Top Ten of 2011 + Giveaway

December 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm (Giveaway) (, , , , , )

I’ve read a loooooooot of books this year. Some were re-reads, a healthy amount were non-YA/MG, but I still had a lot of books left on my list when the narrowing was done. So, thought I’d share with you some of my favorite discoveries of this year.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. You’ve heard me gush about this a LOT in the past few months but I still can’t get over how much I love this book. It’s gorgeous in every way- in story, in character, in scope…especially in language. This is a book that makes you fall in love with words all over again, a book that makes you close your eyes to savor the image painted across the back of your lids. It’s about the price of wishes, the importance of small things, about all the many, many types of love. This is a book that makes you want to tear through it, devour it whole, except you can’t- sometimes you just have to stop to absorb. This is a book that absolutely took my breath away.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. The Hunger Games changed the landscape of teen writing in much the same way the Twilight did, in creating a thirst for more within a specific genre. Where Divergent steps apart, though, is that isn’t merely a dystopian- it goes beyond its world to ask the more basic- and more important- question of who we are. Perhaps even more than that, it asks us who we choose to be. It’s a simple question but, as we learn through Tris, it’s a far from simple answer. It’s a brutal story, but in that brutality we’re forced to confront some painful truths, accept some painful facts. We- and Tris- are the better for it. This was one I read straight in one sitting, minus some necessary pauses where my managers expected me to actually work, and I can’t wait for the next one in May.

Entwined, by Heather Dixon. I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings and this is a fantastic example of why. This is a beautiful blend of the base fairy tale (in this case, the Twelve Dancing Princesses), a mildly fantasy version of our world, a historical setting, a story of manners, and a thread of superb voice that ties them all together. There’s never any question of what the foundation story is, it’s never buried beneath everything else, but it still makes the story its own. The characters are distinct and rounded, full of surprises while remaining consistent, and it’s a light frolic through an enchanting atmosphere. I actually re-read this one a couple of times through the year simply because it makes me feel better.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson. This book is squarely fantasy and yet it manages to feel historical. Its borrowed influences are so strong and so well built that we open the pages and feel transported to what could be Alhambra in Moorish Spain. The details are amazing. Things don’t just happen around us, we’re fully immersed in them. We don’t just watch the story happen; we hear it, smell it, taste it. Both the good and bad of the full sensory range. Elisa isn’t your typical heroine- she has a strong degree of self-loathing and an overwhelming conviction of her own uselessness in the face of a grand destiny imbedded in her navel. Yes, her navel. Elisa’s journey through a rich, vibrantly crafted world echoes through her internal journey for a story that’s riveting and enveloping.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver. This is a story that starts cold and painful and terribly alone and grows into something heart-warming and cozy and ineffably beautiful. It’s about losing things and sometimes finding them- and sometimes finding something better. This is a story that made me melt over and over and over while reading it and I can’t even put into words just how much I loved it. It’s a Middle Grade but it’s one that should be read by everyone, regardless of age. At its heart this is a story about belonging to a family, no matter how unusual, and that’s something everyone should have a part of.

The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. Yes, I’m cheating and saying a full series instead of a single book, but I just discovered the series this year and absolutely fell in love. I read the first four (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, and Clockwork Angel) straight in a row, had to wait about two weeks for City of Fallen Angels, and then promptly reread all of them to do reviews. Yes, that translates to reading all five of them twice in two and a half weeks. I’ve even read them again since. I am all about characters and I love how incredibly complex and well-rounded the inhabitants of the Shadowhunters’ world are. I also love that Clare is rather brutal to them- what she puts them through forces them to continue changing, pushes them against things they think they can never encompass, and then makes things even worse. It’s built off of amazing combinations of mythologies and no matter what, there’s always a thread of humor both bizarre and macabre (cannibal ducks, anyone?)

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. This was my first foray into the insanity that is Maureen Johnson’s everyday life, inspired largely by how crazy and entertaining she is on Twitter and partly from the fact that I went through a Jack the Ripper obsession in late middle school. I should have guessed, from the Twitter feed, that this was not a safe book to read in front of the computer- fortunately, I was able to clean all the soda from my keyboard and other than the N key being a little sticky, it’s still fully functional. Rory is hysterically earnest as a narrator but there’s a dark thread woven through the story that gives us both gravity and danger. There are times when this is edge-of-your-seat riveting. And there’s page 161. This was a fantastic entree into Johnsonland, a story that turns ghost stories on its ear with an inimitable style.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This is an exceptional example of how characters can be defined by their environs. Puck and Sean as they are couldn’t exist anywhere other than the Isle of Thisby. Everything in this book ties back into what it means to be part of the island. You don’t belong to the island simply because you grew up there- most who live there all their lives are never so much a part of it as Sean and Puck. Between them, they are the island and the ocean and the capaill uisce that straddle the bloody foam of the surf. Absolutely gorgeous.

Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. I adore Rick Riordan, not just because I love the stories but because he’s inspired millions and millions of kids to read. But the stories are amazing too. Son of Neptune continues the grand story of Percy Jackson but also allows it to keep expanding in a world that had a lot to offer. The Roman world, for all it’s borrowed from the Greeks, is very different in execution. We’re definitely not in Camp Half-Blood, with its cozy campfires and Capture the Flag. Then again, at Half-Blood you never see what happens after they’re old enough to leave camp. I love the differences, the way we sink into this larger world, and I love how we get such a mix of emotions through the story. Riordan isn’t afraid to allow hard things to happen to his characters and from that they grow.

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff. I have a love of broken things, especially broken things that rework themselves into something lovely while still retaining all their broken history. This book is a love song to broken things, lost things, things that careen about in a constant state of half-destruction. It’s a love song, yes, but it’s also a quest and an endless journey into self-discovery and maybe, in a very hard-won sort of way, to self-love. Or at least to loving someone who loves you in spite of all your brokenness. It’s framed by religion yet is never constrained by that. It’s a frame, but not a cage. It’s beautiful and sharp-edged, full of shattered glass and shattered dreams, and clings to that tenuous, dangerous promise of hope.

What are your favorites from this year? Share below and get entered for an ARC of Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi. I’ll draw the winner on the 25th as a special Christmas surprise. (not international, sorry- that kind of shipping is expensive)

Until next time~
Cheers!

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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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Book Review: Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

April 26, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Okay, I know what some of you are thinking: why on earth is this crazy girl switching in the middle of the series when there’s another City book out? There’s actually a fairly simple answer to this. The Infernal Devices, while technically a prequel to the The Mortal Instruments is actually designed to be interwoven through the second TMI trilogy, and the books build off of each other. This book was meant to be read between City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels, with the forthcoming Clockwork Prince meant to be read between City of Fallen Angels and next May’s City of Lost Souls; Clockwork Princess will follow, finishing out the ID trilogy, and then City of Heavenly Fire will close things out for TMI.

Have I confused you enough yet?

On with the show! (but keep in mind, reading it in the intended order means we get to appreciate some major spoilers from the first TMI trilogy, so if you’re leery, be careful of what you may see below)

Clockwork Angel takes us to 1878 London, a city that trembles on the edge of Progress; clockwork has become an art and steam has powered the way to faster travel, greater transport, and an entire world open to exploration and trade. Tucked away in the seamier areas of the city, however, the dangers of the Shadow World lurk to prey on unsuspecting mundanes, and the Shadowhunters of the London Institute and Enclave are there to uphold the Accords and the Law- when they aren’t squabbling like children past their bedtime. Into this gray, dismal world comes American Tessa Gray, bound for London to reunite with her brother Nathaniel after their aunt’s death. Met at the docks by a pair of intimidating sisters, she’s held captive so they can train her unique talent- the ability to Change completely into another person, living or dead- and hand her to the Magister. Her rescue is only the first adventure in a London ripe with intrigue, danger, a deadly threat, mysterious origins, and people who are rarely what they seem.

Steampunk, along with its steamless cousin of clockwork, is hugely popular right now, but Clare handles it with as much finesse and skill as the gritty streets of New York in TMI. Her London comes alive under grey skies and narrow streets packed with hawkers and vendors, where carriages are a fact of life, one dresses for dinner, and calling someone by their first name without permission Just Isn’t Done. It’s not just a different setting, it’s a different time period, with different expectations and manners and rules. We never question it though; even in the midst of familiar banter and teasing, we aren’t jarred out of the slightly formal language indicative of the time. Seeing a man’s shirt sleeves speaks to familiarity (and a certain level of rudeness) and there is something unbelievably erotic in the act of removing a glove. We’re taken deep into that world and kept there until, breathless, we read the final page and start swearing because we have to wait until December to find out what comes next.

The first character we meet is seventeen-year-old Shadowhunter William Herondale. Which, let’s admit it, made me snerk as soon as I saw the name. We immediately have a solid impression of Will: cocky, arrogant, likes to show off, intensely loyal and protective, and devil-may-care while hiding all sorts of dark and twisty pain and vulnerability. (Sound like another seventeen-year-old Herondale Shadowhunter we know?) It’s too easy to say he’s a copy of Jace, though, or that Jace is a copy of him, because there are so many differences between them. Will lies like he breathes, but the lies are always spoken with the intent of presenting the worse possible facade. He acts as though things touch him but lightly, but he isn’t necessarily a good actor- we see too many flashes of what lies beneath, of what’s missing, and then we have chance to find out that he’s only had five years to polish that act. Only five years, you say? That’s so long! But when you lie with every piece of you, when you’re a genuinely good person who feels the need to hide that at all costs, five years isn’t nearly long enough. He’s tortured and reckless, impulsive, forward, but he doesn’t trust. Finding people he can trust actually scares him, because if he trusts them he might confide in him, and he confides in them, if he shares the burden that keeps him from laughing even as he treats everything like it’s funny, he fears they’ll hate him for it.

