Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Review: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

Title:  City of Fallen Angels
Author:  Cassandra Clare
Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry 
Genre: YA / urban fantasy
Hardcover: 424 pages
Summary from Goodreads: 
City of Fallen Angels takes place two months after the events of City of Glass. In it, a mysterious someone’s killing the Shadowhunters who used to be in Valentine’s Circle and displaying their bodies around New York City in a manner designed to provoke hostility between Downworlders and Shadowhunters, leaving tensions running high in the city and disrupting Clary’s plan to lead as normal a life as she can — training to be a Shadowhunter, and pursuing her relationship with Jace. As Jace and Clary delve into the issue of the murdered Shadowhunters, they discover a mystery that has deeply personal consequences for them — consequences that may strengthen their relationship, or rip it apart forever.

Meanwhile, internecine warfare among vampires is tearing the Downworld community apart, and only Simon — the Daylighter who everyone wants on their side — can decide the outcome; too bad he wants nothing to do with Downworld politics. Love, blood, betrayal and revenge: the stakes are higher than ever in City of Fallen Angels.

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Cassandra Clare's City of Fallen Angels has taken the Mortal Instruments series to a new level of amazingness!  It was incredibly fun to revisit all the MI characters we adore, and with the shifting perspectives we have the chance to get to know each of them much more intimately.  Also, as I've mentioned before, I freaking love Cassandra Clare's wicked awesome storytelling skills!  Perfect dialogue, a huge cast of compelling characters, vividly described settings, chemistry and tension that sizzles off the page, and a cleverly-plotted mystery that will keep readers guessing until the final pages.  Seriously, what is not to love?!  Obviously, I'm already lapsing into gushing fangirl mode, but that is exactly what Cassandra Clare's books bring out in me.  Before I move on to discussing the bits that I particularly enjoyed, I feel obligated to say that prior to reading City of Fallen Angels, I truly thought City of Glass was the perfect ending to the MI series.  That book blew me away with its excellence, and it immediately became my go-to example of how to end a series right.  So I'll admit to feeling a tiny bit nervous to read City of Fallen Angels.  But now that I have read it (twice), I cannot believe I was ever worried at all and I am beyond excited to read the next two books!

