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Book Review: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

I’m in love with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

Not long ago, I explored why, if I were a teenager, I would have loved this young adult series (among others).  But I’m not a teenager.  I’m a 27-year-old woman.  I have a job, I pay taxes, and I have someone who relies on me for food and shelter.  (Okay, that “someone” is a cat, but you get the idea.)  Yet I still love this series, and I think—dare I say it?—City of Fallen Angels, the latest installment, may be the best of the series.

The book description, courtesy of the Simon & Schuster website:

Who will be tempted by darkness? Who will fall in love, and who will find their relationship torn apart? And who will betray everything they ever believed in?

Love. Blood. Betrayal. Revenge.

In the heart-pounding fourth installment of the Mortal Instruments series, the stakes are higher than ever.


I read the first three books in the series about a year and a half ago.  At the time, I was starting for feel pretty burned out on young adult fiction; reading it nonstop was starting to make me feel as if life ended at 18.  Yet this series transcended that and instantly became one of my favorites of 2009.  It focuses on a teenage girl named Clary who, when her mother is kidnapped, discovers she’s a part of a race of demon hunters called Shadowhunters.

At the end of the third book, City of Glass, Clary and Jace—a 17-year-old Shadowhunter who is as talented as he is arrogant—are engaging in a relationship.  Clary’s best friend Simon has been turned into a vampire and he has two girls interested in him: Isabelle, another Shadowhunter, and Maia, a werewolf.  Isabelle’s brother, Alec, has openly acknowledged his relationship with Magnus Bane, a warlock.  The bad guy, Valentine—the man who raised Jace, as well as Clary’s biological father (confusing, I know)—had been defeated, and everyone lived happily ever after.  Right?

I would have been perfectly happy if Clare had ended the series with City of Glass.  But honestly, I’m glad she didn’t.  There were a number of loose ends dangling at the end of Glass—not enough that the story felt like a cliffhanger, but enough that I wanted to read more about these characters and what happened to them.  Even with the happy ending, I felt like things weren’t really resolved, somehow.

One of the things I loved about this installment is how Clare explored the idea of mortality versus immortality.  One of the more common tropes of young adult paranormal fiction is that ordinary human characters often fall in love with immortal creatures and are then turned into immortals themselves, and everyone lives happily ever after.  It’s a powerful metaphor, since teenagers often feel like they’re going to live forever anyway.  But the consequences and implications of that are never explored.

Poor Simon is a reluctant vampire.  He’s been trying to live as normal of a life as possible, but he’s having a hard time hiding his unusual feeding and sleeping habits from his mother.  He’s still disgusted by blood, drinking as little of it as possible…which, as anyone who’s ever watched a vampire movie ever knows, is a really bad idea.  His status as a “Daylighter” (a vampire with immunity to sunlight) and the Mark of Cain he was given (which makes him invulnerable) makes the local vampire clan unwilling to accept him.  And he keeps being reminded that everyone he cares about—Clary, Isabelle, Maia, his mother—are all going to age and die, while he will not.  Much as I love Jace, it was Simon who really broke my heart in this book.  He’s a nice guy who got stuck in a craphole of a situation.  He didn’t want to be a vampire, but he’s stuck, and he doesn’t know exactly how to deal with it.  He still wants to be part of the human world, but that world no longer really belongs to him.

With Alec and Magnus, you have the problem of a mortal engaging in a relationship with an immortal.  Unlike Shadowhunters, warlocks live forever.  (Magnus admitted he was 800 years old in one of the previous books.)  There’s a couple of problems with this.  First, someone who’s been around for 800 years has likely been around the block a few times.  (The dialogue between Alec and Magnus when Magnus’s “colorful” past comes to light had me laughing out loud.)  Second, there’s this strange sense of inevitability to it.  One partner will die.  The other will not.  The ending is built into the beginning.  (And if you think about it, that’s really true for all relationships.  Only most of the time, it isn’t quite so obvious.)

As for Jace and Clary, Jace is still having a hard time coming to terms with the things Valentine did, and his fear that he will become like Valentine.  He pushes Clary away, and Clary doesn’t understand why he’s behaving like this.  (Oh yeah, I’ve definitely been there!)  I love the way Clare allows us to see the different layers to Jace.  With most people, he’s arrogant and cocky, but when you get past that, this is a guy who has some serious self-loathing.  He’s trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that the guy who raised him was a monster.  Should he hate the guy?  Why doesn’t he hate the guy?

This is a darker, sadder book than its predecessors, but I’m glad Clare went there.  If you like happy endings, maybe you should stop reading at City of Glass (or at least, wait until the next two books in the series are published before you continue).  But if you’ve ever felt as if the happy ending isn’t quite as “ever after” as it seems, then this may be the book for you.