Most people let him get away with it because they don’t realize how much lies beneath that carefully cultivated exterior, and the one person who does asks no questiosn about it. And then there’s Tessa. This is a terrifying new world, one whose beauties can be very hard to see under the circumstances, but she has a spine of steel and an unflinching view. She can accept the hard truths, however painful, and continue forward, bruised but brave into what the future may hold. A heroine who loves books as much as she does will always have a soft spot in my heart, but her tartness, her kindness, her curiosity, even her fears make me adore her. Her fasination with seeing herself in the mirror is born from fear, not vanity, and asks a very real question about how much of our identity is defined by the way we look. Her devotion and loyalty to her brother, even as she can clearly admit his faults, is beautiful. She’s perceptive and persistent and feels very deeply, but she doesn’t hesitate to be hard with those who can benefit from that. She has the kind of strength to survive a lot- knowing what I do of Clare’s writing thus far, I’m a little scared to think of what she may be called upon to survive.

Though we don’t see much of him at first, James Carstairs- Jem- is an amazing foil for Will, his parabatai. In that instance, of course, we think of Jace and Alec again, but in some ways, I think Jem and Will display that relationship with more truth, largely because Will reciprocates it more. Will is every bit as intent on protecting Jem as Jem is on protecting Will. On the surface, Jem seems the complete opposite of Will in every way, and not just in the extreme physical contrast. Jem is perpetually mild and light, able to let Will’s more provocative statements go without rising to the bait, but that very mildness conceals incredibly deep emotions. His story is tragic and seemingly without hope but he has a strength that most can only envy (and be infuriated by). His gentleness, despite the horrors he’s seen and survived, and what he continues to suffer, is a choice that clearly illuminates his character. He and Will are very good foils for each other because all those outward differences conceal the fact that, in essentials, these two boys are very much the same, which speaks to how certain things will develop in the future books.

The rest of the characters inhabiting the London Institute are varied and fascinating. Charlotte, tiny and bird-like, absolutely brilliant and desperately fond of all her charges, has to fight for her place as Head of the Institute as a woman very much in a man’s world, and the battery against that position is a physical wound that cannot heal, because it keeps happening. She’s genuinely compassionate, despite her own pain, but sometimes that compassion takes her a step too far. Henry, her husband and an absent-minded brilliant inventor whose inventions rarely come together exactly as he thinks they will (but are nonetheless fairly spectacular), is congenial and mild but there’s somehow something just a little sad about him. Not sad in the sense of pathetic, but sad as in something that lingers within him and makes him understand mechanics so much better than people. Clare has said that YA is not about twenty-something married people, and she’s right, but I very much want to learn more about their marriage, especially given the small things we’re told or witness. Jessamine is…well, Jessamine is a spoiled, entitled bitch, to put it bluntly, who wants nothing more to escape the Shadowhunter world as her parents did, and she doesn’t particularly care how she achieves that. She’s petty and cruel and self-centered, but her fierce desire for an ordinary life can’t help but make us empathize with her a little, especially on the rare occasions where she steps up into the world in which she’s been raised since being orphaned. We don’t get to learn too much about Thomas and Agatha, Sighted humans who work for the Institute, but we do we get to see quite a bit of Sophie, technically Jessamine’s maid, but in reality a sort of general employee. Her scars show more than most but she’s survived the events that caused them, and taken care that she’ll never again be in the position to receive more. She’s the only one without any designs on Tessa, and while she’s too conscious of the divisions between servant and friend, she’s the one person who just sees Tessa, not what she is or what she can do. The Lightwoods aren’t actually part of the Institute, much to their dismay, but…um…SNERK! I laughed SO hard every time we learned something new about the London Lightwoods, simply because there are so many parallels with the present day Lightwoods in TMI. Let’s just say Alec and Izzy inherit some of their traits quite honestly, and the running references to Gabriel’s sister are priceless.

Then, of course, there’s Nate. Nathaniel Gray is Tessa’s older brother and the reason she’s come to London following her aunt’s death, only to be told that he’s been imprisoned and will be killed if she doesn’t cooperate with the Dark Sisters. All of his sister’s energies are bent towards rescuing him, but we slowly piece together the fact that Tessa has been rescuing him for years. We do no favors by trying to conceal from people their own inherent flaws, something Tessa has to learn rather painfully, and his gambling and drinking have put them both in a very bad position time and time again in New York; now, in London, he’s pursued the same course, but there was no one to bail him out of it until the Dark Sisters got their hands on his sister. As much as Tessa loves him, she’s very up front about his shortcomings, which, we come to realize, is why she can be so upfront about/to Will. She’s had lots of practice.

