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.)