Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

It seems to me that ‘these days’ we can’t leave a good thing alone. Suddenly a Snickers has almonds it, pizza’s gone tandoori, TV shows need a film release, films need a sequel—and now a prequel, and successful young adult books must be trilogised.

The fact is that  Suzanne Collins’ first book in the Hunger Games series, The Hunger Games, could stand by itself. There was nothing about it that required sequels to be written, except that it was successful. In saying this, I really liked books two and three, but I think this is a good opportunity to highlight the integrity of book one, and that if it had been a ‘one-off’ story the novel would still have been a great success and still been a book you would recommend to others. Actually, not just recommended to others, but waved about and tried to foist on them.

But here we are with book three, Mockingjay, after a perfectly enjoyable book two and, to be honest, I was darn excited to be reading it. Who needs to work or organise moving overseas when they can be reading an adventure tale? Or, as it was more realistically in my case, who needs to be sleeping at all?

I know some people, loyal readers of this blog included, were left a little disappointed with books two and three in this series. As one so wonderfully stated her case: ‘My view is that it’s like The Matrix—you’d prefer that movies two and three had never blighted the face of the earth. I’m not quite as harsh about this, but book one was such perfection that anything was going to be a letdown…’. I suppose I haven’t felt as let down by the sequels as some have, although in retrospect book two is definitely the weakest of the three. But hell, it was still good, and there was clearly a lot I liked about it or I wouldn’t have been so positive. Sure the ‘let’s have an ultimate Hunger Games’ plot could have indicated a little panic on the author’s part, but if that’s what it was initially she certainly turned things around by using book two to set up book three and conclude the series in splendid fashion. Because sure, book three is not book one (if a more obvious and redundant statement has ever been made please let me know), but you know what? I thought it was pretty darn good. (Oh, this may be where, for the sake of a review-gauge, I point out that I also liked the second and third Matrix movies. Okay, the third not so much.)

Mockingjay leaves the Hunger Games’ arenas behind as we follow our heroine Katniss in her new not-so-rosy life in District 13 and her involvement in the rebellion’s plot to overthrow the Capitol once and for all. But who is seeking to destroy who? And for what? And in exactly what way is Katniss their secret weapon? And during all this empire building, where is Peeta?

The final novel in the Hunger Games series takes us into the streets of the Capitol as the rebellion assault begins, and we travel with Katniss and her team as they navigate the twists and turns of the booby-trapped city. Collins doesn’t hold back as the realities and randomness of war affect the characters in ways we’d rather not deal with. And then there is Peeta, dear Peeta, who is fighting a war within himself, against his enemies, against his friends, against Katniss.

There were easier ways to complete a Hunger Games trilogy. We could have seen an arena battle three times over and merely had some of the faces change, we could have focused on the love story between Katniss and Peeta and watched everyone live happily ever after, some kind of vampire could have been involved. I don’t think Suzanne Collins took the easy way out. When faced with turning her first wonderful novel into a trilogy she looked at the world she had created and expanded the tale she would tell. In the end, the whole of Panem was an arena—filled with dangers and people with personal vendettas, with people who would kill you as soon as look at you, with power struggles and turncoats and a foreboding sense that at any moment you were probably going to die. But it also contained people you could trust, people who would sacrifice themselves for others, who would help you reach your goals; it was an arena where there was hope and redemption and not just for the ultimate winner.

The Hunger Games is most certainly Suzanne Collins piece de resistance, but the whole series is more than worth your reading time, and Mockingjay is a very fine way to end it all. If you like young adult adventure tales set in a ruthless dystopic future-world, you will like the Hunger Games trilogy. In fact, you will love it. And the books will also appeal to you if you just want to read a set of addictive, well-written stories that keep you on the edge of your seat and manage to remain reasonably devoid of cliche in both character and prose. Whether you will like them based on your opinion of The Matrix film series, I just cannot say.

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.)

L is for Lycanthrope

Blame Teen Wolf and too many episodes of Scooby Doo if you want (OK, and Scott Speedman in the Underworld movies), but I like werewolves. ‘Lycanthrope’ is one of my favourite words. It’s right up there with ‘quokka’ on my list of words I like just because of how they sound. (Plus have you ever seen a quokka? Cute!) I also like certain words because of what they mean, others because their use makes me sound smart, and even more because of the way I can bastardise their pronunciation to amuse myself.

Nerdy word types also like collective nouns—mostly for the reasons I listed above. The collective noun for werewolves is a ‘lunacy’. In Toby Barlow’s book Sharp Teeth this is what you will find: a magnificent story, weaved in free verse, around a lunacy of werewolves.