Here are the reasons the book really needs to be read between CoG and CoFA: Camille and Magnus. The name Camille you’ll recognize from City of Bones, when Raphael admits the head of the vampire coven, Camille, is not in town at present. Is there a guarantee that this is the same Camille? Not at all, but there are very rarely coincidences in Clare’s world. Nefarious plots? Absolutely. Coincidences? Not so much. Camille is everything we have come to expect in vampires since Anne Rice got us all fired about them: she is gorgeous, cold, cruel, with an intellect as keen as a blade, and not particularly burdened by any sense of morals. When you have forever, certain things tend to get left by the wayside. She’s also completely ruthless, and perfectly willing to bend information- or at least the delivery of it- to her own advantage. She’s definitely someone to keep an eye one in future books, and not just the books of ID.

Two words: Magnus Bane. Oh my God Magnus! He’s peculiarly unchanged in the way immortal people almost have to be. He still dresses flamboyantly, still has a teasing turn that isn’t entirely cruel-even when sympathy seems like its own kind of cruelty and teasing- and still has an eye for beauty. When he said black hair and blue eyes was his favorite combination, I choked on my soda. He is still, in every way, Magnus, but he isn’t tired yet. Tessa notes that his eyes are full of joy, which isn’t something we see in TMI. There, he’s tired, he’s bored, and he’s hurt, but with a chance to reclaim that joy, tempered by even more experience. And, coincidence being what it is, I don’t think it is one that both he and Camille are in New York.

The details of this series are beautiful, whether they’re in reference to the clockwork mechanisms they come up against or the clothing that, as much as anything else, defines the setting. And, of course, those details can come to stunning importance. In this kind of prequel, especially, when we’re recognizing the blueprints of what came later: vampire motorcycles, Sensors, flashlights, etc, it’s genius. It isn’t just foreshadowing. Certainly they all add in to what gets revealed, but they don’t always build to quite what we think they will. Sometimes it’s just a specific image that repeats, and it’s gorgeous and haunting and usually a little sad, but they’re not the things that define the action. And oh, the action. This book has much more in the way of quiet moments, largely given the more intricate manners and formality of the setting, but the action sequences are breathtakingly written and keep us with one finger under the next page so we don’t lose any time fumbling to turn it.

Despite the many, many somber scenes and pains, there is so much humor in this book. A lot of it comes from the interactions of Will, Tessa, and Jem, of course. Will makes light of almost everything, but Jem- despite playing the straight man- definitely gets in his fair share of wit. The conversation about the ducks…once again choking on the soda, much to the dismay of my notebook. The recurring joke about demon pox is adorable, as is the continued half-amused resignation at Will’s antics (like biting a vampire. Again. At least Simon had the excuse of ignorance and rat instincts, though now I wonder if mundanes can be cured of darkling status by the holy water detox). The “morally deficient” exchange absolutely cracked me up, and there are so many smaller things scattered through, tiny observations that pass in an instant, that keep us from ever sinking too deep into the many pains the characters go through.

As a fair warning, some of you may want to stop reading here: below are some things that caught my attention and made me form my own theories or questions about how some things will play out in the next book. Right or wrong, I have no idea, but if you want to form your own opinions and theories, you might want to avoid mine. And, of course, to avoid spoilers, because theories inevitably give things away whether they turn out to be true or not.

Cecily. We hear the name several times, usually when Will thinks he’s alone and is in a great deal of pain or general misery. I think what we’re being led to believe is that Cecily is in fact Cecily Lightwood, daughter of Benedict Lightwood and sister of Gabriel, and the girl whose virtue Will has reputedly tarnished, and for whom Will might actually harbor a deep affection. Honestly? I doubt it. The name Cecily is tied to Will’s deepest pain, and he wouldn’t bring her up as a joke or as a barb. My theory: I think Cecily is Will’s little sister, someone he failed to protect, which is turn connected to why he showed up on the doorstep of the Institute clutching the Pyxis.

J.T.S. The initials are on a watch that Tessa is handed to give her the connection she needs to Change. Clearly, the initials are significant, but we’re left with no idea who they belong to. This theory is far-fetched, but having jumped into my head it just will not let go. I have no guess what the T stands for, for the other two stick in my mind as Jonathon Shadowhunter, the man who first summoned the angel Raziel and asked for the Nephilim to be created, the very first Shadowhunter. Shadowhunters are, of course, mortal, which would at first glance make it impossible for the watch to Jonathon Shadowhunter’s. He’d be long dead and dust by now after so many centuries or millenia. Except…wouldn’t it create a difference, to be the first? To actually commune with the Angel and ask for that gift for all of mankind? So, couldn’t it be possible that he is still alive? And that if the person who got hold of his watch actually knew him in some way, that could explain parts of that person’s knowledge. It’s a long shot, but it interests me.

