City of Fallen Angels: Clare handles the formula well

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsCassandra Clare Mortal Instruments review 4. City of Fallen AngelsCity of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

When I finished City of Fallen Angels I was angry; not with Cassandra Clare, who created the Mortal Instruments series, but with the evil-doers who once again have come between Clary and her Shadowhunter boyfriend, Jace.

At the end of City of Glass, the Shadowhunters and the downworlders — vampires, faerie, and werewolves — banded together to stand against Clary’s arrogant and megalomaniacal Shadowhunter father Valentine in a cataclysmic battle. Clary used her newly discovered talent for the magical runes called Marks to defeat her father and bring Jace back from death. Her once-human friend Simon, who became a vampire while trying to help her, was safe, and Shadowhunters and downworlders were drawing up an Accord so that they could live together in peace and equality.

It seems that the war is not over after all.

City of Fallen Angels begins not with Clary and Jace, but with Simon, back in mundane New York City, trying to figure out how to live as a Daywalker (a vampire who can survive sunlight) and one with the Mark of Cain on his forehead, a curse that, paradoxically, protects Simon from everyone except God. Simon is soon approached by Camille, an ancient vampire who offers him a bargain. Simon is suspicious. He stalls Camille. His more immediate problem is how to break the news to his mother that he is a vampire. Simon has not fed on a live human being yet; he is subsisting on animal blood he is hiding in his closet, an inadequate solution. As if that weren’t enough, Simon is juggling two supernatural girlfriends; Isabelle, a Shadowhunter, and Maia, a werewolf. Clary, meanwhile, is helping prepare for her mother’s wedding, while the Shadowhunter Conclave is trying to determine who is murdering the rogue Shadowhunters who had joined Valentine’s Circle and leaving the bodies in areas meant to throw suspicion on downworlders.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsClare does a fine job of bringing new characters, such as Kyle and Camille, into the story, and she has cleverly knit in bits from The Clockwork Angel, in which Camille was introduced. The plot is formulaic at times, but Clare handles the formula well. One of the refreshing things about this series is that it has, in some respects, an ensemble cast. The book is as much Simon’s story as it is Jace and Clary’s. This allows Clare to cut away from Jace and Clary, which is good because Jace’s perpetual angst can get wearing, even though in this book the cause is not his own internal obsessing but an integral part of the plot.

By starting with Simon and his real-world difficulties, Clare also gives the book momentum. This doesn’t feel like a new start on a new trilogy; it is plausible that, even though our heroes have won a great victory, there would still be problems ahead.

The villain in this book is convincing, as Valentine was in the previous three, and the plot springs credibly from events in the earlier books. Clare does not paint the Shadowhunters as perfect, and when villains tell Simon that no matter how he helps the Shadowhunters they will never accept him, this is powerful because it is true. We see the casual bigotry of the demon fighters throughout these books, and we watch some of them wrestle with the meaning of power. This makes the struggles throughout the series more believable.

On a more superficial level, Clare has perfected post-modernist bantering, and her young characters never miss a good come-back line, a quip or a witty retort. This makes for enjoyable reading.

Structurally, Clare has a habit of telling the reader a bit too much sometimes, so that the other characters, who don’t know what we know, look a bit stupid. I think she does this to increase the suspense. Instead, it undercuts her characters. The ending of the book is also predictable, although I wasn’t particularly bothered by that. Perhaps the word I want is not “predictable” but “inevitable”; or perhaps I’m letting Clare off easy because I think she has left us with a great cliffhanger and set up all kinds of trouble for the future. Drama and mechanics only count for so much. The heart of any book, for me, is character. I like Simon and I want him to be happy. I care about Clary and Jace, and their problems have me worrying and waiting for the next volume.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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