Those posh-brained of you who are about to click away due to the mention of ‘werewolves’ and ‘free verse’, do not. Sharp Teeth is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and this is not due to some weird monster-crush I may or may not have on our supernatural canine brethren. It’s simply because this is an amazingly well-told tale—rapid, concise, emotive, thrilling, mysterious and inventive. And don’t let the structure of ‘free verse’ put you off, either. Lord knows I usually run from any notion of poetry, so if this novel took only three pages to draw me in, it will you too. (A new friend and fellow-blogger is attempting to win me over to poetry and I do intend on embracing it whole-heartedly once I get over my unwarranted adolescent fear of it. Stay tuned.)

So why did I like Sharp Teeth so much? It was a ride. And I’m not sure I’ve been on a reading-ride like this for a while. At times I felt like I was reading the equivalent of a Scorcese film—if good ol’ Marto ever directed an LA gang movie where the main characters have tails to wag. Action-packed, plot-detailed, strong characters, vulnerable characters, sympathetic characters; a love story, a revenge story, a crime story; and card-playing dogs—oh yes! It is tense, gory and dark. It is pacy, rhythmic and focussed. When going out with friends the other night there was one too many of us to fit in the car and I eagerly volunteered to catch the train because I wanted to read my book. And then I waved it about at all of them, in my enthusiasm probably only just missing clocking them over the head. When I start waving books about, you know I’m in deep.

Anthony begins work at the city pound. Lark has some shady business deals to take care of and a grand plan for his pack. Anthony falls in love with the pack’s girl. People from the pound start disappearing or being killed. A cop receives strange and muffled phone calls about dogs and gangs and killings. There is another pack—or are there two? There are drugs, there is violence, there is a statewide bridge competition. How is it all connected? Do they all know about each other? Who is doing what to whom? What happened in South America? And what’s with all these darn dogs wandering the city?

The way Barlow tells his tale is impressive. Not just because it is so engrossing, but because he does it in such a succinct way. Every word, comma, dash and line space in Sharp Teeth pulls above and beyond its weight. As a reader you almost  feel like you shouldn’t understand the characters as much as you do, that what’s going on should need further clarification, that the imagery—the movie running through your head, if you will—should not be so clear and fleshed out. How, indeed, could so few words stir one up as much as they do? How could they tell a ‘proper’ story? How could they lead their reader to almost maim her friends in her emphatic praise of the book?

It all works because a talented writer has put his time and skill into telling a well-conceived story in a concentrated manner. Like some of Toby Barlow’s characters, Sharp Teeth is smooth, cool and edgy. It  balances tension and action, and knits together reality and fantasy in such a way that after an initial pause to intellectually blink, the reader merely accepts the world the story is set in and carries on.

I positively adored it—if that’s not howlingly clear—and my only concern now is that I have to return the book to the dear friend who leant it to me. How he managed to live without it panting on his bookshelf I’ll never know, but I’m awfully glad he did and now plan to track down my own copy. Don’t get too close when I do, though. You may end up with concussion.

K is for a Kingdom of Keys

I’ve been known to be a creature of habit; a little routined, a tad rehearsed, a titch regulated. Whether it’s going through a familiar sequence at my desk each morning, re-packing my handbag each night, or falling for the same type of unattainable bloke again and again, I can sometimes tick along like a well-wound clock. And not always on purpose.

Exactly one year, to the day, before I started writing this particular blog post on Lord Sunday, the seventh and final book in Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ series, I posted on book six, Superior Saturday. This was completely unintentional—I had no Keys to the Kingdom September plan—but it has made me think about some of my reading and book-procuring habits (and my occasional yearning to perform tasks in counts of 10 – yep, true).

Could there be certain things about certain times of year, or certain situations, which lend themselves to particular reading choices? I don’t mean that you read a particular author every August because that’s when the publisher always releases their books; I mean something to do with a mood or feeling that inclines you towards a particular genre in particular moments or at particular times. Take the seasons, for example. Like food and beer, I believe I may read heavier in winter and lighter in summer. There’s something about warm days, bright light and constant social distractions which turn me off an 800-page allegory, or a squintily peered at classic. In summer I am not naturally inclined towards a long-haul read, social-realism or something which required an index; but in winter you can load me up with a literary doorstop, a bleak account of modern life or even the odd footnote, and I’m much more inclined to immerse myself. Pop me over to a tropical island for a week and I’ll take some kind of borderline chick lit. Take me to the northern hemisphere for 8 weeks of winter and I’ll seriously consider that Beckett biography I still haven’t got around to reading. I can’t read anything too thought-necessary on planes, but I can on trains. When I’m reading a book which is a sharer between family and friends, I always want to be the last to read it. Some new books I just have to read next; while others I almost enjoy prolonging their life in the pile, awaiting the pleasure that is to come.

