on April 28, 2015
I'll be honest, I hated "City of Fallen Angels." It felt like an unnecessary attempt to draw out a series that had previously been completed. I'm a completionist, and with only 2 books left in the series, I figured I could push through the last installments to see if Clare could turn around the mess that was the last book. Much to my dismay (and annoyance), not only does "City of Lost Souls" fail to make the previous novel seem worth it, it somehow manages to be worse. Spoilers follow.
"City of Lost Souls" takes place a couple weeks after "City of Fallen Angels." Sebastian has completely disappeared from the map, unable to be tracked by the Clave...and he's taken Jace with him. Worse, the ritual from the last book has bound the two together, making it impossible to hurt or kill Sebastian without doing equal harm to Jace. Though the Clave has put the search on the backburner, Clary refuses to give in and willingly turns herself over to Sebastian in hopes of discovering what has happened to Jace and what Sebastian is planning. What she finds is terrifying: Jace is under some sort of mind control to do Sebastian's bidding...and Sebastian is planning to create a new group of demonically-aligned Shadowhunters using his newly-created Infernal Cup.
The plot may sound straightforward, but it was difficult to pick out the central story because the book is all over the place. I mentioned in my review for the previous book that the story got hopelessly lost amongst all of the relationship drama; the same thing happened here tenfold. Note that a vast majority of the big plot deals with Jace's disappearance, which means that a huge portion of the book is devoted to Jace and Clary...again. I'll address them further in a bit, but story-wise, Clary's point of view is used the most (the point of view rotation seemed to be Other Character, Clary, Other Character, Clary, so she takes center stage every other point of view switch), which ends up being a problem since most of what she addresses barely seems relevant. Sure, she sees some of the big events, but most of her parts deal exclusively with her pining over Jace, going on dates with Jace, and making out with Jace. It gets old fast, and Clary isn't the only one guilty of this. Pretty much every character has a significant other and their own associated drama to pad the pages out. I flew through this book, not because it held a captivating story, but because I eventually got so tired of reading about characters making out or brooding about their boy/girl friend nonstop that I just started skimming every time these things popped up...which is at least once in pretty much every chapter. Simon, Isabelle, Alec, and Magnus (or Team Good, as they're called in the book) seem to do more to move the story forward, but with every chapter containing long romance-related scenes, I wanted to scream at the characters to stop making out and do something! The novel is mostly relationship fluff; the action doesn't start until about a couple chapters from the end, and there's definitely some promise in the events that occur there, but it's too little too late. There should be some big things in this novel, but instead it's mostly filler - you can skim through most of it (like I did) and not miss anything.
Equally annoying is the fact that the series could have easily ended with this book, yet Clare chose to drag it on for one more novel. It only adds to the feeling that this is an unnecessary filler book when the action doesn't really start until the end and the author provides a way for the protagonists to stop the villain, only to conveniently make it so it doesn't work out, necessitating another novel. I liked the idea of the sword Glorious, its origins, and what it was capable of; it could have been used to provide a satisfying demise to Sebastian, but instead it was wasted for the sake of extending an already overextended series. Also, Jace dies...again. Don't worry, Jace fans, he's brought back...again. I disliked it when this happened in the third book and I liked it even less in this one. Cassandra Clare seems to like the idea of being edgy and "not afraid" to go there, but the impact of this is completely lost when dead characters keep coming back. Death is terrifying and heart-wrenching in its finality. Take away the permanence and it just becomes another contrived plot device for the author to use in a lazy attempt to pull at our heartstrings or put Clary in suspense when she has to make a difficult decision. Either let him stay dead or don't bother.
I believe I've said this in every review for this series so far, but Clare's writing is just not improving. That's not to say she's a bad writer; she has a knack for settings and can describe a scene (whether it's an action scene or something more peaceful) very fluidly. However, she's still too predictable. The plot twists can be seen way before they're revealed, which lessens their impact and can make for a disappointing reading experience. Additionally, both this and the previous novel felt very phoned in in terms of voice and style. The first 3 books had a certain wit and tone to the writing, and it just hasn't been present in these last couple installments. And the description...most of the problem with it is repetition. I should have kept count (or started a drinking game) of how many times Jace is described as golden/angelic/smelling of salt/etc. We get it...he's hot. Clary's pale skin and red hair are mentioned again and again, as are Magnus's cat-like eyes. Also, apparently all couples about to make out use the other's belt loops to pull their partner closer (seriously, who does this?). It feels like Clare simply isn't "into" this trilogy like she was the first one. The writing is lackluster and flat in delivery, which makes the pages of romantic fluff, repetitive descriptions, and predictable plot twists incredibly difficult.
