City of Ashes


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Book Review

This contemporary (urban) dark fantasy by Cassandra Clare is the second in the ” The Mortal Instruments” series and is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Publishing.

City of Ashes is written for ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

Jace Wayland finds himself caught in the lies his father, Valentine, created. The young Shadowhunter, a being created from humans and angels, is under suspicion for being in league with his father to destroy the Clave — the governing body of the Shadowhunters. Even Jace’s adopted mother suspects his motives for remaining in the human world. She questions why Jace didn’t return to the Shadowhunters’ home when his father escaped with the Mortal Cup, a powerful Shadowhunter relic.

Clary Fray, another Shadowhunter, wrestles with her emotions. She and Jace fell in love before discovering they were siblings. Her best friend, Simon, is also in love with her, and she can’t work out her feelings for either boy. In addition, her mother remains in a coma that Clary believes Valentine, her father, caused.

When Jace runs from the Institute, a sanctuary for Shadowhunters, he picks a fight with a werewolf. It is a desperate cry for help, as he knows it will bring Clary’s surrogate father, Luke — also a werewolf — to sort out the damage. Jace asks Luke and Clary to accompany him back to the Institute. They discover that the Clave has sent The Inquisitor to question Jace. The Inquisitor doesn’t appreciate Jace’s arrogance and orders him incarcerated in the Silent City, a prison for Shadowhunters.

That night Valentine attacks the prison, killing all of the Silent Brothers that guard it. He finds Jace and explains that he killed the Brothers in order to steal Maellartach, the sword they were sworn to protect. Clary, along with Jace’s adopted brother and sister, interrupt Valentine before he can defend his actions to Jace.

While Jace recovers from demonic poisoning at the home of Magnus, the High Warlock of Brooklyn, they deduce that Valentine stole Maellartach so he could call demons and force them to do his will. In order to perform the ritual necessary to convert the sword to his control, Valentine needs to dip it in the blood of the four kinds of Downworld children — a warlock, a faerie, a werewolf and a vampire. A warlock and a faerie have already been murdered. When the Queen of the Seelie, or faerie, Court requests an audience with them, the Shadowhunters reluctantly agree. They hope to convince the Queen of Valentine’s plan and enlist her aid in the coming battle against him.

The Queen doesn’t agree to help them, but she does dangle tidbits of information regarding Clary and Jace’s heritage, calling them “Valentine’s experiments.” She suggests that he gave them each a gift. Clary has the gift of words that can’t be spoken, and Jace has the “Angel’s own gift,” but she doesn’t say what that is. Clary is trapped in the Seelie underworld after she accidently licks some faerie juice off her fingers. The Queen agrees to let her leave if Clary receives the kiss she most desires. When Simon’s kiss fails to lift the curse, Jace steps forward. His kiss frees Clary, but not without devastating Simon. Before Clary can talk with him, Simon runs away.

Jace and Clary try and sort out their feelings for each other but are interrupted when they find that vampires have attacked Simon. The vampire leader returns Simon’s body to the Institute so the Shadowhunters can decide what should become of him. Clary has to choose between brutally killing Simon and allowing him to live as a vampire. Unable to bear losing him, she allows him to be turned into a Downworlder.

The Inquisitor imprisons Jace after she discovers he has talked with Valentine. Jace tries to convince her that Valentine is close to having his demon army ready to attack, but the Inquisitor doesn’t believe him. Instead, she tries to use Jace as a bargaining chip. She informs Valentine that she will kill Jace unless he returns the Mortal Instruments, the Mortal Cup and Maellartach to the Clave, but Valentine refuses to submit. Jace discovers his special gift after the Inquisitor leaves him imprisoned in an electrical force field. The only way out is to jump 30 feet in the air to clear the walls. Desperate to defeat his father, Jace summons all his strength and jumps from the cell.

Valentine kidnaps Simon and a female werewolf. He wants to use their blood to complete Maellartach’s transformation. Demons attack the Shadowhunters, and in a final showdown, Clary uses her gift, that of words that can’t be spoken. Clary carves the rune for “open” on the wall of the ship. The boat tears apart and eventually explodes. Valentine escapes with the Mortal Cup and Maellartach, but most of the Shadowhunters survive.

Jace and his adoptive mother make amends. Simon tells Clary that he still wants to be friends. When Clary goes to visit her mother at the hospital, she meets a woman who says she knows how to reverse the spell Clary’s mother is under.

Christian Beliefs

A character wrestles with the idea of angels and demons, and heaven and hell, and wonders if there really is a God. The Inquisitor tells Jace that God put Lucifer in hell for his rebellion. Maellartach is the sword that the angels used to keep Adam and Eve from returning to Eden. Valentine says that Jace keeps him from the sin of pride. He also quotes from the Song of Songs. When Valentine sees the rune Clary has written on the wall, he quotes from the book of Daniel.