Lord Sunday has waited some time. When you’ve enjoyed a series, the last book is bittersweet. You experience the satisfaction of conclusion with the sadness of discontinuation. It feels like you’ve been waiting so long for this moment, but now that it’s here you don’t want it to end, you don’t want to know, you can’t let go.

Arthur Penhaligon has almost finished his journey in the House. He has one more key-holder to beat, one more part of the Will to secure, and then he can stop the awful spread of nothing, restore the house to its former glory, save his friends and family back on Earth, and go back to being a normal boy (well, as much as his exposure to other worldly power will let him). Up in Lord Sunday’s Incomparable Garden all hell is breaking loose, and all Arthur wants to do is finish up and head home. It’s not much for a nice boy to ask for but like many souls before him, Arthur must first complete his destiny.

Garth Nix should be congratulated for a very thorough tying up of storylines, character arcs and loose ends. It is more than clear in his seventh and final novel that this series was well-planned and not just a good idea which got ‘stretched out’. I have no questions. I feel no wanting.  Whether this is completely ideal I am yet to decide. I do feel a little like it’s all been tidied up, boxed and slipped under the bed, but then if something was left hanging, surely I would have been annoyed at this. Surely?

I don’t want to give away plots but will say the story’s conclusion was unexpected; I hadn’t thought that was where we were all heading. I’d had inklings of certain spanners and twists but not the ultimate one which revealed itself. I think it was a brave ending, particularly for a children’s book. Mr Nix could have gone down the road of least resistance and given us an all-conquering, life-goes-back-to-being-normal-and-awesome finish, but he didn’t. Not that it was ‘bad’. Just not easy. In fact, I found the last few chapters to be both thoroughly sad and wonderful at the same time, and found myself wishing in a way that the whole series had bent to this tone and perspective more. This last comment suggests that I found something lacking in the writing elsewhere but that’s not really so. I did seem to lose some enthusiasm for the series in the last couple of books as the story wasn’t quite taking me to the adventurous place the first books did. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like them, just that they didn’t ‘give’ me as much as I hoped. I think this may also have something to do with these books being pitched – correctly – at the storyline level of the kids who are supposed to be reading them. I am not, after all, eleven. But if these last few chapters are a sign of the usual maturity and wonder of Nix’s writing then I’m keen for more. Perhaps I’ll even make reading his stories a habit.

I is for Instructions

We all know life doesn’t come with a manual. It’s a case of trying things out and muddling through; making mistakes, learning from example, following paths and occasionally chucking it all in a dumpster and starting again.

In those take-a-deep-breath times it often feels like it would be easier if existence did come with a set of guidelines, a leaflet which magically appeared in a baby’s crib and could be referred to throughout their life. But would a handbook truly make life easier? Or more pleasant and satisfying? Have you ever followed flat-pack furniture manuals to the letter and still ended up with that one small piece which doesn’t seem to belong anywhere? But it’s a common human cry in those times when you require stability; ‘if only I knew the best thing to do, if only – insert particular life issue – came with instructions’.

Like a lot of human desires, if we can’t get them in real life we do what we do best and make them real in our stories. We set up rules for our genre fiction – the hard-working detective will solve the case, the love of her life will have been under her nose the whole time, going down the stairs to the unlit basement will result in decapitation; but we also do it in more literal ways – fantastical tales of all kinds employ the device of an all-knowing book, atlas, map, scroll, talking fluffy creature to get the protagonist through unfamiliar lands. These characters get that tangible guide to life, and it is often their only hope for success and something everyone else wants to get their hands on.

I is for Instructions – the ones we crave, the ones we read, the ones our characters follow. In their recent picture book called Instructions Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess explore this idea of story guidelines. The premise of the book is simple: we follow a character as they follow Gaiman’s instructions for getting through a fairy tale and Vess illustrates as we go.  

We come across many familiar actions and advice, which we may not have seen all amassed before, but we know deep in our reading hearts are the rules for our imaginative stories. Observe these sage suggestions: ‘Take nothing. Eat nothing.’ ‘A ferryman will take you across the river.’ ‘An old woman … may ask for something; give it to her. She will point the way to the castle.’ Within these three edicts I experience swirls of books, movies, even songs, through my brain. When life is topsy we beg for balance. When the goblin king steals our baby brother we require unfair mystical wrongs to be righted. Along with the story rules, Gaiman and Vess’s book includes instructions which work equally well in everyday life: ‘Remember your name.’ ‘Trust yourself and trust your story.’ ‘Do not forget your manners.’ Is there such a huge difference between fairy tales and reality?

