Book Review: City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare

April 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Note: This book is part of a series, following City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, and Clockwork Angel. If you have not read these books, there will be spoilers below.

In the first half of the Mortal Instruments series, Clary Fray learned she was actually a Shadowhunter, a race of part-human, part-angel demon hunters who more or less police the unnoticed aspects of our world: werewolves, vampires, warlocks, fae, and demons. Her mother was kidnapped and fell into a coma, her father- who she thought was dead- turns out to be a Really Bad Guy, her best friend has been turned into a vampire and can now walk in sunlight, and she’s fallen in love- with someone who for a time turns out to be her brother, and then turns out not to be because her real brother is a half-demon Really Bad Guy raised by their father. Who also raised Jace, the boy she’s in love with. (In other words: issues). However, Valentine and Sebastian have both been killed, the war has been ended, and Jace and Clary can actually be together. City of Fallen Angels picks up two months afterwards.

The Mortal Instruments was originally meant to be a trilogy, leaving us with the bad guys dead and a tentative, hopeful Clary and Jace who clearly would have some issues to work out, but they’d get there. Then came the news that there would be more. In some ways, however, this can really function as the start of a new trilogy with the same characters. It builds off of what came before but the two months divide and the nature of this new over-arc really make it its own thing, rather than just a continuation. This also builds a great deal off of the things we learn and the characters we meet in Clockwork Angel. Can you get by without having read CA before this one? Yes, but trust me, you want to read it first. The payoff is wonderful.

This book lets us see a lot more of Simon. We spend quite a bit of time living in his perspective and I love it. He’s not a slightly goofy tagalong any more, he’s real with a lot of issues to work through and he’s finally defining himself outside of Clary. He’s still her best friend, but he’s not limited by that anymore. We see the very real strain of trying to lie to his family about his vampiric status even as he’s trying to adjust to it- and not really succeeding. His ability to tolerate sunlight means that he can mostly fake a normal life for a while, but he hasn’t thought about what that means in the long term. He is always going to be sixteen. The people he loves, the friends he has, he’s going to watch them grow old and die and he is going to stay, physically, exactly the same. He doesn’t take care of himself the way he needs to because he’s still a bit grossed out by it all, which means he’s straining his control. However much Simon may personally dislike Raphael, Raphael has some very good points, but Simon isn’t ready to listen yet. Still, there’s a part of him (Simon) that’s slowly starting to see the virtue of endlessly wandering.

And oooooh, that Mark of Cain at work. I knew it was going to have to come up again in a pretty major way and was not at all disappointed.

The relationship building between Simon and Jace is amazing. We saw hints of it at the end of City of Glass but we actually see it evolving into a friendship- a little twisted and full of barbs, but a genuine friendship nonetheless. It doesn’t matter that it’s still based off of Clary, because it’s something that’s between them. Helping each other, looking out for each other, is a way of looking out for Clary, because both understands how much the other means to her. And, of course, the mango. Oh, the mango.

It was the sympathy between Simon and Magnus that surprised me, but it was a lovely surprise. We live, we love, but it gets a little more difficult if we keep living and living and living and those we love don’t. Simon’s only starting to understand what that will mean for him. Magnus has had a long time to understand this, to accept this, and I think this a large part of the reason the joy that Tessa saw in him is gone. (On a side note: loved the reference to Tessa as one of the constants in Magnus’ life, but a little saddened by it too, as it means she’s still alive when all those from the London Institute of her story are dust and shadows.) Well, the joy isn’t completely gone, but it’s tempered by weariness and experience, and the bumps in the road with Alec make that worse.

Alec and Magnus finally have a relationship out in the open, one Alec’s parents actually seem to be okay with though they clearly don’t take it seriously, and so far it’s been this glorious honeymoon period of world travel and postcards of “Wish you were except not really”. All honeymoon periods end, but their’s hits rather abruptly when they’re called back to the Institute. Suddenly Alec has to remember- or at least realize- what it means that Magnus is 700 years old. He has to realize that Magnus has loved a lot of people and he has had to watch them die, again and again and again. The jealousy, the anger, is understandble, and given that this is Alec, it translates very easily into petulance. When you’re eighteen and in love and suddenly hit that kind of wall, you can’t really take a moment to put yourself in the other person’s position, but how amazing that Magnus has the kind of courage and strength to love again and again even though he always loses the ones he loves. It isn’t going to be easy for them, but I have hope- perhaps foolishly, but sometimes hope is a divine foolishness, isn’t it?

I love Izzy. Every book I love her more and more, and we actually get to go a little deeper past the kick-ass Amazon with an inherited penchant for inappropriate footwear. She actually makes a great deal of sense if you look at her as a product of her parents, especially given the things we learn about her parents. For the first time in her life, she’s actually making female friends, not just looking at them as rivals for one thing or another- although, given that this is the case, should she be just as awkward about girl talk as Clary? She’s always shown a lot of strength but now we get to see some of her vulnerabilities as well, the kind caused not by trauma (such as the death of her little brother in CoG) but the kind that always exist.

We get to meet a new character in this one, and he can be a little hard to talk about it one wants to avoid spoilers, but may I say he’s pretty frickin’ awesome? Having done horrible things, he fully intends to spend the rest of his life working to prevent it in others, and doesn’t expect any forgiveness what he’s done. He has an amazing strength, even as he still has these gaping wounds that slowly fill with equal parts of hope and pain. Look very much forward to seeing more of him.

