City of Ashes, by Cassandra Clare
7.5/10, a worthy and exciting sequel to “City of Bones“
SPOILERS for “City of Bones” contained herein…
In “City of Bones,” Clary, a teenaged girl growing up in New York, spots what appears to be a brutal murder in the back room of a dance club. The three teenagers involved are surprised that she’s seen them, and lead her into a world of demons and angels, werewolves and vampires. More shocking than that is the realization that she herself is a part of this world, more intimately than she knows.
“City of Ashes” picks up right where “Bones” left off, with Clary’s mother in a coma and herself torn between feeling not romantic enough about her best friend Simon, and too romantic about her newly-revealed brother, the Shadowhunter (demon slayer) Jace. Meanwhile, her–and Jace’s–father, Valentine, has stolen one of the Mortal Instruments that will allow him to overturn the rule of the Shadowhunters, and has designs on a second one.
Clary, Jace, and Simon get tossed right into the action, fighting not only Valentine, but also demons, werewolves, vampires, the faerie court, and other Shadowhunters. “Ashes” does what every good fantasy sequel should: keeps the story racing along while expanding the world. We get to meet Valentine for the first time, see the world of the Downworlders (werewolves and vampires) more in depth, meet more Shadowhunters, and witness an existential argument between a werewolf and a vampire over who is more human. Clare’s prose carries the story well, building rich, vivid descriptions and terrifically bright characters.
The characters are one of the strongest points of “Ashes.” Clary is a pretty typical teen, as is Simon, and the secondary characters in their world have the distinctive palette of a good supporting cast. Especially entertaining are the gay warlock Magnus Bane and the Queen of the Seelie Court. The weakest point is Jace, who is flip and sarcastic almost to the point of being a caricature, even when his life is threatened, his father confronts him, and he’s trying to reconcile his love for his sister. But his sarcasm is at least amusing, and it really balances Clary’s serious nature. To be honest, I have a bias against all-powerful pretty-boys (see Aiken Drum from the Saga of Pliocene Exile), so that might be coloring my perception. Certainly I’m not the primary audience for the book.
The book is a fast, fun read, and if the plot occasionally hinges on a character’s stubborn refusal to listen to advice, it never stretches believability to do so. By the end of it, as is appropriate for the middle book of a fantasy trilogy, things look pretty dire, both for the characters’ personal lives and for the world at large. If you like urban fantasy, this is one of the best examples of the genre–the major strike against it being that you’ll have to wait a year or two for the third book.