Ever since it was discovered that Jace Wayland was really the son of the infamous Valentine Morganstern, no one really trusts him. Even the Lightwoods, his adoptive family aren't sure whether they believe Jace had no knowledge of his true lineage. The Clave sends in the Inquisitor to put Jace to the test and find out if he's lying, but before the trial can commence, the second of the Mortal Instruments is stolen and Jace becomes a suspect. While struggling to maintain his innocence, Jace finds himself and his friends under attack by monstrous demons that he suspects are connected to his father. Jace finally discovers Valentine's hiding place and goes to see him. His father asks him to join forces with him as an unstoppable father/son duo, but can Jace really betray everything he's been fighting for as a Shadowhunter?
Meanwhile, Clary is conflicted over her romantic feelings for the boy whom she believes is her brother, while trying to forget him in the arms of her best friend, Simon. She also wants to be the Shadowhunter that her DNA says she is, but without the fighting experience of Jace, Isabelle, and Alec, she feels like she's in the way. Unlike Jace, who was partially raised by Valentine and still feels some connection to him, Clary feels nothing but loathing for the man who fathered her. When Simon and a werewolf girl are taken hostage to be used in Valentine's spell to unleash an evil so powerful it will destroy them all, Clary is more than ready to go up against him and do whatever it takes to stop him. In doing so, she may discover abilities of which she and no one else knew she was capable.
City of Ashes is the second book in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. It continues to expand upon the world-building that began in the first book. I really like the world the author has created. It's populated with a variety of supernatural creatures, all of whom have their own quirks, rules, and sub-level mythology. I can see tidbits that are similar to other sci-fi/fantasy worlds, mixed with a touch of Biblical legends, and a flavor that's all it's own. It's a very imaginative story realm that makes for engaging reading and which I very much enjoy inhabiting.
Where City of Bones primarily belonged to Clary, City of Ashes is fairly equally divided between her and Jace. I'd even argue that the focus is slightly more on Jace this time around. Now that it's been revealed that Jace's father is really the evil Valentine Morganstern and that he's still alive, virtually no one believes that Jace didn't know these things even though he's spent the last seven years growing up with the Lightwoods. Jace just doesn't seem to be able to shake the stigma of who his father is, and he's come to be viewed by most, including the Lightwood parents who raised him, as untrustworthy simply because he's Valentine's son. Everyone sees his father in him, but few see him as an independent young man with thoughts and feelings of his own. Of course, Alec and Isabelle are still on his side, as is Clary and Clary's father-figure, Luke, and best friend, Simon, but most of the older Shadowhunters are against him, none more so than the Inquisitor. She's brought in to judge Jace, but she has a major chip on her shoulder where he's concerned because of a personal vendetta she has against Valentine. Even Jace's own father eventually turns against him and is more than willing to sacrifice Jace if it means he can succeed in his evil plans. So in a way, this book could kind of be called Everybody Hates Jace.:-) Unlike some readers who adore Jace, he doesn't necessarily draw me in quite the same way. He's arrogant and cocky and full of snarky one-liners, which can make him difficult for me to love, but at the same time, I think some of that angry edge he has is a protection mechanism. I can see glimmers of his vulnerability underneath, which does intrigue me to some extent, but I'd love it if he was able to allow himself to be a little more vulnerable. Still, I'll allow that he's an interesting character, just not one that I've fully fallen in love with yet.
Although Jace went through a more transformative process in this book, Clary is still front and center too. Unlike Jace, she has no conflicted feelings about their father, probably in large part because she never knew him. She wants to help in the fight against Valentine, but with her mother having kept her in hiding most of her life, she never trained as a Shadowhunter, even though it's in her DNA. Clary is a strong heroine with the heart of a lion, who isn't afraid to stand up to others when they're wrong. She's also a defender of all those whom she cares about. Untrained or not, she'd gladly put herself in harm's way to protect them. And protect them she does when she discovers an untapped power that she never knew she possessed. In fact, both she and Jace find out things about themselves and exhibit abilities far beyond anything anyone in the Shadowhunter community has ever seen before. I really look forward to watching them develop these powers more fully in the books to come.
