Anyone who’s been in Harry Potter fandom for as long as I have has certainly heard of the infamous Cassandra Clare. Bringing her up is always fun because people have such extreme feelings when it comes to her — either rabid hate or blind obedience. There is no gray area when it comes to Clare. For me, the whole debacle and the way she handled it has always made me skeptical of everything that she has put out.
That plagiarism debacle, however, certainly didn’t end Clare’s writing career. In 2007, she came out with “City of Bones”, a book that would jumpstart her successful “The Mortal Instruments” series. She’s been on the top of the New York Times (NYT) Bestseller List and as garnered praise from authors like Holly Black and Tamora Pierce.
Even “Clockwork Angel”, the first book in her new “Infernal Devices” series, shot up the NYT Bestseller List despite the mixed fan reaction, with most of the fans complaining that “Clockwork Angel” merely rehashed characters, plots, and themes Clare had already explored in her three previous books.
Her latest novel, “City of Fallen Angels”, is a return to the series that made her famous. The novel shifts its focus from Clary Fray to that of her best friend, Simon Lewis. Will this new novel be a return to form, or another clunky addition to a once soaring collection?
“City of Fallen Angels” begins months after the end of the Mortal War, the interspecies conflict that pitted Shadowhunters and Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, and warlocks), against demons that threatened to overrun the world.
Much has changed since then, with Simon juggling a relationship between Isabelle, a Shadowhunter, and Maia, a werewolf. Jace, whom Clary brought back from the dead at the end of “City of Glass”, is being haunted by dreams of killing Clary, driving a wedge between their still fledgling romantic relationship.
But all of their personal problems have to take a back seat as an even greater danger looms over their shared world. All over New York City, Shadowhunters are being killed in the territories of the Downworlders, threatening the new peace being brokered between the two opposing races, and it is up to Jace, Clary, and their Shadowhunter brethren to find out who is behind it all.
Even closer to home, Simon is finding himself confronted by one of the city’s most ancient Downworlders, prodding him to choose a side between the Shadowhunters he is friends with or the Downworlders with whom he belongs by virtue of his being a vampire. And on top of all that, someone is also trying to kill him!
Will the friends manage to figure out and defeat the malevolent forces plaguing their city in time, or will the apocalypse they so narrowly averted in the first three books end up catching up with them? And even if they survive what is to come, will their relationships be equally as strong?
One of the complaints most frequently lobbed at “Clockwork Angel” was the fact that it held too many similarities to the first book in Clare’s ouvere. Just like in “City of Bones”, a love triangle between two Shadowhunters and a Downworlder lay at the heart of “Clockwork Angel”, and Clare merely mines the same themes of family secrets and forbidden love that she had already explored in her first three books.
This is why Clare’s decision to ground a huge part of her novel around Simon, Clary’s best friend and a Daylighter (a vampire that can walk under the sun) is an inspired choice. His sarcasm and geek-based humor may prove more relatable to readers that may have had enough of the supernatural young adult (YA) romances that have flooded bookstore shelves as of late, and his concerns certainly extend beyond just the relationships he has with the female characters in the book.
While issues of isolation and the desire to fit in is a common trope in vampire fiction, in “City of Fallen Angels” it provides a welcome breather from the romantic conflicts that usually take center stage in YA novels of this kind. When Clare writes about Simon’s unease at not being able to totally fit in – even with his friends and family – she is finally departing from the overworked issues she explored in her first four novels.
Far from being the peripheral character that he was in the first three books, Simon has come into his own in this novel. Clare pushes and prods him, even making him commit a jaw-dropping action somewhere in the middle of the novel, and because of that makes readers feel like she is actually telling a new story. While Simon is far from being a groundbreaking character in the greater scheme of YA fiction, he does bring a new life to “The Mortal Instruments”.
Unfortunately, “City of Fallen Angels” is not totally about Simon, and when it departs from his story is when it is at its most weakest. The other half of the story is that of Clary and Jace’s deteriorating romance – a story that has been told over and over again not just in Clare’s own books but in almost all YA supernatural romances that have come out since “Twilight”.
The particulars may be different, but the reasons behind Clary and Jace’s crumbling relationship can be rattled out by anyone who’s read any of Clare’s previous books, or even the YA that has been on local bookshelves for the past several years: Boy is too dangerous for Girl; Boy pushes Girl away; Girl insists that their love will conquer all; True Love save the day.
Even the scenes where Clary and Jace cling desperately to their love read disappointingly like every other YA supernatural romance. Even more damning is the fact that it reads just like more of the same of Clare’s previous work. And as the divided fan opinion on “Clockwork Angel” proves, her fans may be tiring of it as well.
In the end, it’s hard to think of “City of Fallen Angels” reaching anybody else other than already established fans of the series. While certainly a better effort than “Clockwork Angel”, one can’t help but feel that “City of Fallen Angels” could have still been a lot better.