What I Liked:
-     The characters.  One thing I have always liked about this series, is that although the plot threads are sometimes so intricately woven that it feels like reading a really great mystery series or a deliciously intrigue-filled period novel (Remember those wicked storytelling skillz I mentioned?) her stories always feel character-driven.  In City of Fallen Angels, the alternating perspectives take that character-driven feeling to a whole new level by placing the reader right inside many of the main characters' heads, so we get to know each of the characters much more intimately.  At times, we are privy to Simon's thoughts, Jace's thoughts, Clary's thoughts, Alec's thoughts, and even Magnus's thoughts.  (Seriously, who hasn't wanted to get inside Magnus's head since the very first book?!)  In theory, I imagined the head-hopping might make the story feel a bit scattered or leave me missing Clary's POV, but in reality it made me love every single one of the characters even more.  Understanding their motivations a bit better, seeing their insecurities up close and personal, and feeling their sorrows and yearnings firsthand - you can't help caring about each of them.  The first three books familiarized us with the world of Shadowhunters, Demons, and Downworlders, and now the fourth book was able to spend more time subjectively showing us that world from a variety of perspectives.  Fun!
-     On a related note, the characters are all still in-character!  That may sound like a redundant comment, but I truly can't count the number of series books I've read in which at least one main character seems to have inexplicably had a lobotomy or a personality transplant between two of the books.  Occasionally, that is actually part of the story (Mockingjay), but often it just seems to be authorial prerogative or it's justified as being in service of the plot.  Thankfully, this series is still character-driven and every one of the characters was quite recognizably themselves.  When there were subtle changes, which is to be expected as people grow up and mature, they were commented upon and discussed among the other characters.  For instance, Clary feels like Alec is carrying himself more confidently and is more generous with others than he used to be.  Totally understandable when he has spent the last couple of months officially 'out' and in a happy relationship with Magnus.  That type of change is the kind of shift toward adulthood we see in this book.  And some of the things we learn in this book, help shine a new light on aspects of the characters' personalities in a 'Whoa! I did not see that coming!' way.  But it doesn't ever go against anything we already knew about them, so it is perfectly integrated into our previous understanding of the first three books.  Isabelle, in particular, shares something that took me completely by surprise, but it explains a lot about her personality.
-     If you loved Clary and Jace's relationship at the end of City of Glass, you may implode as their chemistry and the dramatic tension between them hits a new level of intensity in City of Fallen Angels.  I am going to attempt to keep this spoiler-free, but let's just say you probably need something nearby to fan yourself with as their chemistry leads them in to delicious uncharted territory, and you will probably also need to have something on hand to dry your tears when their interactions swing from passionate to heartbreaking (and back again).  Ah, the swoon-worthy sexiness.  Oh, the heartache and angst.  I loved every single moment of it!  In previous books, they shared some intense romantic moments and said some very sweet (and sometimes heartbreakingly sad) things to one another, but they stepped it way up in this installment.  Jace is beyond vulnerable in this book.  He is truly broken.  You all know what a sucker I can be for broken boys, right?  Prior to reading CoFA, I actually believed he had already been broken in nearly every sense of the word .... but wow was I proven wrong in a major way!  Like most people with a pulse (my husband, who likes Clary a lot & has always preferred Simon to Jace, will find that statement a bit of an exaggeration), I was in love with Jace before he and Clary even kissed by the midnight flowers and he tasted like green apples, then came the Seelie Court & the (shirtless) scene in his bedroom as he confronted Clary and suggested that they run away together, and of course the manor house and the letter and the night he told her he was tired of pretending that he wasn't in love with her and pleadingly said that he just wanted to fall asleep next to her and wake up next to her once in his life *swoon*, then they fell asleep holding hands like children in a fairytale. *I choke up every single time I read that beautiful scene, even now that I know what is coming*  Then there was Lake Lyn and the kiss they shared on the steps in Idris.  But his 'blasphemous' declaration about the sun and the stars in City of Fallen Angels ...  Wowza, Ladies and Gents!  If you somehow managed not to fall hopelessly in love with him in the prior books, I doubt you'll be so fortunate this time around.  Also, I'm fairly certain that loving Jace will doom you to at least two more years of relentless torture.  Sorry about that.  But I promise you, he is worth it.  ;)
