Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: City of Ashes - Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare.

Spoilers: This review assumes you have read the previous book.

In City of Ashes we pick up with Valentine being his evil, egocentric self, calling greater demons as a warm up act rather then an encore; Sacrificing people, hurting his children with only a few words, creating days rife with mis-communication - in other words - the usual. Simon and Clary are dating, sort of, since Clary and Jace really shouldn't be dating each other, yet cannot seem to stop wishing they could. Their mother, meanwhile, still won't wake up from her coma, Luke is being a good pack leader and saving Jace from killing himself often. Simon meanwhile, has a strange preoccupation with blood...

But what is Valentine up to, for chrissakes? He's setting up the vampires for murder, gleefully dashing away in the last second, but for all this evil planning he's doing, it's been rather quiet for the Shadowhunters. The accords have been signed, everyone is happy, except Clary and Jace, and there isn't much going on except Magnus has comes to the junior Shadowhunters every beck and call, and would like them to stop calling about every scratch.


All in all, plot wise, the book is very much between major events, but we get enough tidbits about the major hooplah that will be happening at the end of the book that, the angst and drama between first page and last is more than enough. The perspective shifts often enough to keep it lively and keep us guessing, and great job on that, Clare, since we really should know better by now and we still don't know what anyone is going to do next!

My squabbles with this sequel were with lines here or there that could have been better, been more succinct. When someone serving Valentine guesses his plan he actually tells them they guess correctly, instead of smirking saying, 'perhaps' enigmatically. I'm starting to think that Count Olaf* is scarier than this guy. For the record, Count Olaf remains one of the scariest book villains I have ever read. He still really terrifies me. Even being played by Jim Carrey. Here's part of a dream sequence from relatively early in the book:
As she approached, the figure became suddenly clear, as if Clary had focused the lens of a camera. It was her mother, kneeling in the ruins of a half-built sand-castle. She wore the same white dress Valentine had put her in at Renwick's. In her hand was a twisted bit of driftwood, silvery from long exposure to salt and wind.
“Have you come to help me?” Her mother said, raising her head. Jocelyn's hair was undone and it blew free in the wind, making her look younger than she was. “There's so much to do and so little time.”
Clary swallowed against the hard lump in her throat, “Mom-- I've missed you, Mom.”
Jocelyn smiled. “I've missed you, too, honey. But I'm not gone, you know. I'm only sleeping.”
“Then how do I wake you up?” Clary cried, but her other was looking out to see, her face troubled. The sky had turned a twilight iron grey and the black clouds looked like heavy stones.
“Come here,” said Jocelyn, and when Clary came to her, she said, “Hold out your arm.”
Clary did. Jocelyn moved the driftwood over her skin. The touch stung like the burning of a stele, and left the same thick black line behind. The rune Jocelyn drew was a shape that Clary had never seen before, but he found it instinctively soothing to her eye. “What does this do?”
“It should protect you.” Clary's mother released her.
“Against what?”
Jocelyn didn't answer, just looked out toward the sea. Clary turned and saw that the ocean had drawn far out, leaving brackish piles of garbage, heaps of seaweed and flopping, desperate fish in its wake.
Now you might not see any beauty or a problem here, but they're almost the same thing. Clare's books are filled to the brim with beautiful details, even Kirkus says so, but that can easily become a hindrance. If you begin to over-tell your story, you risk leading your reader by the hand, throw them a curve ball and it goes from unrealistic to implausible.

Clary's mother for instance, looks out to sea, and in a grey sky atmosphere of coney island, a ruined sand-castle at her feet, we don't need to be told she's troubled. A tremble in her hand, a tremor in her voice, perhaps even a word or two to make clear her mother is actually working on that ruined sand-castle. I could get really particular and speak about the meaning of the words brackish and half-built, I could have given you more of the pages and said something about how there weren't clouds before, so that should actually be 'with clouds that looked like', and that this would probably all look much better and work better on screen.

Cassandra Clare has a fantastic eye for detail, practically cinematic in scope which she lets us see, but less is more, and she can end up bogging us down with the specific details of clothes and landscape. The whole point, I think, of using Coney Island is that we know its a derelict from the past, beautiful still, but so much is gone of its former glory.

And so we're clear, I don't want to re-write Clare's book, and I will continue reading the series because I cannot stop being entertained by the way her characters interact. I'm either sitting on the couch in mock-agony over Jace and Clary or I'm laughing about something Magnus has said. I do have a bone to pick about the fact that Magnus and Alec don't seem to have been doing more than holding hands while alone together. Possible, yes, but in this story it's a bit unlikely. Readers are justified in disliking her, but she's just too damn entertaining for me to stop and smell the problems.


How about you? Do you find the books aggravating? Is Clare's internalized misogyny so bad that you can't get into the story? Did her origins in Fan Fiction turn you off so much that you've never considered reading the Mortal Instruments? Or are you in love with Jace, Clary &co. and raring at the bit to tear me a new one? While I dislike the latter, I would like to hear your opinions. Also, does anyone else see Kristen Holden-Ried as Luke? I'm also a huge Dyson fan, so...


*Olaf is my favorite villain of all time. So I'm biased, of course.

NOTE: This review was written with awareness of Clare's past, because I made myself knowledgeable on that front before I read this. However, I did not make any comparisons using this book, and am not interested in going back to see if my favorite lines were in fact original. I am debating whether I will review or even read the next four books that I own.

411p. Walker Books. 2008.

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