Quite a number of readers have tried to classify these books as romance, but as a long-time connoisseur of romance in the capacity of both reader and writer, IMHO, they really aren't. Yes, there is some romance in them, but it definitely isn't the main focus. Also, in order to be a romance, a book really needs to have a satisfying and uplifting ending with regards to the romantic relationship and that certainly hasn't been the case with either of the first two books of the series. I fully expect for this to resolve itself by the end of the series, but for right now, things are very much in flux. First of all, we found out at the end of book #1 that Jace and Clary are brother and sister. I'm still not sure I fully believe it's true, but throughout City of Ashes, that assumption is still in place. However, that doesn't stop them from having romantic feelings toward one another. While Jace is ready to say, "Screw it! I don't care if you're my sister. I want to be with you," Clary isn't quite there yet. In fact, she's trying to put her feelings for Jace to rest by going out with her best friend, Simon, who's been madly in love with her for a long time. It seems that Cassandra Clare is very fond of love triangles in general, as there are other characters mixed up in them as well. A young werewolf girl named Maia develops an attraction for Simon, while elsewhere, Alec appears to be getting involved with Magnus but still can't get over his love for Jace. I've never been a big fan of love triangles (or quadrangles as the case may be) being used as a device to fuel relationship conflict, yet these books seem to have them in spades. It makes it really hard, if not outright impossible, to know who to root for on the romance front. That's yet another reason why I firmly refuse to call these books romance - at least not yet.:-) It just makes it a little easier to thoroughly enjoy the stories when I'm not as worried about the frustrating nature of the relationships.
In addition to Clary and Jace, there are lots of secondary characters who I absolutely love. I'm slightly more enamored of Simon and Alec than I am of Jace. I've always had a fondness for guys who are on the geeky side and Simon definitely fits that bill. Simon undergoes a transformation of his own in this book and is in harm's way a lot. While I can't say I enjoyed worrying about him dying, I did enjoy him being a focus character. I also like quieter, gentler guys of which Alec is one. There most certainly hasn't been enough of Alec in these stories yet. I think his more soft-hearted nature leaves him in the background too often. The adorably flamboyant Magnus is another character who gets more page time in this book. He becomes an invaluable help to our intrepid heroes and heroines in their fight against Valentine and the demons he's unleashed, and I enjoyed learning a little more about his character and his abilities. Luke is another character I love for his loyalty and protectiveness of Clary and her mother all these years, and he's still looking out for them while trying to lead his newly acquired werewolf pack. The Inquisitor is someone I loved to hate, but even she finally has a moment of clarity in the end. Not so of Valentine, who I'm sure is in this for the long-haul and who makes a dastardly villain.
As a parent, I would say that content-wise City of Ashes is pretty much on par with the first book and fully appropriate for a mature teenage audience. Probably of greatest concern would be the violence. There is quite a bit of peril and stylized fantasy violence involving grotesque demons. There is some gore as well in form of the villain draining blood from various Downworlders for nefarious purposes, as well as our heroic characters dealing with blood and ichor as they fight off the demons. But overall, I don't feel that it was overdone or nearly as explicit in the descriptions as it could have been, making it on par with what teens might see in a PG-13 movie. There is a small amount of language, mostly limited to mild profanities. In one scene, Jace goes to a Downworlder bar, where no one asks questions about age, and has a drink. There is also some mild sexual innuendo, but nothing beyond kissing actually takes place. Clary invites Simon to share her bed when he sleeps over one night. They talk briefly about sex, but again nothing but kisses actually occur. Clary and Jace have obvious romantic feelings for one another, but are said to be brother and sister, so the potentially incestuous nature of their relationship may bother some readers. Also two characters are gay and implied to be in a relationship, which again may bother some. Otherwise, I can't think of anything potentially objectionable, and like I said, I'm certain mature teens could handle the subject-matter with no problem.
There may have been a few tiny little things about the story I might have changed, but the overall likability factor for both the characters and the plot of City of Ashes was extremely high for me. I very much enjoyed reading it. It didn't necessarily grab me intensely from page one, but I still looked forward to it each time I sat down to read it. These books have a tendency to start out a little slower and then gradually, but steadily, build momentum as the story progresses, ending in a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat climax that's hard to put down. The author also left a couple of tantalizing threads hanging that make me wonder what will happen next. I may have allowed two years to pass between my reading of the first and second Mortal Instruments books, but I certainly won't be making that mistake again. I'm very eager to continue with the series, and with two winners in a row, Cassandra Clare is now on my favorite authors list. I can't wait to read more of her work!
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