Monday, August 19, 2013

#CBR5 Reviews #39-40: City of Bones and City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Whenever I read a young-adult series, I find that I fall in love with the first book, only to be extremely disappointed by each sequel that comes to follow it (I’m looking at you, Maze Runner, a series I still haven’t finished from frustration with the second novel). Because of this, when I embarked on reading City of Bones before the film adaptation is released this week [Jonathan Rhys Meyers film career, back from grave!], I also decided to read City of Ashes immediately afterwards. While City of Ashes does experience a bit of a sequel slump, it’s not nearly as drastic as I feared it would be, and is still quite good.

In any case, the first two books of The Mortal Instruments series have definitely made me want to continue reading to see what happens: I’m enjoying them a lot. Maybe it’s my love of all that fantasy, angels and demons stuff (which we can see in the fact that I never met a Supernatural reference I didn’t want to make). Or maybe it’s that everything seems to have a very distinct purpose and is very planned out; the books are richly detailed, but not so much so that it becomes a chore to read through them. Of course, being that these books are aimed at the young-adult demographic, there are bound to be some young romance plot lines, which vary in their degrees of being seemingly necessary or just plain irritating. City of Ashes definitely hinges more on the slow-paced discussions of relationships and issues of love than the action and back-story-filled City of Bones.

City of Bones
City of Bones begins with 15 year-old Clary Fray at an all-ages club in New York with her best friend of many years (who is hopelessly in love with her) named Simon. At the club, Clary sees three young people attack another boy, who they claim to be a demon, yet nobody else seems to be able to see these people at all. She is shaken by this, and starts wondering if she is hallucinating. Soon after, Clary and her mother fight about leaving town for a while, and Clary runs off for the night with Simon, at which time, Clary’s mother, Jocelyn, gets kidnapped. Clary only discovers this after bumping in to one of the boys who she saw killing the demon at the nightclub, named Jace. Jace appears to be following her, and when Clary returns home to see about her mother, Clary is attacked by a demon. Upon waking up, Clary finds herself in “The Institute” for “Shadowhunters,” which is what Jace is. Essentially, Shawdowhunters remove demonic threats from the earth for the protection of humans. They also make accords with other “Downworlders” such as vampires and werewolves, so that they might live peacefully with all other races; in a sense, they uphold supernatural laws. Jace introduces Clary to a brother and sister named Alec and Isabelle who are also Shadowhunters, as well as an old man named Hodge who runs the Institute in the New York area.

From here on out, Clary (and Simon) are thrust into a strange world that they don’t fully understanding, taking part in dangerous adventures, and learning more and more about Clary’s mother and what being a Shadowhunter entails. Clary learns that her mother was once a part of The Clave of Shadowhunters, but that her husband and Clary’s father, Valentine, was essentially a power-hungry dissenter. Valentine, who they once thought to be dead, now appears to be on the hunt for The Mortal Cup, an artifact that can create more Shadowhunters, by having children drink from the cup to turn them into Nephilim (half angel, half human). Jocelyn is believed to have hidden the cup, leading to her kidnap. Clary also learns that she herself is a Shadowhunter in blood, but not in training, as well as the fact that her mother’s best friend, Luke, is actually a Werewolf who was also once a Shadowhunter. Yeesh, things sure do get complicated and tied together in this big conspiracy, don’t they?

The main focus of the story, however, is on Clary trying to find her mother. This involves meeting some interesting characters, such as the High Warlock of Brooklyn, named Magnus Bane, who had Clary’s “sight” of the supernatural world wiped every two years since she was a child, at the request of her mother. Oh, and of course, the story also focuses on Clary and Jace starting to develop feelings for one another, only to have those hopes dashed when they find out they are… related. Closely. As in siblings. Bonds are formed, betrayals occur, loyalty is questioned, and the blood ties of family are tested.

One of the great strengths of City of Bones is how interconnected everything is, and how shocking some of the little twists are. I literally gasped a few times during this book, which doesn’t happen all that often with me while reading (well okay, sometimes). I also found it refreshing that while the Shadowhunters appear to have some special abilities, most of their power and skill comes from years of training, and also from temporary runes that they draw on their skin. In addition, all the characters seem to have a prominent role in this book, so no one is really left to the side to be undeveloped by the end. All in all, I found City of Bones to be very intriguing, especially in learning much of the history of the Clave and the Shadowhunters. I guess I’m just kind of into that stuff, as I mentioned earlier.

City of Ashes
City of Ashes deals with the aftermath of Valentine’s first reappearance, and his new insistence on finding another mortal instrument (like the Mortal Cup). Clary and Luke are left to face the fact that Clary’s mother is essentially in a coma and won’t wake up after being kidnapped by Valentine. Jace, on the other hand, is being accused by the Inquisitor of the Clave as knowing all along that he was Valentine’s son, and also of working with Valentine to steal the Mortal Cup. Jace is reeling in that fact that he never knew his father was such an evil figure, and also in the fact that the girl he loves is his sister (who is also now dating Simon), so he reacts stubbornly to authority figures at this point in retaliation. The Inquisitor imprisons Jace at the Silent City because of his insolence. While he is there, Alec, Isabelle, and Clary decide to rescue him, only to find that all the Silent Brothers of the city have been murdered and the Soul Sword has been stolen; the Soul Sword is a sword used by the Inquisitor to make people tell the truth during trials, but Valentine appears to have stolen it in order to perform a spell on it that will allow him to summon any and all demons to his command in the human world. This spell requires the blood of four different types of Downworlder children, including a warlock, a werewolf, a vampire, and fairy.

