Book review: Cassandra Clare’s “City of Lost Souls”

I have to admit that I like the trailer.

However tumultuous her time in the Harry Potter fandom may have been — allegations of plagiarism that people can still read about online — there is no denying the fact that Cassandra Clare has done pretty well for herself since then.

Not only have all four books in her “The Mortal Instruments” series skyrocketed up the New York Times Bestseller list, filming of its movie adaptation is also udnerway, with Jamie Campbell Bower and Lily Collins starring as Jace Wayland and Clary Fray respectively.

Even the lackluster reception from both fans and critics to “Clockwork Angel” and “Clockwork Prince”, the two books in her “The Infernal Devices” series, has not prevented both books from lording it over atop the bestseller lists.

This year, Clare adds another volume to “The Mortal Instruments” series with “City of Lost Souls”, the fifth installment in the ongoing adventures of Jace Wayland and Clary Fray. Will Clare’s winning streak continue with this new novel? Or will her literary luck finally fizzle out?

At the end of “City of Fallen Angels”, the last installment in the series, readers were left with a cliffhanger — series hero Jace Wayland appears to have been successfully controlled by Clary’s evil sibling, Sebastian Verlac. As “City of Lost Souls” begins, the two boys have disappeared and effectively eluded the Shadowhunters that have been tasked with finding them. When the Shadowhunters decide to stop searching for the pair, Clary and her friends decide to take matters into their own hands.

However, Clary’s friends are thrown in for a loop when it appears that no force on Earth can sever the tie that binds Jace and Sebastian together. When a trip to the weapon-making Iron Sisters ends up with them empty-handed, Clary’s friends are forced to literally ask Heaven and Hell for help.

Clary, on the other hand, is toying with something even more dangerous. Deciding to leave her friends to figure out how to separate Jace and Sebastian on her own, Clary soon finds herself starting to doubt her own convictions. When push comes to shove, will Clary be able to make the right choice? Or will her decision be the ruin of us all?

If there’s one thing immediately noticeable at the beginning of “City of Lost Souls”, it is the fact that Clare has finally decided to ease off the relentless focus on Jace and Clary and explore the many side characters that she have been in her universe since “City of Bones”, the first book in the series.

For instance, readers get a better look at the relationship between the Shadowhunter Alec and his centuries-old warlock boyfriend, Magnus. It certainly is a welcome change, as both have been really entertaining as side characters and this further exposition only makes them even more so.

Lesser characters like the werewolves Maia and Jordan also get more time on the page, not only revitalizing the story but also building upon and expanding on the universe Clare has built over the course of four novels.

Sebastian, both as a villain and as a character, is also better used in this novel than he was in “City of Glass”. While similarities between him and Valentine — his father and the main antagonist in the first three books — abound, Sebastian comes off as a more menacing and malevolent presence. The fact that the “incest” storyline that Clare touched at in the previous three books gets a darker treatment here certainly helps as well.

This decision to spread the focus a bit in the fifth book in the series is certainly a marked improvement, as it now feels like Clare is finally telling a new story rather than just rehashing the one that made “City of Bones” a success among readers. The operative word being “feels like”.

Because as much as the stories of these new characters make “City of Lost Souls” an easier read, at its core the book’s plot is once again a retread of the first three books in “The Mortal Instruments” — the only difference is that the supernatural elements have been inverted.

While certainly far more entertaining to read than “City of Fallen Angels”, “City of Lost Souls” isn’t anything a breakthrough for Cassandra Clare either. Longtime readers may find this rote plotting something cozy to come back to time and time again, but it certainly won’t help grow or cultivate a fanbase outside of the true believers.

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