Cassandra Clare,
The Mortal Instruments #2: City of Ashes
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008)

Clary Fray's life has taken so many wrong turns in the last couple of weeks. She has learned that she is a Shadowhunter, a race of people charged with protecting the rest of humanity from demons. And, cool as that sounds, other parts of Clary's life have been falling apart: her kidnapped mother is in a magic-induced coma, held captive by Clary's rogue Shadowhunter father Valentine. Luke, who has been a father-figure for as long as Clary can remember, has revealed himself to be a werewolf. Her best friend Simon is going through some major life-changes that don't have anything to do with acne or girls or choosing which college to attend. And her crush, Jace? Well, it turns out that they're a little closer than she thought they were, and not in a good way.

But that's not even the worst of it. Clary and her fellow Shadowhunters have learned that Valentine is intent on obtaining the three Mortal Instruments. If he does so, his power will be near-infinite. Can Clary and her friends stop him before it's too late?

As a reader, I am discovering something that seems to be fairly consistent in the world of young-adult series fiction: if the series is sequential, I have found that the first book is often the weakest in the series. That is certainly the case with City of Bones, the first of the Mortal Instruments books. The reasons for that become obvious on reflection. In a series, there are often worlds to be built and rules to be established in the first book that can be omitted from subsequent books. City of Ashesis much more engaging, with the action beginning almost immediately and the rapid-fire pacing continuing to the last page.

The blend of magic and real-world New York makes this series, in some ways, the very definition of urban fantasy. Add to it the inclusion of vampires and werewolves, a sprinkling of fairies and a flamboyantly gay wizard, and it starts to seem like every stereotype on the fantasy shelf. And yet, oddly enough, it works. The vampires are different than most of the modern vampires: they're scary and not the least little bit sexy or sparkly. The werewolves have a social structure that is different from most in modern fiction, with a harder edge than one might expect in YA fiction. And you don't even want to tangle with the fairies, 'cause they ain't Tinkerbell.

In other words, what Clare has done is go back to older myths for her source material. Everything has a harder, darker edge than some of the YA books coming out today. In some ways, it is like comparing the Disney versions of fairy tales to the Grimm tales. The older versions are earthier, darker and, ultimately, more frightening.

City of Ashes follows in the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm, offering young readers a darker version of the magical world than they usually get. As a reader, I found this version of the world refreshing and couldn't wait to read book three, City of Glass.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Belinda Christ

5 December 2009

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