I’m on a sort of mini-vacation at the moment (visiting parents, which does count as a holiday, though not one of those where you spend the day sightseeing and doing new things, but one where you can just be lazy and revisit old haunts… which in some ways, are even nicer than the other type).
Obviously old haunts include bookstores, and I’ve realised that I spend more time in the YA section than the “adults” area. I swear, I’m jealous of the reading selection teenagers have nowadays. I’ve just read Cassandra Clare‘s “City of Ashes”, the second in her Mortal Instruments trilogy (YA urban fantasy). You may recall I was umming and ahhing about getting the first book sometime back – well, I did get “City of Bones” last month and it was a B for me. And then I picked up its sequel and LOVED.
Ms Clare wrote in her bio:
In fairy tales, it was the dark and mysterious forest outside the town that held the magic and danger. I wanted to create a world where the city has become the forest-where these urban spaces hold their own enchantments, danger, mysteries and strange beauty.
In Ms Clare’s alternate New York, there are the usual suspects including vampires, werewolves, and warlocks. But it’s not all standard UF fare – the main characters in the book are the Nephilim, or Shadowhunters, humans with the blood of angels running in their veins. They’re tasked with keeping the world safe from demons, and also to keep the peace between what they call Downworlders (the vampires, werewolves, etc.). To help them, they are able to draw Marks – runes they trace on their bodies that can help them attack, defend, or heal.
Clary is a human who stumbles upon the secret world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders – except of course, it’s not really a coincidence. The first book centres on Clary figuring out her family secrets and discovering more about the hidden world. And falling in love. Yes, there is romance alongside the action. Young love. First love. Forbidden love. Lots of angst.
I love the characters and their relationships in these books. You have Clary, who has feelings that she really shouldn’t have for the beautiful blond Shadowhunter Jace (or should she??? I suspect there are yet more twists to come). And then there’s Simon, Clary’s practical best friend, who’s suffering from unrequited love, but hmmm… has plenty of other things to keep him more than busy. The secondary characters are fun too. I’ve a soft spot for Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of… Brooklyn. Who, despite his love for glitter and sparkle, is really a rather powerful magician. And oh yeah, the evil guys. Black. White. Shades of grey. It’s not all just romance and lust in these books, there’s also a focus on relationships between people who aren’t related by blood, but are family all the same. Or, conversely, blood relatives who aren’t family.
Also, Ms Clare adds contemporary detail – from Simon’s t-shirts to Clare’s love of manga – that helps round out the characters and just makes this series more fun. I stumbled upon the Characters page when writing this post and love the sketches, btw.
I’m not going to say the plot is the most original ever or the world the most unique ever, but hey, you could have the best plotline in the world, and if I don’t care about the characters, the book doesn’t work for me. This book works because I like the characters, I feel for them, and… they make me laugh. Yes, the snappy comebacks and one-liners sometimes seem out of place, but they do make me snicker, and definitely add to the charm these books have for me.
So while the first book, “City of Bones” was a decent read (but didn’t send me running to the bookstore to get its sequel straightaway), “City of Ashes” picked up where CoB left off and completely captured my imagination. I can’t believe I have to wait five more months for the final book “City of Glass” (released March 2009). Damn.