The Clave doesn’t want to listen to Jace’s ideas about what Valentine is doing, and so he turns to Luke, the Lightwood siblings (Alec and Isabelle), and Magnus Bane to help him try and stop his father. Their actions are seen as unsanctified and dissenting from the Clave, leading to these young Shadowhunters to be pulled at from every direction, not knowing what to do. Meanwhile, Simon is experiencing some troubles of his own, as not only is Clary clearly still in love with Jace, but he is also afraid that he is turning into a vampire. Clary, on the other hand, appears to have skills in drawing new runes that she never realized she could before. Apparently, Valentine had been using new Nephilim as experiments, to see if they could be bestowed with special gifts, and apparently he has succeeded. Everything comes to a head when Valentine kidnaps a young member of Luke’s werewolf pack and newly vampirized Simon in his attempt to finish his spell on the Soul Sword. The Clave of Shadowhunters is led to act and fight in a battle with hundreds of demons in order to stop Valentine, and the loyalty and abilities of the Shadowhunters are once again put to the test.

While City of Ashes is definitely still worth the read, it falters a bit in comparison to City of Bones. This may have to do with the fact that the first great lengths of the book hinge on discussion and tactical ideas, rather than any real action, only to have all the fighting and faced-paced stuff shoved into the last few chapters. That being said, there’s a slight Cabin in the Woods feel to all the demonic creatures being released in one bloody free-for-all at the end, which I definitely enjoyed. On the other hand, some characters were almost too relied on in this novel to do some serious heavy lifting on the magical side of things (Magnus), while others fell to the sidelines and became flat and almost just mentioned from time to time to remind us that, yes, they are still here (Isabelle). What the biggest downfall of this book is, however, is the insistence of many of the characters moping about their relationships and unrequited loves. Ah yes, this really does become a huge topic of this novel, not just with the Jace, Simon, and Clary issue, but also with Alec, Jace, and Magnus, as well as Luke, Jocelyn, and Valentine. Funny how they all manage to parallel, huh? Though I’m sure it will all work out eventually for them; I mean, Jace and Clary are soul mates or something, they can’t be siblings, right? That’s the vibe I’m getting from this author, at least. I suppose I’ll have to read more to find out, which at this point, is what I intend.

At first, I thought this was just going to be another story about a girl who thinks she is so ordinary and unimportant, only to find out that she is really a truly special snowflake, becoming all kick-ass and immortal after kissing a boy for the first time. But thankfully, I was surprised by a difference to this: oh yes, there is still the whole, “you are special but you didn’t realize it,” and “you think you are so plain but you are really so beautiful to everyone” thing going on, but Clary herself has had a much slower and more progressive transformation into the Shadowhunter world than I anticipated so far. She doesn’t just become a lean, mean, fighting machine after discovering who she truly is, but still needs people to help her, while slowly becoming more active in fights and decisions as she learns more about this world. At the same time, despite these general young-adult feelings, I still often forget how old the main characters are supposed to be. Sometimes they speak way older than their age, and it leaves me wondering if any teenager has ever talked like that. Maybe, given a different Shadowhunter upbringing? It’s hard to say, but sometimes when I get reminded of their age I have to do a double take. Though at the same time, having them feel slightly older may also work in connecting with people that are just out of the target age-range as well.

What is also beneficial to the series as a whole is the insistence of people in this world trying to live semi-normal lives, and how they are shown doing seemingly ordinary things all while the hectic life of a Shadowhunter or Downworlder is still pulling them at every end; just because you are a werewolf doesn’t mean you don’t need a regular job, and just because you are a demon-hunter doesn’t mean you don’t stop to go out for donuts or watch Gilligan’s Island every now and again, you know?

One thing that I do find a bit tiring, however, especially in City of Ashes is the repetitiveness of some of the conversations about danger and going in to certain situations.  “You can’t come, you’re not trained/just a mundane.” “I’m not just sitting out of the fight/I’m not going without him coming too.” “Okay, fine. You’re stubborn like your mother.” I’m sure you can see how this would become slightly exasperating after a while.

And while I am interested to see how this entire world and adventure pans out as a whole, I am a tad worried (as always) that the coming sequels will be less and less engaging as time goes on. Will Valentine always be the “big bad” that they face, only to just slightly defeat him each time before he manages to run away and escape again? The Mortal Instruments could easily fall into this monotonous cycle, but I guess for now, all we have to do is wait and see. Not to mention, go see the film soon to see what angle they choose to take in adapting it. Aidan Turner as Luke Garroway? I’m not sure, but I am definitely intrigued.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball read group blog]

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