Final one: Tessa. Her origins are a mystery, though we learn a little bit more about them. She should be a warlock, and she mostly is, but there has to be a reason why she has no warlock’s mark and why she has the ability to not only Change but also access the thoughts and voice of the people she becomes, in essence truly becoming them. My theory: I think her mother is the child of a Shadowhunter. Nephilim blood is dominant, but there are those who leave the Clave, and while the children are contacted every six years, it’s entirely possible that some could be kept secret or slip through the cracks, especially if the child doesn’t actually know. A warlock is the offspring of a demon and a human, but if that human actually has angel blood, that would change the type of warlock produced, and we’re told that Tessa’s mother didn’t even know what she was, and we already know that she wasn’t the demon. There’s a flaw to that, though: again, the Nephilim blood is dominant, so it would show in Nate, and he is thoroughly mundane. The mystery of Tessa’s origins will have to be addressed eventually, especially considering the clockwork angel and how integral Tessa’s talents are to the action, but I’m rather fond of this theory.

For teasers (and horrible teasing, from time to time), follow Cassandra Clare on Twitter: @cassieclare . She’s really good about interacting with her readers, and you learn all sorts of interesting tidbits, including sneak peeks at things yet to come.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare

April 22, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

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~
Cheers!

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Book Review: City of Ashes, by Cassandra Clare

April 18, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Note: This is the second book for the Mortal Instruments series- if you have not read the first one yet, there will be spoilers below

So, previously, in City of Bones: Clary Fray, having very recently discovered that she is a Shadowhunter (a race of part angel part humans bound to protect mankind from demonic invasion) and that everything her mother ever told her of family is a lie, has rescued her kidnapped mother at a high cost: her mother is still comatose, the father she thought was dead is actually alive and a Really Bad Guy, and the infuriatingly arrogant, vulnerable, hot boy whose kisses light her on fire…is her brother. For Clary Fray, life pretty much sucks right now, and it’s only going to get worse as the Clave tries to hunt down Valentine.

And again we’re thrust directly into the action. Long before the Shadowhunters know that Valentine is up to something, we readers know. We don’t know why, or what he’s going to accomplish with it, but within the first few pages we know he’s controlling demons, killing Downworlders, and Has A Plan. Bad Guys with Plans are always a little terrifying. It’s almost a teaser, being given this short view into what Valentine’s doing, but it’s not a false start- knowing that he’s a continued threat is what drives the true opening, by hurtling Jace into a place designed to make him hurt and react.

Perception is really at the core of this book, perhaps of the entire series. The way we perceive ourselves, the way we perceive others- and the way they perceive us. We see what we choose to see. It can blind us to the truth, it can make us grievously hurt the ones we love, because we can’t see the whole picture. The revelation of Jace as Valentine’s son causes even the people who know and love him, the people who call him family, to suddenly view him as Valentine’s arrow, a weapon and a trap rather than a young man who belongs with them, and in the name of protecting themselves, some truly terrible things are allowed to happen.

It’s interesting to me that through the entire book, everyone remarks on how much Clary looks like her mother and how much Jace acts like his father. Through that, each is seen as an equal extension of the parent in question, and also highlights how little we know of Jocelyn. We know that she and Clary look alike, and we hear a lot about her from the people who knew her way back when, but we don’t really know her to determine if she and Clary share a lot of the same active characteristics. Valentine, on the other hand, shares his attitude with everyone, and by clearly seeing that influence on Jace, how Jace’s personality has been shaped by that outlook, we get a much better understanding of Jace beyond the cocky exterior.

The relationship between Jace and Valentine is gorgeously drawn, taut and fraught with contradictions, an extremely delicate balance of devotion and abuse. The conflicts build immediately off of other conflicts, and nothing about it is easy. Nothing about it should be easy. However dark and twisty he may be, Valentine has a real affection for his son, a love that is returned, and there’s something a little unnatural about standing on the opposite side of the war from a family member. There’s a choice that has to be made between what you love and what you believe is right, and that choice is heartbreaking.

I am so glad we get to see more of Magnus. He’s as perverse and enigmatic as a cat, but if you look beyond the glitter and the flamboyant clothing and the apparent lack of concern for anything beyond himself, there’s a lot of wisdom to be found. IF you pay attention. He gives these pearls in the quiet moments, the tense heartbeat right before someone hurtles his/herself into action, the moments that are easy to overlook. He understands people very well (well, he should, given how much experience he’s had with them), and as old as he is, as much as he’s seen, it must be tempting to disconnect, to pull away from the mortal world to prevent forming attachments that can only hurt as the other person grows old and dies and he doesn’t. And yet, he keeps doing it, which speaks a lot to what’s going on under all the glitter. He’s remarkably patient with Alec’s fears and hesitations, even when he’s clearly hurt by it, because he knows the value of love, knows that it’s worth waiting for through the bumps and obstacles along the way. I don’t know that he’s my favorite character, but he’s certainly one of the most fascinating.