After quite a bit of discussion (arguments) with her mother, Clary has left school and started training full time at the Institute, though they haven’t actually hired an instructor yet. I actually love seeing the training, the fact that she has to work to master these skills she theoretically should have been learning for years, and that it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to her. Her pride when she actually manages a perfect back flip is adorable, especially given the circumstances. She has a lot of adjusting to do, particularly in her relationship with her mother. A lot of things have changed since the first chapters of City of Ashes, and their relationship has to change as well. Neither of them is particularly sure of their footing right now. It’s a point every parent-child set has to come to at some point, but with so much else going on, with so many other reasons for it, it’s a slow process.

Clary is finding the places she belongs, not just a question of blood but of talents. She’s starting to acquire the skills, but she’s also making the connections that lead from one thing to another. She’s slowly learning more about her unique talent with runes, and also learning when perhaps that shouldn’t be used. Just because someone can be done, it doesn’t follow that it should. I was so proud of her for calling for backup before she went investigating, but Clary! WHY DIDN’T YOU WAIT?! OKay, so maybe she still has a few more things to learn on top of all those other things.

Then, of course, there’s Jace, who gets battered more and more by each progressive book. Which, let’s be honest, is at least half the fun in reading them. He’s still trying to be the Jace everyone has always known, cocky and swaggering and unaffected by anything, but this boy has some serious issues and no idea whatsoever on how to handle them. The man he regarded as his father taught him, very thoroughly, that to love is to destroy, and Jace has learned that a little too well. He doesn’t intend to cause that much pain, and he genuinely does it out of ignorance as to how these things are supposed to work, but if he would just be sensible and TALK to someone- ANYONE- he’d have a much easier time of it. Not an easy time, but easier. Going through the remnants of the man who’s biologically his father brings up a whole host of turmoils over the man he thought he was his father, and he doesn’t know how to resolve that. He’s terrified of hurting Clary, but by trying to protect her, he hurts her in ways she has no defense against.

Of all the characters in the book who could sum up Jace and Clary, the one who does so the best is an interesting choice. That kind of love that can burn down the world or raise it up in glory. It’s very much true. The love between Jace and Clary is so overwhelming, touches so many other people, and they would do literally anything for each other, something that can have (and already has had) disastrous consequences.

Google anything about this book and you’ll see a lot of people ranting about the ending, but honestly, given everything that climbs towards that moment, I can’t envision any other way it could have ended. Frustrating? Yes, so be prepared to throw the book across the room when you get done with it. But it was, in a word, satisfying. It satisfies the need for a resolution of all the mysteries you have through the course of the book, satisfies the need to desperately want the next installment, satisfies the basic principle that Cassandra Clare isn’t afraid to do horrible, painful, amazing things to her characters to make them grow.

As always, there are so many little things to love. The running joke of Simon’s vampire mojo (or lack thereof) is adorable, and rather reminiscent of Will’s insistence upon the existence of demon pox in Clockwork Angel. The continued gag of the band’s name gets increasingly ridiculous but I love it. I love how Luke continues to develop; he very much represents the Downworlder idea that age doesn’t matter, because he stops treating Simon like a teenager after he (Simon) becomes a vampire. He treats him as a Downworlder, someone peculiarly ageless, because he’ll always look sixteen. So it’s rather fitting that it’s Simon who observes that for a man who’s never been married and never had children of his own, Luke has a whole horde of kids to look after. It really cements Luke’s image as a father figure, someone who can be relied upon and loved and be loved by, especially for a group of people that has so many collective daddy issues. Maureen is adorable- though, also, kind of creepy, given who she’s named after and what happens to her. Maia gets to stay in the picture and then some, and totally kicks ass. That a friendship starts between her and Isabelle cracks me up for so many reasons, but it also gives the Shadowhunters, specifically the younger Shadowhunters, even more ties to the Downworld, which is important. The more ties they have, the more the understand the Downworld, the less removed they make themselves, which helps foster genuine respect and understanding. Or at least has the potential to do so.

Absolute favorite thing of the book: Jace Lightwood. He doesn’t even hesitate anymore, he introduces himself as Jace Lightwood, everyone calls the Lightwoods his family, and it’s something he doesn’t have to question. That’s something he needs, especially given how chaotic everything else is around him. It doesn’t matter whether his name by birth is Wayland, Morgenstern, or Herondale: in every way that matters, he is a Lightwood.

Hope.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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3 Comments

  1. tristan bruce said,

    I just finished the book, this was a really great review! The book was a rollercoaster of emotion, especially at the end. I don’t know how many more times my heart can take breaking for Jace!!

  2. Andrea said,

    This review is really, really good.
    I also love the point, that Jace is a Lightwood now, that is something he nesds so badly now. It`s joy to read such a great review.

  3. Marie said,

    great review; touched on a lot of the book without giving any spoilers. i agree; the whole series is so full of emotion and angst, Clare really brings you into the world she has created and makes a connection to her characters. everyone can relate to at least one character in the book series. I’ve finished COFA a few months ago; i thought it was good on it’s own but it is definitively a great build up to a kick ass sequel.

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