City of Ashes

City of Ashes

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, City of Bones. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Before I begin, I feel I should point out that that all opinions stated on this blog are my own and are strictly reflective of my feelings towards the novel. I understand that Cassandra Clare has a massive and incredibly loyal fan base and I don’t want anyone to think that this is a personal attack. I have nothing against the author or the thousands of people who adore this series but it’s not the story for me. More on that shortly.

City of Ashes is the second instalment of Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series and was first published in 2008. It was preceded by City of Bones (2007) and followed by City of Glass (2009), City of Fallen Angels (2011), City of Lost Souls (2012) and City of Heavenly Fire (2014). It also has a prequel trilogy titled The Infernal Devices and the first volume of its sequel series – The Dark Artifices – is due for release later this year. There is also a spin off collection of short stories titled The Bane Chronicles which was published back in November.

Following the climax of City of Bones, Clary has found that her life has become increasingly complicated. Although she knows now that Jace is her brother, she still struggles with her feelings for him. As Simon declares his love for her, things grow more complicated still. Although he offers her a chance to reclaim some normalcy, how can she be with him while she still wants Jace?

To make matters even worse, Jace is now under the scrutiny of the Clave’s Inquisitor. Now that everyone knows that he is Valentine’s son, the other Shadowhunters refuse to believe that he was unaware of the rogue’s plans and seem to go out of their way to prove that he’s a spy in their midst.

Yet it is hard for Jace to avoid Valentine, as the former Shadowhunter is still determined to amass enough power to destroy the Clave. As a couple of Downworlder children are brutally slain, suspicion immediately turns on the vampires but Clary and her friends realise the truth. Valentine has a new plan and it is up to them to uncover what it is before it is too late. 

Okay, where to begin…

If you read my review of City of Bones, you may remember that I was not greatly enamored by it. Although the story flowed nicely and did have a few memorable scenes, I found that it was too derivative of other (better) novels and contained a large cast of fairly interchangeable teenagers. Unfortunately, I must report that nothing much has changed in City of Ashes. In fact, the series has taken a noticeable downward turn.

The story still reads as though it is the unholy lovechild of Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Try reading a couple of pages of the novel, replacing the character names with their obvious Harry Potter counterpart names (i.e. Jace as Draco, Clary as Ginny, the Mortal Instruments as Deathly Hallows) and you’ll see what I mean. Especially knowing Clare’s background as a fanfic writer, it’s impossible not to see echoes of more famous characters in her work.

The tone is distinctly Buffy-ish, with characters speaking in endless streams of snark. This seemed to be even more offensive than in the last novel. Everyone has a witty retort for everything and it very quickly becomes tiresome. Even Buffy had its serious moments – times when sarcasm was deemed inappropriate as the writers realised that it was not the best way to deliver an poignant message. Clare does not seem to understand this. Her characters feel the need to have a snappy comeback about everything, even when they were facing legions of demons, and this just made me hate the lot of them.

I’ll look at the characters in a more detail in just a moment but first I’d just like to talk a little about the content of the story itself. One of the things that I couldn’t fault with City of Bones was the pacing. The story was structured in such a way that I never felt bored (even though it never really gripped me either). City of Ashes loses itself in too many tangents. Up until the climax, the story fluctuates between two main plot threads. One follows Clary as she tries her hardest to choose between Jace and Simon, and the other confronts Jace’s daddy issues. Unfortunately, this causes the darker aspects of the novel to fade into the background.

The novel opens with Valentine gaining control of a Greater Demon and he uses it to slaughter a werewolf soon after. Yet, after this grisly death, Valentine’s scheming is barely mentioned for large periods of time. One would think that the characters would be more concerned about what the insane, power hungry Shadowhunter might be planning but, alas, no. It seemed that the incestuous angst of Clary and Jace was deemed more important than furthering the plot. There are so many scenes which could have been edited out of this novel. I reckon you could probably have easily cut out 100 pages out of the story and it would have flowed better because of it.

