Note: this is the third book of a series, following City of Bones and City of Ashes; if you have not read these, there will be spoilers below.
Previously, in City of Ashes: The revelation of Jace as Valentine’s son led many others, including some he thought of as family, to regard him with deep suspicion, and the Clave’s Inquisitor was out to prove that Jace is his father’s weapon. It’s a different weapon she should have been concerned with. Valentine slaughtered the Silent Brothers to claim the Soul Sword, second of the Mortal Instruments, and began a ritual with the blood of Downworlder children to convert the sword to demonic energies. Simon and Clary’s attempt at a romantic relationship hits some snags when a visit to the Seelie Court shows that Clary is not yet over Jace, and Simon’s fears result in his becoming a vampire. In a monumental battle aboard Valentine’s ship, the Shadowhunters fight against a host of demons while Jace and Clary try to keep their father from finishing the ritual.
In City of Glass, we leave the gritty streets of New York with the dirty glow of street lights and the bawl of taxis, clubs, and cell phones for the beautiful land of Idris, ancrestral home of the Shadowhunters. It’s not just a journey of miles- Idris, specifically the glass city of Alicante, is cut off from the rest of the world in so many ways. It isn’t just about being geographically isolated, though they are. There are impenetrable forests and snow-capped mountains that make crossing into it difficult. There are misdirection wards around the entire country- mundanes don’t know of it in any way, to such an extent that even the globes and maps are wrong. More than anything, though, Alicante and the rest of Idris exist in a bubble of time. The descriptions of Alicante are like from a fairy tale, this perfect, shining city where everything is glorious and lovely (and kind of reminds me of a differently colored Gallifrey…). They ride horses and everyone knows where everyone else lives. Even at a time like now, when everyone is gathering from all over the world for the Council and the influences of many other cultures are evident, it’s the Nephilim culture that writes over everything else. Saris have angel runes stitched into the patterns, weapons are everywhere, and even the houses are covered in runes and Marks. They’ve separated themselves from everything else; that insurmountable divide between the Nephilim and the rest, the Downworlders and mundanes, isn’t just a mindset, it’s an entire culture. We see that separation in the previous two books but mostly in the attitudes and the lack of comprehension of pop culture references; here we get to see where that comes from.
I love characters. As far as I’m concerned, story is there to make the characters do interesting things, and this series just gives us so much to love. Taken as individuals or when studied through their relationships, Clare’s characters are just utterly fascinating. And heartbreaking. Let’s not forget about heartbreaking, not that we possibly could.
Clary shows such astonishing growth through this book. She still has a way of not thinking things through, and she doesn’t always ask for advice when and of whom she should. She still asks appallingly personal questions of people she’s just met, has a stunning talent for losing steles, and reacts more than she acts. She’s coming into herself though. She’s finding a deeper strength, learning more about the world she’s a part of. It isn’t enough anymore to be stuck on the sidelines while everyone else is risking their life to save things. She’s always had things she was willing to fight for and now she’s learning how. More than that, though, she’s learning how to do it on her own two feet. It’s interesting to me that she hears Hodge’s voice in her thoughts so often. She knew him for such a short time but the influence he had on her continues to show through in small ways. More and more, she becomes Jocelyn’s daughter- not the artistic daughter of Jocelyn Fray, but the steel-spined warrior daughter of Jocelyn Fairchild, the woman who was willing to sacrifice everything to do what she thought was right and save not just her own people, but the people she believed were worth protecting. It’s Jocelyn’s strength that Clary’s finding, even as she’s finally learning to define herself apart from her mother, her father, even apart from Jace.
In each successive book, our hearts break even more for Jace, Jonathon Christopher whatever his last name actually is. He tries so hard, fights so hard, but he’s always fighting himself at least as much as his actual enemies. He turns himself into a weapon aimed at his own heart, but the way he does it, he hurts those who love him. Lies never protect people the way we think they will, and his frequent explosions, his attempts to protect the ones he love from the threat he sees himself to be, cause almost as much harm as what he’s trying to protect them from, and he doesn’t handle the stress of that at all well. Give him a seraph blade and a physical demon before him, it’s a battle he can understand, but this welter of emotions and manipulations and the incredibly complicated relationships that arise from that leave him mentally and physically bombarded. Those relationships are beautifully, painfully drawn, especially when it comes to Valentine. Luke very astutely notes that Jace is only ever really himself- the question of his family ties are central to the story and the series, and yet, it doesn’t really matter what his last name is. He’s only ever Jace. The only person who actually defines him in any way is Clary, and he is terrified of that. As much pain as his ties to Valentine cause him, though, there’s something very real to that bond; as twisted as he is, Valentine genuinly loves Jace. The proof of that? Not going to say it, but it made me massively choke up.
