not become quite rounded but are amply oval, at least. Lucian’s relationship with Clary, in particular, as well as the information that comes to light (again, not shockingly) about his feelings for a certain Shadowhuntress, coupled with his leadership over the Werewolf community, are examples of how a few characters become more deeply attached to the story and more intricately drawn. Other main characters, like Jace and Alec, are largely let-downs – characters who have not changed much since the first story, except in regards to the different situations they must face. More could be done with these characters, but they are interesting and fun to watch, nonetheless.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
I have said my piece on the Cassandra Clare plagiarism issue, and I will leave it at that, for now (except to say that she ripped a J.M. Barrie quote from Peter Pan this time and changed one word of it, for originality’s sake, I suppose). Those complaints aside, one thing I absolutely enjoy about these books so far is how well-paced and engaging they are. Although there are still moments where Clare’s writing comes off a bit pretentious, one can look past this in City of Ashes, more so than in City of Bones, where Clare’s inexperience (and, perhaps, self-consciousness) was obvious. Her confidence has grown with book two – she seems to know where she is headed and that definitely shows. The language and dialogue are more believable, the structure makes sense and the overall style is cohesive with the story and genre. Some moments – mainly in the battle scenes late in the book- are a bit cliché and tiresome, being so overdone, but for the most part – the book is a fun page-turner. A simple, enjoyable “pleasure” read.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.
Publisher’s Weekly said that “fans of the smart/chic horror typified by Buffy the Vampire Slayer will instantly fall for this new series.” And they are right. What makes this book – and the series so far- such a hit is that, not only are the stories interesting and well-written, and not only do they rework dark fantasy elements into a new mold, but Clare also seems to understand what young readers these days want: to feel clever, hip, and accomplished, not in the traditional sense (where money used to be status) – now being “other” or “indie” is its own status symbol. The book is littered with sarcasm, dry wit, uber-intelligent teenagers (especially considering they never go to school) and inside-references to other literary references, music, etc. It’s an anti-pop/new-pop culture kid’s dream. In addition to these devices, one can also appreciate the still blasé inclusion of non-issue issues (like having two of the secondary characters be gay – and no one takes issue with it). As I mentioned in my review for City of Bones, having an openly (to the reader, that is) gay character in a fantasy novel – on the protagonist side- has not been exactly typical for the genre, and it is a welcomed presence. The exploration of loss, adult/parent relationships, sibling relationships, adoptive relationships, friendships, and love (particularly “forbidden” love) are also present and add interesting elements to the major plot.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: MG, YA+
Interest: Fantasy, Supernatural, Angel Lore, Magic, Good vs. Evil, Family, Friendship, Coming-of-Age.
“Honestly, Clary, if you don’t start utilizing a bit of your natural feminine superiority I just don’t know what I’ll do with you.”
“I guess it’s true what they say. There are no straight men in the trenches.”
“When you love someone, you don’t have a choice.”