The fight scenes are unbelievably well written, with that barely contained frenzy of too much going on all at once all around you, but we’re still able to focus. It’s smooth and transitions well, but keeps our pulses pounding. The rhthym flows well through the natural lulls where characters can swiftly exchange necessary information and check on each other back into the stabby-stabby. This mirrors the skill with which the perspective shifts are done. It’s an easy trap, I think, to get bogged down in those shifts, to give in to the temptation to use another character to rehash what we’ve just seen, but Clare always keeps the action moving forward. We see a great deal more of what’s going on, especially when there are multiple catastrophes happening around the city, but it never feels like cheating. Those switches, sitting behind someone else’s eyes for bit, also gives us so much more about the characters. Each character interprets the others in different ways, and that’s lovely to see.

I love that Clary doesn’t instantly have these amazing Shadowhunter skills. Does she have her moments of kick-ass? ABSOLUTELY. But she’s not suddenly as talented as- say- Isabelle. She has natural gifts, but there’s also the clear fact that she’s going to have to learn how to use them, that she’s going to have to train to have any aptitude beyond a certain amount of luck. By making her weak, it actually makes her stronger, because it makes her more real, gives her things she has to do and overcome. However much she questions it, Clary is really growing into herself- even as Jace is more and more doubting who and what he is. Their relationship doesn’t alter just from finding out that they’re brother and sister- though it has to- but because the footing is changing. In the first book, Clary was someone who very much needed to be protected, because there was a high chance she’d trip over a shoelace and fall on a sword. Jace cast himself as her protector, a clearly defined role. But here, things are changing. Clary still needs protection but she can also help protect others, and Jace isn’t sure he has that ability anymore.

Of course, we can’t really talk about this book without talking about Simon. In many ways, he’s still very much Clary’s (and by extension, the Shadowhunters’) kicked puppy. He tags along, gets hurt, goes away, and always comes back. Love and loyalty, yes, but there’s also a part of him that doesn’t know any place else to be than by Clary’s side. We see flashes of potential in him, a way for him to grow, but he’s not there yet. Right now he’s not even the sidekick, he’s the tagalong (no, not the Girl Scout Cookie). (Yum, Girl Scout cookies…) What happens to him is going to force him to grow, force him to make some hard decisions, especially knowing that he is pretty much always going to be as he is. And- however much Clary might grow and learn and change, she’s still going to be pretty much as she is now as well. He makes a start of looking at some hard truths- I’m looking forward to seeing him have to face the rest of those truths in future books.

There is so much I love about this book, especially little things. I love the almost slapstick mania in the Seelie Court; it’s funny as anything and then suddenly we get this knife-sharp pain, and the contrast is just lovely. I actually really love the Inquisitor. She’s clearly unhinged but the more we learn about her, the more we understand her, the more we actually feel sorry for her. She does terrible, thoughtless things and blurs the line between hard law and personal vendetta until it’s all but meaningless and yet…we still have sympathy for her, which is just astounding writing on Clare’s part. Valentine, too, exhibits this trait- he has a talent for spinning things in such a way that we actually want to believe him. He just sounds so reasonable. We don’t forget that he’s murdering children or summoning demons or intends to do all these horrible things in the name of creating his little happy place kind of world, but he actually makes it sound logical, like it’s genuinely the best overall way.

Middle books of trilogies (as this was originally intended to be) often fall prey to being placeholders. They exist to bridge the first and third books but that’s about it. This one doesn’t fall prey to anything. It constantly stokes the action- and the stakes- higher and higher. Clare still isn’t scared to wound her characters horribly, isn’t afraid to shove them into the dark places and let them struggle to find a way out- or to see if other’s will climb in there to rescue them. There’s a kind of breathless excitement about what’s going on that makes it hard to put down, and you never pull away to think “okay, this is the middle book”. You just want to KEEP GOING. I absolutely loved this book, loved the pain and anguish and oh-so-fragile hope that we get to see, and can’t wait for more.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare

April 14, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Clary Fray goes to Pandemonium expecting to dance and have fun with her best friend Simon, not see three teenagers kill a boy they claim is a demon. It opens her eyes to a whole other world intertwined with hers, one full of demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves, faeries- and the part human, part angel race called the Nephilim, or Shadowhunters, who secretly protect mankind from demonic danger. When her home is attacked by demons and her mother kidnapped, she’ll have to trust the Shadowhunters to help her, but along the way, she’ll learn that everything she thought she knew- the person she thought she was- is just story. She’ll have to face danger head on and risk everything- even her heart- to learn the truth and save the people she loves.

