This was a very good book. Echo City, a massive city surrounded on all sides by a toxic wasteland, its only option for expansion and development being...moreThis was a very good book. Echo City, a massive city surrounded on all sides by a toxic wasteland, its only option for expansion and development being to build on top of the old city, abandoning the lower layers as lost 'echoes' of the city it is now, is a great setting. The complex modern politics, the abandoned lower layers of the city (possibly populated by phantoms and monsters) and the mysterious, arcane Bakers feel like they could support a dozen different stories.
This book focuses on a time of great change though, when a man walks into the city from the wasteland, an impossible feat, and becomes a key part in events that could bring about the city's doom or its rebirth. Caught up in his wake are a collection of strong characters, all broken but all driven to see their goals through to the end, whatever the cost, and with the entire city at stake those costs are incredibly high.(less)
Ringil Eskiath is one of my favourite characters in all fiction.
In the previous book, The Steel Remains, he was a jaded war hero without a cause, tryi...moreRingil Eskiath is one of my favourite characters in all fiction.
In the previous book, The Steel Remains, he was a jaded war hero without a cause, trying to content himself by trading on past glories and bedding any man he could convince to let him do so, until he was recruited into a quest that required his particular skills. The events of that quest left him hollowed out and broken in spite of his victory, and with a hatred of slavery being just about the only thing he is still passionate about.
By the time The Cold Commands begins he has made an enemy of just about every slaver in the Empire and is running out of places to hide, while also having attracted the attention of dark powers he doesn't understand and doesn't much care about either. He ends up back in Yhelteth, home of the other two main characters of each book, fellow war heroes Archeth Indamaninarmal and Egar Dragonbane.
However, they both have problems of their own. Egar is sexually and spiritually frustrated, unable to be with the woman he loves and with no purpose in life beyond harassing the local religious zealots. Archeth has received a dire warning of an imminent threat that could bring down the whole Empire, and has to convince the Emperor to launch a major expedition to a place that may not even exist, while also trying to manage Egar's frustrations and Ringil's lack of tact or respect for the machinations of empire.
At first it seems like it's Archeth's expedition that would be the core of the story, but her plans are overshadowed completely by Ringil and Egar, who manage to upset the tentative balance that is just about keeping the city and the nation from erupting into civil war. In the process they uncover a grave threat much closer to home, and that again needs somebody like Ringil to try and put a stop to it.
More so even than Takeshi Kovacs, main character of Richard Morgan's brilliant sci-fi trilogy, Ringil is a broken, disillusioned man who knows that his actions won't much matter in the long run. Like Kovacs though he still tries and he still fights, because what else is there? As long as he's still alive he's going to do his damnedest to be an obstacle to anybody who deserves to have their plans thwarted, who seeks to take advantage of people or start a war, because that's what heroes do. It's cost him every part of himself, he no longer cares about much of anything at all, but he's still a hero and he's a fantastic character for it.(less)
City of Ashes picks up almost immediately after the events of City of Bones, the characters still dealing with the immediate aftermath of all that hap...moreCity of Ashes picks up almost immediately after the events of City of Bones, the characters still dealing with the immediate aftermath of all that happened. Jace is suffering the most, revelations about his family sowing the seeds of distrust among his adopted parents and the Shadowhunter society as a whole, the fearsome Inquisitor called in to interrogate him and establish just how close he is to Valentine. Clary and Simon are also still reeling from all that has happened, Clary still trying to adjust to the new version of reality she has been thrown into and what it all means for her feelings towards Jace.
Adding to the difficulties they face is the continued efforts of Valentine to bring down the ruling Shadowhunters and reforge their society into what he wants it to be (chiefly racist towards any supernatural being who is not a Shadowhunter, and merciless in their punishments of those who break the rules). He's set his sights on the next of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul Sword, which will allow him to build up a temporary army more quickly than he can with the Cup. To obtain it and carry out his plans he's turned to questionable but formidable allies, but even when Clary, Jace and their allies learn of his plans they have trouble convincing anybody because of their connections to Valentine. They can't be trusted, and that lack of trust could be all Valentine needs to bring the world of the Shadowhunters crashing down.