I really liked the idea of Instructions and like other fantastical picture books, I desired the object. Gaiman’s mind tends to boggle mine but in this case I could have done with some more boggling, or at least some more head-nodding. I was left with a residual feeling that this book is not as great as it could have been. It’s ok but seems not-completely-realised. Perhaps it should have been longer. Perhaps it unsuccessfully straddles a divide between a book for children and a book for everyone. It was not as satisfying as I hoped.  And I do not particularly like Vess’s illustration style. In saying all this the book is not bad, it only fails – in my mind – to live up to expectations. Of mine as a reader, as a Gaiman appreciator, and as a person who sometimes craves some stability in a life which rarely follows the instructions I wish it would.

People tend to like rules, if only so they can break them. Gaiman and Vess’s book may not have become an immediate favourite of mine, but I liked what it was exploring. I liked what it was trying to do, I just don’t think it quite got there. Instructions made me think about the way we structure some of our stories, of how we create rules for those stories and how we expect certain things to happen – in the books we write and read, and in our little existences. And in both these things, though a manual to ‘get through’ seems like a grand notion, we all know that sometimes following the instructions does not always lead to the best adventures.

H is for Hunger

Despite not being able to describe myself as a ‘young adult’ – I recently turned 30, but who’s counting? – YA fiction still appeals to the reading-me. Is it because I’m hopelessly immature? Borderline illiterate? Has moving back to my parents’ house led to some kind of mental and/or emotional regression?

Or are there things about teen novels which make them more generally appealing? Gone are the days when one stopped reading young adult fiction when one left high school. Harry Potter and the Tomorrow When the War Began series proved that, the Vampires continue to prove that. If the story is strong enough, if the characters appeal, if there is a thrill-aspect, if there is something in the writing or narrative which ‘speaks to’ the reader, then a book can be for anyone, no matter its target market or placement in the bookshop, no matter – in this case – the Stephenie Meyer quote on the cover.

H is for Hunger because our book on this occasion is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a thoroughly enjoyable, well-told adventure tale set in a frightening future-America.

Each year the wealthy, powerful, slightly mysterious Capitol demands tributes from its 12 downtrodden districts. A tribute of 2 children from each district to fight all the other tributes in the annual Hunger Games. Fight each other to death. There can be only one, and that one, after managing to survive the carnage of battle and malevolence of the gamemakers, can return to their district victorious, rich and able to provide for their families and neighbours. Katniss volunteers herself as District 12’s girl-tribute when her younger sister’s name is drawn from the ballot. Peeta is the boy-tribute, the baker’s son who has always been in love with Katniss – or has he?

What follows is a well-conceived story, told with little of the condescension or over-explanation which sometimes weaves its way through novels aimed at readers of a certain age. Suzanne Collins’ novel is smart, intense, emotive and entertaining. The characters have weight to them, the plot kept me guessing, and on a personal note even the dash of teen romance managed to not yuck me out (high praise indeed!).

The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy though you can tell that it was originally written as a complete tale, as there is no narrative reliance on stringing things out. Sure there are plotlines and a couple of stray comments which I can see will be expanded on in the upcoming books but I wouldn’t have finished the story feeling dissatisfied if the end was the end. I’m pleased there are more books to come (the third is published any day now) because I was so entertained and I like the characters, but at the same time I do wonder if ‘we’ sometimes overdo the series-thing. Can’t a good story simply sit on its own without being stretched out or built upon over more and more books? I say this as a reader who occasionally feels overcommitted with all the series I’m trying to keep on top of (books and television!), which I need to try to read before accidentally finding out what happens; either by an enthusiastic friend, oblivious stranger or ill-conceived internet search. As a publishing professional I, of course, understand the advantages of releasing series, especially for the younger folk who will want to ‘collect them all’. My shelves, too, were once lined with Pen Pals and Girl Talk installments, not to mention the crime series I follow now. And as I said I’m glad there are more Hunger Games books to come. In fact, I can’t wait to meet the characters again and see what the evil Capitol has planned and how the good people of its districts will fight against it.

If you enjoy a well-written adventure tale then The Hunger Games may be for you. Despite the teenage characters and illustrated cover, it’s a great read and you may find yourself catching the all-stations train on purpose just so you can get in more reading time. Good stories are for all readers – even those of us who are no-longer-so-young adults.