I love that we get to see more of Alec here. In the previous two books, almost all we’ve seen of him is sullen and scared and angry. We’re still slowly seeing more of him, but it’s a start. He still tries too hard to be the adult. Eighteen is such a weird age, trembling between two extremes, and we place so much weight on it as a society that we forget that eighteen doesn’t actually feel any different from seventeen. By the standards of the Shadowhunters, Alec is an adult, but he’s most often around those who are younger and given that Jace is so charismatic, he isn’t the one in charge. He’s still an ass, but it comes from being stiff and taking himself too seriously. That’s fixable, if he’ll unbend enough to be honest. He fixates on having “lost” someone he never had a chance of actually having, but when he finally loses something real- something heart-breaking- he finds the strength to take a step forward, to finally have the courage to decide who he is and what he wants. And what a step!
Another person taking hard steps is Simon, which I really love to see. He’s a vampire now, but because Jace gave him his blood to save his (Simon’s) life, Simon now has abilities that are almost lost to legend: he can walk in sunlight. It’s not unheard of, but it’s exceedingly rare across very long spans of time, and it makes him an object of intense scrutiny. He hasn’t been a vampire for very long, so there is SO much he doesn’t know. Raphael has a very valid point: Simon acts like he’s still alive, like being a vampire only changes his diet instead of his entire life, and he hasn’t thought beyond the next few weeks. Other than a few self-pitying moments, he hasn’t thought about what it really means to be sixteen forever, to see the people he loves grow old and die (well, most of them are Shadowhunters, so maybe just the die part), but being in the cells of Alicante forces him to take some perspective. Taking the action he does before Brocelind plan…it breaks my heart, but it’s amazingly brave. It’s genius, and it’s tragic, and knowing that it has to continue to play out, that it can’t be something as simple as a shield, just takes my breath away. And the thing with the cat? Priceless.
There are so many little character things to love. I love that we get to see Luke lose his temper in a genuine way, not a “I need to protect them by pretending not to be connected to them” kind of way. It helps him transition from the role of Uncle Luke to the father figure Clary sees in him, that she needs for him to be. Finally getting to meet Jocelyn- not the overprotective mother on the losing end of an argument with a sulky teenager but the Jocelyn that grew up in Idris and risked everything- is amazing. Her story is amazing, but what we really take from that is the recognition within Clary: the traits that Jocelyn’s story gives us simply define the strengths Clary has already had to find on her own. I actually love Raphael, he is such an interesting character. Valentine’s behavior is consistently creepy in that he genuinely believes in his own cause and methods- “He left us naked before the hosts of hell but for these lines painted on our skin”- but you can see what everyone saw in him when they were younger. You can see the charisma, the magnetism, that attracted the Circle to form around him. Max… And Simon’s cell mate, his absolute despair over something as cold and uncertain as truth is gorgeous, especially as it rolls out later. (Trying not to give away too many spoilers, guys, but my email is on my contact page, feel free to send me a message if you want to hear the details of just how much I loved those reveals). Clare is a master of dropping hints, things that barely give us pause when we come across them but turn out to be so incredibly important when we realize what’s just smacked us upside the head. I love the bromance that’s slowly building between Jace and Simon as they reluctantly find ways to respect each other. It isn’t just about Clary, it’s that they’re genuinely building a friendship that gives some spectacularly funny moments.
Of course, it’s never as easy as just a story, or just characters. What we find in these pages resonates within our own lives to such an extent that we’re made breathless by it. New as she is to their world, there are things that are easier for Clary to see, corruptions that are easier for her to accept, because she hasn’t been raised with the steadfast belief in the Clave. No matter how much we rebel, no matter how much we take matters into our own hands and believe ourselves invincible, we want to believe in our authority figures, want them to be right and for the world to make sense. To find out otherwise, especially when you’re as young as many of these characters are, is terrifying. The nature of appearances, the nature of truth versus story, they’re things we deal with all the time, however much we want to bury our heads in the sand. It’s what Jace learns, the way he deals with these things, that hit us the hardest though, because we want an excuse for the uglier parts of ourselves. We all have the ugly parts. Some of us have more than others. The idea that we could pin the blame on something else, some external force that means we don’t have to accept the responsibility for it…it’s tempting. And it’s too easy. It can never be as easy as that, no matter how badly we want it to be. For better or worse, we are what we are, without regard to where we came from or how we were raised. None of that is a choice- the choice is where we go from here, what we do with the things we’ve learned. It isn’t easy. It isn’t meant to be, because it can’t be.
I don’t know if it’s just an oversight or if there’s an actual reason for it, but I was startled by the apparent discrepancy of gender issues with the angels. Ithuriel is described as neuter: it. Its wings, its blood, its face, etc. Raziel is a he. Like I said, I don’t know if there’s a reason for it, but it caught my attention and I’m curious. (A curious Dot is like a curious cat- never a good thing).
Absolute favorite line of the book, possibly of the series thus far: “It’s like a cotillion, this partners business, but with killing”. IZZY, I LOVE YOU.
Until next time~