The novel is also full of flowery prose. Although it’s not offensively purple, Clare has a love of similies that borders on the obsessive. It often feels as though she’s just putting them in the story for the sake of it as they can be incredibly jarring and not make a lick of sense. My personal favourite weird description in the book was “someone with pale hair that glinted in the gunmetal light like brass”. Ignoring the fact this sentence is horrendously structured (is it the light that’s like brass, or the hair?) what does it even mean? Why is the light grey? Since when has brass been pale? Ill-thought out similies like this just further detract from what’s happening on the page as it takes the brain a moment to process them.

The plot is also riddled with conveniences that really boiled my blood. Every time the main characters were in trouble, someone (often a group of Shadowhunters) would show up at precisely the right time to bail them out. This happened on at least three occasions and was most noticeable in the climax, when Jace and Luke were seconds away from death and every single Shadowhunter appeared to save them. For me, this is the epitome of weak plotting. I have gotten to the point in reading this series when I now fully believe that all Clare’s principle cast are impervious to harm. I really don’t believe that she would hurt any of them and so all tension that the fight sequences would otherwise have has been lost.

Anyhow, I’ve babbled about the plot and structure for long enough. Let’s talk about characters.

I was concerned at the end of City of Bones that Clary was evolving into a Mary-Sue and it seems that I hit the nail right on the head. In this story, Clary discovers that she has incredible, unique, uber Shadowhunter abilities that allow her to create her own runes. Naturally, this makes her absurdly overpowered. The senseless loss of life to protect her towards the climax of the novel seemed ridiculous as Clary seemed to possess more power than all of them combined.

She has also evolved from someone who believed that being a strong female lead meant slapping men a lot to a truly despicable human being. While she is obviously still wildly in love with Jace (a fact that does not become any less gross as time goes on. Seriously, a romance based on incest? Clare, what were you thinking?), she also strings Simon along for the entire novel. She even has the audacity to get upset when Simon eventually sees the light and leaves her sorry ass. Clary even screams at a kindly man on the subway who shows compassion to her because “that was what you did in New York”. Fair enough, I don’t live in New York, but what the Hell? This is the best we could do for a heroine? Really?

Jace somehow manages to be an order of magnitude worse again. His Draco Malfoy persona is in overdrive in this story as he’s just rude and obnoxious to everyone. My personal favourite Jace quote was “I don’t want to be a man…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”. While this at least shows he’s self-aware, it also encapsulates every reason why I can’t stand him. I really don’t get why all his friends worship the ground that he walks on. He is second only to Patch from Hush, Hush on my scale of male protagonists that I sorely want to beat with a shovel.

The secondary cast also fail to make much of impression. Much like last time, they’re all largely interchangeable. I feel I should mention Simon, as Clare makes the decision this time to have him become a vampire. While this does make him marginally more interesting, it also leads to his gradually ascent into Gary-Studome. No spoilers here (perhaps I’ll get to talk about it in a future review) but I’m starting to wonder if every character in this novel is some kind of special snowflake.

I’m rambling on now so I just think I’ll make one final point. Magnus and Alec. Why is this the only thing in the story that is not focused on? This could be a really interesting romance – Alec’s emotional turmoil due to his parent’s homophobia conflicting with his growing attraction to Magnus (who is by far the most interesting character in the novel). Instead, their courtship occurs entirely off page and is only really hinted at otherwise as Alec is too uncomfortable in making it public knowledge. Mainstream fiction is sorely lacking in strong gay characters and I really would like to see more of their relationship. I hope it does get focused on more in City of Glass.

Anyhow, I think this has been my longest rant ever so I’ll wrap it up. You may be able to tell that I did not like this novel. It was badly structured, full of angst and had a cast that ranged from being horrible people to just plain forgettable. I’ll get back to this series in a later review and I hope that it improves. It’ll be really hard to struggle through four more novels if it doesn’t…

City of Ashes can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. vacationmode
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 00:58:30

    Really funny and thoughtful review…I had the same issues with this whole series but keep finding myself coming back to it regardless. I can tell you the issues don’t exactly improve but the plot continues to be entertaining enough for me. Great post!

    Reply

    • Kim
      Mar 06, 2015 @ 08:00:05

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. I definitely do want to read more out of morbid curiosity. I’m glad I’m not the only one to see the flaws – with 300+ positive reviews on Amazon to 3 1-star reviews I was wondering if I was missing something!

      Reply

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