N is for New York

I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure of late. To be in the loop. To be in touch. To be up to the same goddamn Mad Men episode as everyone else. And to be honest, at this near-festive time of year, it’s all becoming a bit much. I’m close to announcing that ‘The Mortal Instruments’ will be the last I read in the young adult fantasy/adventure series genre for a while*. The stress of having to ‘read the next one’ is tiring this lowly bookworm. I need a  break. At least for a few weeks. At least until my friend who gets me on to these introduces me to something new. At least until I get the urge to read book 2 in the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy.

Recently I choofed off up the coast for a week of relaxation and quality time with my grandparents, so it seemed a good opportunity to read something a little light and indulgent. And I did need to finish the Mortal Instruments series. Well, what I thought was the end of the series… I think there are now three more to come! Oh, let’s not have a whinge about flogging the life out of an idea with a range of prequels and sequels; here we discuss book three in Cassandra Clare’s shadowhunter extravaganza: City of Glass.

Clary Fray is safe in New York. Momentarily. All shadowhunters are being called back to their homeland of Idris for a grand conference to try to work out how the heck they’re going to stop Valentine and his destructive quest. And Clary feels she must go. Even if not to help her recently-found brethren she needs to meet with a warlock who may be able to help her mother awaken from an enchanted coma. Once in Idris, the true depth of Valentine’s evil is revealed and all are in danger. The capital city is not safe, the shadowhunters are at odds with each other and with their downworlder neighbours (faeries, werewolves, vampires, warlocks), a great battle is on the horizon and all it suggests is large-scale bloodshed. And among our group of adolescent heroes: Simon is discovering more and more about the realities of his vampiric existence, Clary and Jace still have sibling/romance issues, Alec is still hiding his true self, and a new boy—Sebastian—is causing all sorts of consternation. Yup. Quite a bit to deal with.

So N was for New York, was it? I realised by about page 12 that my ‘clever’ idea of selecting this book on the basis of its setting may have been misguided. City of Glass was going to be set in an invented enchanted city. Whoops. The Richard Price novel in the pile glared at me and fingered the glock hiding in its pocket. A bit of research, Pile o’ Books, a bit of research. Lucky for me Clary and Simon are such New York natives that Alicante (not the port city in Spain, but rather the capital city of Idris) is always being compared to the Big Apple, and just like New York informs the action in the first two books, Alicante is a firm, thought-out concept in this third novel. So we’re talking big cities, we’re talking New Yorkers, we’re talking New Yorkers comparing everything they see, smell and touch in other cities to their own big city. There’s a certain relevance. Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. (Mr Price, I apologise.)

Ms Clare does well in this instalment to pull together the different strings of her ongoing story, to create mystery and suspense, to let her characters grow, to occasionally surprise her readers. At the end of the novel I felt satisfied and also pleased with how the story of Clary, Simon, Jace etc had panned out, at the level to which I had been entertained, that my reading time had been put to good use. Questions raised throughout the series are answered, things left hanging are resolved, and you have to be happy with that. At times the author still over-explains (in case the stupid 13-year-olds don’t get it) but there are thrilling passages of action and suspense, sound descriptions of place, and on the whole her characters are individual and reasonably well-formed. She also writes humour and conversation well—some of the quips that come out of characters’ mouths are very funny, with a healthy dose of sarcasm and cynicism you expect from young adults (and not-so-young adult book-bloggers). There’s a line early on from Luke (our werewolf father-figure) suggesting that what a lovesick teenage boy should be doing is standing outside Clary’s window holding up a boom box, and Clary quickly replies that not only has he probably got better things to do, but no one has boom boxes anymore. Little additions like this make me laugh and smile, anyway, and what’s more they ring true and I appreciate that, even if I can’t quite appreciate as much some of the overtures of love and relationship crises that run through these novels. (And a quick, indulgent, aside: I finally pegged recently why we called ghetto-blasters, ghetto-blasters. It never occured to me as a child in the 80s/90s; it was just a name for certain type of stereo. My discovery both pleased me and made me wonder what on earth I use the majority of my reasonably-sized brain for.)

Despite feeling a little world-weary with the various young adult series I’ve read this year (or intended to read), I can’t say that you shouldn’t try ‘The Mortal Instruments’ series**.  It’s the concept (and act) of series-following which tires me. After all, I could still be found curled up in bed (surrounded by the boxes) reading City of Glass at 2 am one morning, and a school-night at that, because I wanted to find out how the book ended. You can’t complain about a story that does that.

* Please note: I’m very talented at announcing all sorts of wild statements which I don’t end up honouring.

**  After ‘extensive research’ it seems the planned next three books in the series follow a different storyline, so I feel like I’m under less obligation to ‘keep up’. (Not that we should ever feel obliged to read a book.)

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5 thoughts on “N is for New York

  1. My opinion of Cassandra Clare is very much colored by her Harry Potter fanfiction.. the fanfiction which disappeared as soon as she realized she could get published with original work. (Which had already caused quite a bit of drama, and some plagiarism angst.) Probably because of that, I’ve never been very interested in her books.

    From what I recall, having been an awkward 14 year-old Harry Potter geek, her writing was fairly good, if nothing amazing. Her ability to handle complex plots made her stand out among all the other authors.

    I regularly complain about stories which keep me up at night. Because even knowing that starting a book at 5pm will often lead to a 12-hour binge, I start reading them. I often end up regretting it.

    • Ah. Now fan fiction is something I’m generally ignorant of. (I know it exists, but that’s about it.) How interesting. Your recollection of her writing is similar to my current view of it. I do think her writing has improved through the books, though, which is admirable. (As an editor I’m always impressed with writers who build on their skills, and like to think their editors have helped!)

      I like the idea of binge-reading…

      • Fanfiction is… interesting. The quality of writing varies wildly, from pages and pages of utter crap with poor grammar, bad punctuation, and no cohesiveness, to chapters-long stories which (except for their borrowed characters/world) could reasonably have been published.

        My family disapproves of my book binges (especially when it’s a book I’ve been waiting for, like Harry Potter, or more recently Pegasus. I’m infamous for being grumpy at being disturbed.) However, there are some books which are best read in one sitting, and should not be put down for extended periods of time.

  2. As a former librarian who ordered books for the “Young Adult” section, Ive read a lot of these fantasy trilogies. I thought the Mortal Instruments was pretty good but was disappointed n the last one. And what I’ve heard of the next book by Clare, it’s a prequel of sorts. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of fallen angels, nephilim teen books and though I really like this concept, I am having a really hard time identifying with the romantic aspects. I find myself yelling at the characters ” Just ask him if he’s committed or dump his ass, angel or not!” But no, sneak around, ask the friends, crawl out of windows in the middle of the night to spy on him…. I guess I’m too old for that part of the book. Btw, Hunger Games series sort of poops out in #3 but you’ll have to read it anyway.

    • I think it is a prequel, yes. Never sure about prequels. And a friend tells me it’s huge! I do like that the term ‘nephilim’ is being bandied about, though. I think even when I was a teenager I found the dilly-dally of young love frustrating. But I was sometimes a serious teenager. As a much less serious adult I now find I dilly-dally myself! So perhaps it’s realistic… to an extent. Mostly it can feel like padding out a ‘romantic’ storyline, can’t it? Especially when otherwise capable, brave, smart characters are so totally clueless when it comes to their love interests.

      Shame about Hunger Games #3. But as you say, I’ll have to read it!

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