-      Also, Clary rocks in this book.  So much so that I can't wait to see what she will do in City of Lost Souls.  She holds her own in a few fights (as well as a minimally-trained Shadowhunter can be expected to), and she draws a couple of very powerful runes.  I hope to see more of rune-drawing Clary in the next book.  She learns some very valuable lessons about runes this time around, but I am so excited for her to learn even more about them.  She also has at least one major hero moment.  Yay!  But the area that Clary really shines (which also just happens to be her Achilles heel), is that she is unfailingly determined and loyal in a way that is truly admirable.  She encourages Simon to solve his dating-two-girls-at-once problem before it blows up in his face, she knows when to be forceful with her mom and when to back off and give her mom and Luke a bit of space, she shares some really astute observations about Simon with Isabelle, and she stands up to Jace on numerous occasions when it was probably the toughest thing anyone could ask of her.  As their relationship becomes increasingly strained, she holds her own with impressive resolve and calls him on his mistakes.  She also doesn't shy away from doing whatever is necessary to seek help for Jace as soon as she realizes the seriousness of his situation, and she tells him the truth (which is exactly what he so desperately needs to hear and understand when he feels unworthy of her love).  I truly admired her belief in love, and I loved her determination to have faith in Jace (even when his sense of self-worth has crumbled to dust).  I also loved seeing her stand up for herself when Jace was making her miserable, and I especially enjoyed seeing her hold her ground and make him talk to her even as he was trying to punish himself by retreating from the people who care about him the most.  They are perfect for one another.
-      One of my favorite things about the MI series is the dialogue that crackles off the page in distinct and memorable voices.  Seriously, pick any page in any Cassandra Clare novel and read two or three lines of dialogue from it (ignoring the dialogue tags).  I bet you can tell with 99.9% accuracy who said what to whom because every single character in her ensemble casts has a distinct way of speaking.  The dialogue is more phenomenal than ever in City of Fallen Angels because of the shifting perspectives.  In fact, the shifting perspectives felt a bit like seeing behind the wizard's curtain because it quickly became apparent that the dialogue has  been so impressively fantastic all along because Ms. Clare really does know what each character is thinking and feeling motivated by at all times.  Wow!  Some lines made me laugh aloud while others made me ache with sadness.
-      I read aloud a lot, to my husband and to our two children.  It is not unusual for me to spend a couple hours of every day reading aloud (if we get immersed in a great book or series, the number of hours can double or triple).  And I have to say that the MI books are my absolute favorite books to read aloud to my husband (who loves the MI series).  I can't even express how fun they are to read aloud.  There are so many likable characters to care about,  the dialogue all flows smoothly and believably, the humor and dramatic twists are perfectly timed, the action & suspense keep everything moving tensely forward, and there is something for everyone to enjoy.  An imaginative mythology, a variety of paranormal creatures, plenty of charming heroes and heroines to root for, and even little nods to geeky fans like us who have followed Ms. Clare for ages and enjoy the mentions of small details like the Still Not King button Simon gave Clary and Jace's story about the falcon.  I am so excited that we will get to read two Cassandra Clare books this year and next.  Hurray for the overlap of the MI series & the ID series!   
-     As in the previous books, the setting is described very visually and viscerally, and most descriptions are blended into the narrative so well that it never seems like the story's stops abruptly for the author to go into pointless detail about the color of every tile in a room.  If a character does pause to describe a location, it is probably because their particular reaction to that place is important in defining their character or because that location is about to explode into an action scene and you aren't going to want to pause mid-action to hear about curtain color or the furniture layout but you will want to have your bearings in order to better visualize the scene.        
-      Without careful balance, this could have become a book in which readers spent a lot of time waiting for the POV to shift back to the character(s) they wanted to hear about most.  But I am happy to report that no perspective-shift was wasted, each one advanced the story and filled in another piece of the puzzle while helping readers keep track of all the characters in play.
-      I enjoyed learning more about Simon's Mark of Cain and his Daylighter status, and I liked seeing him try to pass as a human too (although that proves to be nearly impossible for him).  The situation with his mother becomes heartbreakingly difficult in this book, and I am very curious to see where that aspect of the story will lead in City of Lost Souls.  I've always really loved Simon, and he has been my husband's favorite character since the very first book, so we were both excited to see him adjusting to life as a much-coveted Daylighter with the Mark of Cain.  Neither of us anticipated exactly the way his Mark would work, but we were not at all stunned by his initial reaction to it.  Also, I loved hearing about Simon's memories of Clary as a little girl.  Seriously, how sweet is Simon?  Even his situation with the two girls, Maia and Isabelle, was handled believably and did not make me dislike him.  His inexperienced idiocy and desire to avoid confrontation with two formidable young women was understandable (if misguided), but it was really his explanation for his actions that made it virtually impossible to be angry with him.  He suffers through a lot in this book, and he still has a lot of adjusting to do so I can't wait to see where the rest of the series takes him.
