City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls, and City of Heavenly Fire

“Heroes aren’t always the ones who win,” she said. “They’re the ones who lose, sometimes. But they keep fighting, they keep coming back. They don’t give up. That’s what makes them heroes.”

Cassandra Clare, City of Heavenly Fire

The second half of The Mortal Instruments series follows Clary and Jace in the aftermath of Valentine’s death and Jace’s resurrection. This second half deals with the consequences of their actions and keeping them secret, while trying to demonstrate the other characters settling back into a sense of normalcy after months of being on the run. Simon attempts to go home and tell his mother about his new lifestyle, much to her despair. He also attempts to juggle relationships with Maia and Isabelle until Maia’s ex-boyfriend, Jordan arrives back on the scene. Alec struggles with the idea that Magnus is immortal and all the history that comes with it. Isabelle tries to cope with her grief as well deal with her blossoming feelings for Simon. In happy news, Jocelyn and Luke plan their wedding as Jocelyn grieves for the loss of Sebastian. Despite Sebastian’s death, Jace and Clary can’t help feeling that something dark is looming and that something dark is nothing other than Sebastian and his mother, the demon Lilith herself. 

The first time that I read these three books, I was woefully disappointed. I felt like I was re-reading the same passages over and over again while Clare passed them off as new stories. But, in this second reading, I learned that these books actually do maintain the same quality as the original trilogy. They do so for a few reasons. 

The first reason is that Clare establishes that Sebastian is not easily killed. Despite being careful to check that Sebastian’s body is unmoving at the bottom of the cliff, there is a sense of foreboding when the Shadowhunters go back and find that his body is missing. There is also the matter of where Sebastian gets the demon blood and the loyalty that the donor would feel to the donee. Sebastian is also shown to be closer to evil than Valentine. Valentine had fallen prey to the sin of hubris but he still had a moral compass. Sebastian is depicted as succumbing to his demon blood. He isn’t quite the kind of man that would keep his word. The one redeeming quality that Clare gives Sebastian is his love (which I use very loosely) for Clary and Jace. It’s a glimmer of the humanity that must linger under the demon blood; Sebastian desires company, he doesn’t want to be alone. This makes him a formidable foe. He knows how to push people’s buttons and manipulate them into doing his bidding. We also see that he is considerably more powerful than his father and unlike his father, who openly hates Downworlders, Sebastian uses Downworlders to do his bidding (he hides his distaste for them well). The final thing that I want to say about Sebastian as a villain is that Clare does a fantastic job of distinguishing Sebastian and Jonathan. Jonathan is Jocelyn’s son who died; Sebastian is the monster that Valentine made him. 

The second reason is that these stories deviate from the idea that this is the Clary and Jace story. Clary and Jace remain the heroes of the story, there is no question about that, but Clare spends time developing the reader’s relationship with Isabelle, Alec, Magnus, Maia, Simon, and Jordan. The readers come to know the quirks behind each of these characters and this, when coupled with the events that take place in City of Heavenly Fire, evoke emotion in the readers. Sometimes it seems like Clare’s books are extremely long for no reason, but I also found that I appreciate her dedication to her characters and their storylines. I also love that Jace and Clary aren’t the only characters whose love story the readers get to root for. Clare also does a wonderful job developing the concept of friendship and familial love. She is the queen of writing about families and weaving the theme that DNA does not always equate to love. 

The final reason is that the Shadow world is so rooted in mythology that it’s hard not to appreciate the research that must’ve gone into writing these books. The book is filled with Bible references, old fairy tales, poetry and countless other literary references that actually help move the story along. I can’t stress that last part. There are so many times where the references don’t further the story. Here, Clare has openly admitted that much of her inspiration for the Shadowhunters came from the Nephilim in the Bible and she uses the Bible to weave her story. I think, especially with her target audience, this is such a wonderful way to open the world of literature for her readers. Clare not only wants her readers to enjoy the fantastical elements of her novels, but she wants them to learn about the worlds that exist in other literary canons. 

Initially, I harbored the idea that these three books were the worst in the Shadowhunter Chronicles. After re-reading them carefully, I learned that they hold Clare’s incredible standard of writing. Her beautiful prose draws the reader in until they are so swept up in the Shadow world that the real world has an extra magical quality to it. Not only does she entertain, but she teaches as well. Her characters feel like real humans and there is a generational consistency that I find entertaining. The final thing that I have to say about these books is that Clare rewards her longtime readers with Easter eggs that are delicately interwoven yet also completely obvious. Cassandra Clare is the queen of fantasy and these books serve as evidence to support that title. 

Rating: 8/10

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