From the very beginning, we’re thrust right into the action, and that pace never lets up. Even when we step away from the more immediate action, we’re still caught up in the personal struggles that, as much as the actual sequence of events, define this book (and the series as a whole). We’re never dropped into a lull, because even the quieter moments are deceptive, so charged and important that you really can’t call it a break from the action.

The world is a captivating one, ours but with so many hidden layers woven through it. It has a lot of beauty to it- beautiful people, beautiful things- but we also learn very quickly that the things that are most beautiful are also the most dangerous. There’s a barely restrained savagery, a violence just waiting to burst forth at any sign of a struggle. There are some who know to hold it back until there’s a proven reason for it, but there are far more who look for an excuse to unleash it, perhaps even provoke it, either out of arrogance of simple thrill-seeking. We’re so captivated by the beauties, lured to complacence by a simple physical fascination, that we’re often blindsided by the behaviors we should have known to expect. We’re caught by it, again and again, the traps laid so well that even when the violence surprises us, it’s still an inherent part of the world. It’s never out of place, even when we perhaps want it to be.

The setting of a book is always important, but this is one of those rare stories where the setting isn’t just where everything takes place; it’s a character in and of itself. The New York of this book is vibrant and seedy and so incredibly real, from the bright and glittery clubs to the rundown, faded glories of the past. The corner diners and giggling girls on the subway are every bit as important as Clary’s home, as the Institute, and it’s not just about atmosphere. This story- this precise story- couldn’t take place anywhere else. New York City, its strange mixture of shiny new structures of glass and metal and the crumbling edifices of previous centuries, the sheer weight of history and the stunning blend of all the differents kinds of people. In a way, that cross of cultures and time and even materials greatly signifies the position of the Shadowhunters.

As an organization, as a race of people, the Shadowhunters are an equally strange blend of cultures. They’re human, more or less, but their angelic origins lead them to look down on them greatly; when our trio of young Shadowhunters need to refer to Simon, they spend much of the book calling him “the mundane”. It’s partially arrogance and partially a feeling of genuine superiority. That they believe they’re better than the stupid, blind humans they protect is never a question; they never even stop to consider that there might be something to learn, or that there might be value in mundane culture. It’s partly an aspect of their training and isolation, but most pop culture references go straight over their heads- and they’re okay with that. They flicker through the mundane world, sometimes glamored to invisibility and sometimes not, but they have absolutely no desire to be a part of it. Their own traditions are firmly held and of long standing, and of course it’s the duty of the young to struggle against these and see how far they can push, but they have such a passion for even the thought of their home country of Idris (don’t look for it on a map- we mundanes don’t get to know of such a thing) that we can only marvel at the staunch sense of duty that keeps them scattered over the world to get rid of the demons and protect this world from the utter devestation that follows a true demon invasion.

The mythology of this world presents such an interesting balance of contradictions. There are angels and demons, vampires cannot say the name of God, and blessed weapons and holy water have a significant impact and yet…for most Shadowhunters, faith is more a type of history, a collection of myths that are actually truths. It’s not belief, it’s carefully pared down fact that separates itself entirely from the question of religion. When pushed about it, Jace gives Clary an answer that, while certainly colored by his own history, still seems indicative of the Shadowhunters as a whole: whatever may or may not be out there, the Shadowhunters are the only ones offering any protection. It’s not something that allows for much meditation on the nature of existence or faith, and because demons in some form appear in pretty much every major religion and a whole host of minor ones, there isn’t an easy answer, or even an easy way to approach the discussion. It’s a kind of absolutism, a dual knife of duty and arrogance that colors their entire outlook.

The characters are gorgeously, intricately drawn. Sometimes we see them most clearly within their relationships, but they’re so defined by that as well that it only illuminates, rather than substitutes. Perception is such a key piece here. Not just the way the people perceive themselves or the things/events around them, but also the way they’re perceived by others. There isn’t a single circumstance that can’t be taken in multiple ways, a breeding ground for moral grey areas that beautifully color everything that’s going on. As Hodge notes, the moral absolutism of the young is truly staggering, and too easy. Sometimes growing up means facing those knife-sharp layers of meaning, means accepting that the truth may not be so easily named or understood. Truth, as we generally understand it, may not even exist, lost within too many sides to the stories and hidden under the continuing manipulations.

Where we see the characters best, I think, is in contrast to each other. There are certain innate pairings- I don’t necessarily mean romantic, but simply foils- that bring out the most complicated picture, the deeper aspects that really make them stay with us.