A is for… Ashes

Rising from the murky mists of strep throat (yes, yes, I know it’s a ‘kissing disease’ – move on, people) finally we come to the official start of the Pile o’ Books year with the letter ‘A’. Bienvenue, as they say at the Olympics. And we begin the official program with Cassandra Clare’s City of Ashes (A is for Ashes, geddit?) the second novel in her ‘The Mortal Instruments’ series.

Regular readers will remember that in a previous post, while begging for your forgiveness for my January tardiness, I said that I was loving my ‘A’ book. It’s a guilty pleasure if anything and it’s all excitement and emotion, all fantastical and demoniacal. And I’m compelled to point out that the other-world battle scene near the end is thrilling, top-shelf, save-us-from-the-demonic-hordes stuff. Very impressively constructed. But there is one thing about this series that puts a slight damper on my fiery enthusiasm for the Shadowhunters and their lycanthropic and vampirish brethren. Though I’m sure it says a lot more about me than the books.

I mentioned this in my post about the first book City of Bones;  there’s just something about romance in teen fiction that makes me feel a bit icky. Now. Of course it didn’t when I was a teenager. Back then I found it either hopelessly romantic, intriguing or exciting. Occasionally I found it funny…  I have a fond memory of my year seven home room teacher blowing her stack as our class cackled at a friend’s recitation of a scene in Judy Blume’s Forever. (He put aftershave where?) But I’m not referring to the realistic, honest, non-condescending and often heart-wrenching novels of Ms Blume when I talk about literary teenage romance and sex making me feel weird. Back then we giggled because we didn’t quite yet understand about sex, love and romantic relationships (not that we necessarily do now, but it was even less then) and because making the teacher lose it held cachet. These days I feel uncomfortable (though now it’s more of a furrowed brow than a giggle) because I find myself wondering at the ideas about teen love and relationships we’re perpetuating in some of our YA literature and wishing it was all a bit more Blumey.

So here are my top three ‘teen romance’ icky-fiers:

1. At 15 you will meet the person-of-your-dreams (POYD) who you will spend the rest of your life with. It’s destiny. Oh and you and POYD have some kind of barrier to your undying love, but it can never be extinguished, and all will see the righteousness of your love in the end. The example in these books is that the two main characters are siblings. Well, they think they are and we think they are too, and yet feelings are being felt… As a friend pointed out ‘all the characters in the book just accept that something is going on between them and that it’s ok, but it’s not’ – I guess one assumes we will discover they are not related, but at the moment, people, they are.

2. 15- and 16-years-olds talking about sex as if they know what it’s all about. I know we all knew everything when we were 16, but the thing you work out as an adult is that you actually knew shit. So why do adult authors like to instil in their teen characters the vocabulary, wit and life-knowledge of a 30-year-old? Did the abomination of Dawson’s Creek teach us nothing? Teens are smart, witty and awesome as they are. Write them so. And every now and then let them be a bit awkward, slightly clueless and perhaps a little honest about the whole physical romance thang. What 16-year-old guy is wanting to make love out of some unshakeable belief in his lifelong, heartfelt desire for his POYD?  (Actually what 28-year-old guy… but I digress).

3. I don’t want to read about adolescents having sex (or talking about having sex). Putting all the philosophical, social, psychological and cultural arguments to one side, there is very little which appeals to me about the idea of two teenagers getting it on, however flowery, fantastical, romantic and oh-so-wonderful it is made to seem. I don’t know if this one just makes me seem cynical and lacking in empathy and imagination or what, but there you are. I do realise I’m not the target market, but still. And I understand that as readers, women especially, we often figuratively place ourselves in the character’s role and don’t think I’m immune to the idea of some handsome rune-covered boy seeing me as his POYD and wanting to … well, we digress again… it’s just that a part of my brain even when lost within a romantic (or sexy) paragraph will whisper in one of those stage whispers that isn’t a whisper ‘but they’re only 16’. And then I am re-icked.

City of Ashes is not as strong a novel as its predecessor but the strength of the final third (and needing to know what happens) will whirl me into the next one. And the above revelations of my own issues with love and relationships aside, the ick-factor of teen romance does not dominate the book. It’s much more about werewolves and fairies, warlocks and vampires, shadowhunters and their gleaming weapons, fantastical lands and monstrous acts. And battles. Battles against evil, battles of faith, battles of friendship and life, and even battles of the heart. Slight ick-factor or not, Cassandra Clare has created a world that is hard to resist wanting to be a part of. And you know that when that world is full of demonic presences and other things that go bump in the night and you still want to be a part of it, that the author must be doing something right.