Other Belief Systems

The book is filled with magic and demons. In the prologue, a young warlock draws a pentagram on the floor as protection from a demon he is summoning. The demon kills him anyway. The Shadowhunters believe that the ashes of their dead provide powerful protection against evil. They also call on “The Angel” to protect them.

Authority Roles

Jace’s adopted mother seems to cast him away from the family and the Institute, but he finds out later she did it to protect him. Luke, Clary’s surrogate father, is kind and protective of all the kids in the story — Shadowhunter, human or werewolf. Valentine twists words to get others to do what he wants or to follow him. He is willing to let the Inquisitor kill Jace rather than give up the Mortal Cup or Maellartach. The Inquisitor is portrayed as a bitter woman, who is intent on causing Valentine harm. After realizing Valentine’s indifference toward Jace, she fights by the boy’s side. When she sees an old scar of Jace’s that he’s had since childhood, her attitude toward him changes to the point that she sacrifices her life for his.

Profanity & Violence

The characters use the words b–tard, b–ch, d–khead, h— and d–n. A– is used by itself and with hole, jack and smart. H— is also used to name the place. God’s name is use in vain with sake, d— and my. Other objectionable words include screw and crap.

Violence is prevalent, with demons attacking and sometimes killing characters. A young werewolf is murdered, and the crime scene is described in detail. Demons are seen smothering characters in something similar to boiling black tar, along with using poison, talons, teeth and scorpion tails to kill. The beasts are described in gruesome detail. Some attributes include suckers with sharp teeth, eye sockets with fangs that drip poison and giant spider-like or skeleton bodies.

After the vampire attack, Simon’s mutilated body is described in detail. To turn him into a vampire he has to be buried and then allowed to dig himself out of the grave. He attacks Clary after the transformation, desperate for blood, but the vampire leader pours packets of animal blood down Simon’s throat to satisfy his craving. Valentine slices Simon’s neck to drain his blood, but Jace finds him before he dies and cuts his own wrists so Simon can regenerate himself. Faeries are the product of angels and demons. They are beautiful but evil. Jace explains how they trick people in ways that lead to their deaths, such as making people dance until their legs are stubs.

Valentine tells Clary about a demon that disguised itself as a human. It would torture and eat small animals and children while they were still alive.

Sexual Content

While watching TV, Simon comments that no one in anime shows has sex. He jokes to Clary that they could watch the porn channels, and he names a couple of suggestive titles. Later, in the kitchen, they share their first kiss. A young werewolf girl describes a previous relationship that went from kissing to abuse. When Simon asks to crash at Luke’s house, Clary offers to let him sleep with her rather than on the couch. The two kiss on her bed several times and joke about having sex.

When Clary comes back after changing into her pajamas, Simon has fallen asleep. She compares Simon’s gentle kisses with the one she shared with Jace, which was full of passion. The Seelie Queen plays with Clary’s conflicting emotions by making her kiss Jace in front of Simon. Clary’s response to the kiss is physical and emotional. Simon remarks that if the two of them held each other any tighter they might break. Some boys are described as looking like they want to have sex, while Jace is said to look like he’s already had sex and now wants to just be friends.

It is hinted throughout the book that Alec, Jace’s foster brother, and the warlock Magnus are in a homosexual relationship. When Jace confronts Alec, trying to reassure him that it wouldn’t matter if he were gay, Alec angrily denies the accusation. It is obvious to Clary that the reason Alec won’t admit his homosexuality is that he has feelings for Jace.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Jace goes to the werewolf bar to have a drink and stir up trouble.
  • People often use drugs or alcohol to mask their problems.
  • Consider other ways Jace could have tried to handle his problems.
  • What would you have done?

  • Clary views Luke as her father.

  • What role does a dad play in his daughter’s life and how does Luke fulfill this role?

  • The Inquisitor suspects Jace of being in league with Valentine because of their relationship.

  • Should children be considered guilty of their parents’ sin?
  • Why might people do this?
  • Why are people often judged by their relationships, whether they are family or friends?
  • Should people be judged based on the friends they hang around?
  • What is the difference between being judged by what your parents have done and being judged by what your friends do?

  • Valentine quotes Daniel’s prophetic words, “mene mene tekel upharsin.” Read Daniel 5:25-28 to learn what the words mean.

  • How do you think they applied to Valentine?

  • Luke admits to Clary that he loves her mother but has never told her.

  • In what ways did his actions demonstrate his love?
  • Which is easier for you, to say the words or demonstrate your love?

  • What problem does Clary’s rune for “fearless” cause?

  • Fear is a powerful emotion.
  • How can fear be good for us?
  • How can fear keep us from doing God’s will?

Additional Comments

Alcohol: Jace drinks a shot of malt liquor after he runs away from the Institute. Werewolves are said to drink off the effects of their transformation.

Smoking: Magnus smokes some kind of cigarette.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book’s inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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