Book review: Cassandra Clare’s “City of Heavenly Fire”

For longtime fans of young adult (YA) author Cassandra Clare, “City of Heavenly Fire” has been a book several years in the making.

After all, their journey into the Shadow World began in 2007 with the publication of “City of Bones”. In it, readers were introduced to 15-year-old Clary Fray and her introduction to the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders, supernatural beings who often find themselves at odds with each other.

Since then, “City of Bones” has not only spawned five more books — “City of Ashes,” “City of Glass,” “City of Fallen Angels,” and “City of Lost Souls” — to form “The Mortal Instruments” series. It has also paved the way for “The Infernal Devices” series, a tale of Shadowhunters set in Victorian England and made up of the books “Clockwork Angel,” Clockwork Prince,” and “Clockwork Princess”. And while the succeeding books have drawn mostly mixed reactions from critics and readers alike, it has not prevented them from zooming up the New York Times bestseller lists.

Just last year, “City of Bones” was adapted into a movie starring Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace and Lily Collins as Clary Fray, with “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey and “The Hobbit” star Aidan Turner playing supporting roles. The sequel, “City of Ashes,” is set to start production this year.

In “Ctiy of Heavenly Fire,” readers finally have an ending to a story that they have been following for close to a decade now. But will it be an ending that they will find acceptable after years of loyal reading? Or will it end up being a disappointment that ends up crashing and burning?

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At the end of “City of Lost Souls,” the penultimate book in “The Mortal Instruments” series, the Shadowhunters and their allies could not be in a more vulnerable place. While Jace has managed to free himself from the link to Clary’s evil sibling, Sebastian Verlac, it has come at a great cost to his and Clary’s relationship. Jace now has heavenly fire inside him, causing him to burn anything he touches whenever he experiences an adrenaline rush — whether from fighting or making out with Clary.

The other Shadowhunters’ relationships are also in trouble. Alec Lightwood has been dumped by his boyfriend, the warlock Magnus Bane, after he considers the vampire Camille’s offer of stripping Magnus of his immortality. And Simon Lewis, Clary’s vampire best friend, doesn’t know where he stands with the Shadowhunter Isabelle.

But all of these relationship problems take a back seat as Sebastian’s plan begins to unfold. Using a twisted version of the Mortal Cup, Sebastian has been turning Shadowhunters into the Endarkened, mere shells of the people they were before and completely under Sebastian’s control. And as it becomes more and more clear that somebody within the ranks of the Shadowhunters and its allies is working with Sebastian, the series’ heroes are finding themselves with less and less options to work with.

Left with little choice, Clary and Jace, along with their friends Isabelle, Simon, and Alec, end up heading to the demon dimension of Edom to take the battle to Sebastian himself. The mission is dangerous enough as it is — no human being has ever returned from any of the demon realms — but with Sebastian constantly two steps ahead of them, this may literally be the end.

“City of Heavenly Fire” is a thicker book than the other books in the series, clocking in past 700 pages, and it’s easy to see why. Clare opens the book at the Los Angeles Institute, soon to be the main setting for yet another series on Shadowhunters, titled “The Dark Artifices”. The Los Angeles Institute suffers one of the first attacks that Sebastian and his Endarkened launch upon the Shadowhunters, and it gives the book a sufficiently thrilling start.

But as much as this new setting and its residents give the book a running start, it only proves to be a stumbling block in the long run. While Emma Carstairs, one of the residents of the Los Angeles Institute, does provide crucial information that points Clary and her friends in the right direction, her story is too much of a distraction from the main plot, bogging down a plot that, quite frankly, sometimes feels all too familiar.

It’s tempting to list down the similarities to the first three books in the series. The Shadowhunters retreating to the safety of the city of Alicante? Already happened in “City of Glass”. The adult Shadowhunters still continue to question Clary’s group, despite the fact that the first three books had the gang actually win a war for them. And the incestuous undertones that were first introduced in the first three books still continue, with Clare basically just doing the inverse of what she did in “City of Glass”.

If there’s anything keeping readers going, it’s to see what happens to the characters they’ve followed for so long, and at least in this Clare delivers. Issues going as far back as the first three books — and even from those in “The Infernal Devices” series — are resolved, and the characters all get their happy ending, one way or another.

And as distracting as the Los Angeles Institute subplot is to the main story, it does introduce a new and interesting mythology to the Shadowhunter universe, one that will hopefully inject new fire into a series that has already started to sputter a few books ago. By the time readers reach the excerpt from “Lady Midnight” — the first book in the new “The Dark Artifices” series — they may actually find their interest perking up.

All in all, “City of Heavenly Fire” is both a beginning and an end. Readers who may have tired of Clare’s stylings in earlier books may not find anything redeeming here, but true believes who have stayed with her through the years may find themselves not only satisfied, but also eagerly awaiting yet another tale about the Shadowhunters of our world.

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