City of Ashes flows smoothly from City of Bones. The three core characters of Clary, Jace and Simon all develop well across the book, improving in knowledge and skill in addition to maturing in their views, and plenty of the supporting characters have some good moments of their own. The feelings Jace and Clary have for one another continue to be a major source of tension for them that there is seemingly no solution to, and it remains to be seen exactly where Cassandra Clare is heading with it. The setting is further expanded upon as we see more supernatural races and the places such beings spend their time, more secondary characters being added to the mix and altering the group dynamic.
With the supernatural world already established in the previous book Clare wastes no time before getting down to business. The story hits the ground running, Valentine making some bold moves right from the start, and everything seems to have escalated in general, the climactic battle being bigger than anything else in the series so far. That pace and action doesn't come at the expense of the personal drama though, and all that made City of Bones so enjoyable is still present here, making it another great book.(less)
Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series has led to a huge surge in popularity for a certain kind of fantasy story, bookstores setting aside shelves purely f...moreStephenie Meyer's Twilight series has led to a huge surge in popularity for a certain kind of fantasy story, bookstores setting aside shelves purely for 'dark romance' or 'vampire romance' novels aimed at the young adult market, particularly girls. City of Bones falls into that general category and has a glowing recommendation on the cover from Meyer herself, which is almost guaranteed to deter people who (somewhat accurately) think of the Twilight series as a bad thing.
Being the first novel it follows a fairly standard pattern to its opening chapters. Clarissa Fray is a normal teen girl in New York City, living a normal life of friends and school. At a club she witnesses a murder that nobody else seems able to see and clearly isn't normal even for a murder, and soon her mother has disappeared and Clary is attacked by a strange monster. That leads to her being properly introduced to the paranormal world, which is where Cassandra Clare gets to branch out from convention a little more.
This is young adult fiction so obviously the story revolves around teens, making them the most important people in the world and making them essentially the equals of much older adults in terms of knowledge and skill, sent out on their own on missions of great importance. That's all part of the territory so just has to be accepted, and is at least a little justified by the nature of the setting.
City of Bones avoids most of the notable criticisms that have been levelled at the Twilight series. Clary has her own goals and motivations that actually run counter to or undermine those of her new allies, and slaps somebody for taking a risk with her life instead of just being impressed by his daring. She doesn't end up tagging along through coincidence and accidental connections, she's significantly and personally involved in what is happening and essential to stopping the villain's plans. Nor does she abandon her 'mundane' friend in favour of her new life, she makes a real effort to involve him.
Romance is another theme, and the teen focus means infatuations are given a lot of significance, enmities borne over shared affections. Indeed, for the majority of the book such things define Clary's relationship with two of the other main characters. It makes sense within the setting though. In spite of all that's happening Clary has still spent many years as a normal teen girl and still thinks and feels like one, her 'female gaze' causing her to notice things like the eyelashes and bone definition of the boys she spends her time with.
As the book progresses it's easy to make certain obvious assumptions. These two will be the main love interests. This person loves that person but will probably end up with this other person. This person and that person will likely be revealed to be more closely connected than they realise at the moment. To Clare's credit she doesn't always go the obvious route and comes up with some genuinely surprising developments.
The story moves at a good pace, fleshing out the world while advancing the plot, save for one major detour that didn't seem to serve any purpose beyond delaying the story and splitting the team for no reason (and considering the types of supernatural creatures involved it could almost be seen as pandering to the Twilight audience). It was retroactively made more significant thanks to later events, but still feels like a lot of time spent for little gain. That's only one section though.
City of Bones is a fun novel with an interesting take on the supernatural world, defying expectations even as it follows a fairly comfortable path. It has some good characters and develops them well across the story, and I'm looking forward to reading the next entry in the series.(less)