Alec and Isabelle, as siblings and as friends of Jace, both have a number of similiarites, but the way they manifest or use these aspects is completely different. They’re both very physically attractive but Isabelle flaunts it. In everything she does, she has the expectation of being watched, and she acts up to that. Her personality is out there, right in your face and utterly unapologetic about the fact that she’s essentially, innately, a bitch. She’s proud of it. She’s kick ass, take no prisoners, not going to back down for anything. She’s snippy, but because she releases all those small digs, her overall temper is actually fairly even. Alec hides his attractiveness, with uneven haircuts and unflattering clothes, with a surly attitude that keeps him in the background. He doesn’t put himself forward; he stays to guard their backs, he’s careful. He’s also extremely intense, like a too-tightly coiled spring. When he explodes, he inflicts damage, not just on those around him but on himself as well. Where Isabelle is utterly confident, Alec tries too hard to appear that way, and rarely succeeds even when he tries to use his greater age as a way to appear superior.

Luke and Hodge form another such pairing. In some ways, they seem very similar: fairly mild-mannered, bookish men who turn out to have a great deal more to them. As children, as students, they were likely VERY similar. It’s the choices they’ve made as adults that have formed them into very different men, but the ways we can trace those choices, those circumstances and events, into each aspect of their characters…They both have a cautious respect for what they’re up against (or even up with). That respect is based out of intelligence- when you KNOW the threat, you acknowledge it. What sets them apart is the question of fear, of how they respond to their history, to what’s going on. In some ways, Hodge is still a child; Luke is a man who’s grown up in a very difficult way. They both bear the scars of their affections, but one has become crippled by them and the other uses them as impetus.

Of course, there can be no discussion of this book without talking about Clary and Jace. Both individually and as a reflective pair, they are strong, fascinating characters with spiderweb cracks of vulnerability. They both fiercely protect the things and people that they love, both need to, and they’re both a little oblivious when it comes to other people. They notice things when it affects other people, but not when it’s actually about them. A large part of that is coming to these new circumstances as outsiders- Clary will notice very different things about Alec and Isabelle than Jace will because he knows them too well, just as Jace will notice very different things about Simon. Clary has been raised with love, Jace to distrust it, but neither of them realizes how much strength can be found in it. Jace is used to being wounded, and there’s a very large part of him that expects to be if he doesn’t keep people at a distance and make a cocky, sarcastic, utterly self-impressed facade, he will get injured again/further. Clary’s never been punished for her feelings, so she has the luxury of being honest about them. She can react without having to stuff them within a mask first- with means there’s an impulse that blends, from different motivations, with Jace’s addiction to excitement. The fire between them, equal parts attraction, irritation, confusion, and protectiveness, captures us immediately.

And can I just say I love Clary’s last name? A fray is an older word for a struggle, usually disorderly and sprawling, a skirmish or episode within a larger fight. This very much defines Clary’s position within the story; she isn’t just the focal point, she is at times the impetus, the piece that causes things to happen.

Small details like that, along with a masterful use of foreshadowing in even the smallest ways, make this amazing to reread. As readers, we don’t tend to notice things like that the first time through. We register them subconsciously so that when we get to the all-important reveals, there’s a part of us that starts adding up all those hints and clues and wonders how we didn’t guess it sooner. Going back through and really noting those things though…it’s amazing writing. It brings together not just the pieces of this book but also the other books. The descriptions verge on sheer poetry sometimes, the images so strong and clear that it gives characters, settings, and events that sharper edge, that extra piece to being so real in our minds. These descriptions can sometimes be overused, and sometimes the contrasts- while amazing in their own right- can jar us from the narration to consider that contrast.

What I love most about this book is Clare’s brand of fearlessness. She doesn’t hesitate to put her characters into horrible, painful situations that they have to struggle through. Just as the Shadowhunters scar themselves with the Marks that aid their tasks, the scars abound from physical, mental, and emotional wounds. Characters are at their most interesting when they have the most to lose. They prove, over and over, that we hurt the ones we love, even more so we hurt the ones who love us, and yet, because of that love, we’ll do it again and again. It’s horrendous. It’s wonderful. And it so incredibly human. Clare isn’t afraid to explore the dark places, the places that can never do anything but wound, the places that breed some of the most beautiful things we could ever hope to see. As readers, that can occasionally be traumatizing, but it’s captivating too. We want to be hurt that way- because it means we can’t wait for the next installment. We have to know, because we want things to work out. It doesn’t have to be a Disney ending- you don’t go through what these people do without sacrifices and scars- but we want to believe that they’ll have something real to cling to that’s worth everything they have to survive.

This book is dark, but it’s gorgeous, and for most of us, we spend the entire book half-breathless with our fingers already under the next page so we don’t have to fumble when it’s time to turn it. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, the first book of The Mortal Instruments.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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