-      Speaking of Simon, he spends a fair amount of time with a new bandmate, Kyle, in this book.  I don't want to say to much about handsome Kyle and his sexy surfer's drawl, but I think most readers will enjoy his character.  I especially loved any scene that involved Jace, Simon, and Kyle in the same room.  Hi-larious!
-      Ah, Magnus and Alec.  I love them together.  Alec is adorable even when he is jealous and sulking.  And of course, Magnus Bane is eternally awesome even when he is toned-down and relatively glitter-free (Okay, there may be a gondolier's hat and a matador's jacket alluded to in a cell phone photo... hee hee).  He can't really help having been alive for so much longer than most of the people he's fallen in love with over the years.  In fact, I think it is remarkable that he is still willing to give his heart to someone (especially a Shadowhunter, since they live very dangerous lives and tend to die far too young).  If you've read Clockwork Angel, you are already familiar with Camille and can probably guess how the tension between Magnus and Alec starts.  The mortality/immortality issue is going to be a struggle for them, and I definitely don't think we've heard the last of that. I liked how the issue came up as a serious concern because it is sometimes handled quite lightly in immortal/human romances.  I am fairly confident they will work it out, but if Magnus could get a spinoff series after CoHF if they need a bit more time to work it out, I fully support that idea too.  ;) 
-     Oh man, I thought Clary and Jace faced their toughest obstacles in the first three books, but it appears they still have some very serious challenges to endure.  I know that no one really wants to hear that (although admittedly a conflict-free relationship would probably be pretty boring to read about), and I'm biting my nails too.  I just have to keep reminding myself that surviving each difficult challenge in the past has made both of them stronger and even more devoted to one another.  We all just have to have faith.
-      Overall, this story seemed a bit darker and more contemplative than the first three, but there is a still a glimmering thread of hope woven subtly into the darkness, so I will be desperately clinging to that until I read the final pages of CoHF in 2013.  Also, there is still a fair amount of action, but quite a bit of the mystery and adventure is in piecing the clues together like the pieces of a puzzle.  The tensions within their little group of friends have fractured their relationships a bit, so there are a few moments of extreme tension when the reader can guess what is coming but the characters have not shared enough information with one another to figure it out.  Torturous.  Yet even when I was sure I had certain elements figured out, I was often caught a off guard by a sudden twist.  There are a number of well-placed hints that left me suspicious but unsure.  And two twists were total blindside moments for me.  Love that, especially when upon reading it a second time I spotted so many little clues.  Nicely done.
-      I won't say too much about the primary villain, just that the entire situation kept me guessing right up until the reveal.  And while I am not always a fan of villains giving speeches about their dastardly deeds and nefarious plans, in this case it totally worked for me because it gave me a moment or two to consider how long Ms. Clare must have had this planned.  The villain's story and connection to the previous books is both plausible and quite clever.  It made me want to read the original trilogy again.
-     Argh... the ending!  Nearly everything I could say would be a spoiler, so I will just say "Well played, Ms. Clare.  Well, played."  Oh boy, she loves to torture her readers and characters.  Since I was so happy with City of Glass, I plan to keep the faith until City of Heavenly Fire either burns the optimism out of me or rewards me for two years of devoted hopefulness.  But would Ms. Clare really torture her characters so mercilessly if there was truly no hope of redemption?  Where would be the tension in that?  Whether the characters will believe there is hope or not remains to be seen...   

City of Fallen Angels is a terrific addition to the MI series!  If you haven't read any of the Mortal Instruments books yet, you seriously must.  Immediately!  If you are already a fan of Clockwork Angel and the first three MI books, then you will love City of Fallen Angels. If you would like to learn more about City of Fallen Angels or Cassandra Clare's other books, please visit her website, blog, facebook, or twitter.  The next Infernal Devices book, Clockwork Prince, is scheduled for release December 6th.  Yay!   And the next Mortal Instruments book, City of Lost Souls, is scheduled for release in May of 2012.  Can't wait!

Read the first chapter of City of Fallen Angels here!


steve said...

i love the cover of the book, it is gorgeous. the book sounds wonderful and all of the excerpts i have been reading are great. i can hardly wait to read the book and see what happens next.Register Domain

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