Though, on a random note, I have to commend the author on her well-placed "Star Wars" pun. I'm a huge "Star Wars" fan, so I got a chuckle out of it (one of the very few times I laughed while reading this).
The biggest part of "City of Lost Souls" is the romance and, if we're going to be honest, this thing reads like a teenage soap opera. I'll get my bias out of the way up front: I don't like romance. That being said, I accept that it's part of most (if not all) novels and have even enjoyed it on rare occasions when it's well done. It's not well done here. Perhaps my biggest peeve is that every character is neatly paired up with someone; I don't think there's a single main character in the book without a significant other. This contributes to the issue of every chapter being bogged down with romance. It's overkill. Even Jocelyn's few scenes are riddled with her feelings for Luke. With such a big cast, it's simply not realistic that everyone would have found their perfect partner (especially when most of the characters are teenagers) and its ridiculous that they all brood about it.
Clary and Jace are obviously the most prominent relationship in the book, and that's a bit of a shame because they're also the most boring couple. Their story and development ended at the end of the third book; since then, their relationship has stagnated and been dragged on too long. Clary's mother comments at one point that they simply aren't meant to be together...and I'm inclined to agree since they don't really bring out the best of one another. Worse, I don't really feel any chemistry between them beyond their make out sessions. And on the note of the physical side of their relationship, could they just have sex already? I'm usually not a big supporter of kids getting it on, but they begin to get intimate countless times in the book, only to be interrupted just before they can go any farther. It's frustrating, and not in the good, suspenseful way; it's tiresome to read/skim these scenes, knowing they aren't adding anything to the narrative. And since the novel ends with Jace effectively not being able to touch Clary, we're probably in for even more whining about not being able to be physical in the next book. Yippee.
Simon and Isabelle are a tad more interesting than Clary and Jace, but when I say a tad, I mean it. Perhaps it's just because Isabelle's character has never really resonated with me, but I find it difficult to care about who she ends up with. That being said, she and Simon actually have some chemistry and face more interesting hurtles than the main couple, which makes them marginally more enjoyable to read about. Alec and Magnus used to be my absolute favourite pairing in these books, but Alec's personality got mangled somewhere between "City of Glass" and this book. I was frustrated with him throughout most of the book and almost cheered when Magnus broke up with him (contemplating shortening someone's life against their will and not telling them is a decidedly big, unforgivable mistake). Their spark is gone, and it's a pity because they used to have the most enjoyable dynamic in the series. I don't know why Jordan and Maia were even in this book. They don't contribute anything to the plot and spend most of their time mooning over each other and having fade-to-black sex scenes. They could have easily been cut out (and shortened the page length of the novel) without affecting the story. There are too many couples packed into this novel, all fighting for attention, which results in none of them feeling fully developed.
We can't discuss the relationships without addressing Sebastian's creepy incestuous advances on Clary. For the life of me, I can't figure out why Clare thought it was necessary to include this. To repeat myself a bit, she appears to enjoy pushing the envelope to prove how edgy and unafraid to flout convention she is. This works well in some cases (I give her mad props for including not one, but two same sex couples), but this went too far for the genre and age group, in my opinion. I have the same issue with it as I did when Clary and Jace thought they were siblings: it simply isn't given the gravity or seriousness it needs. Granted, Clary doesn't reciprocate Sebastian's feelings (thankfully), but it still feels thrown in for the sake of it. Maybe it was meant to show us how demented Sebastian is? If so, it wasn't needed; we can see that he's plenty insane without it. Rather than thinking the author was unique and edgy by including this, I found myself questioning her taste and judgment.
Moving on to characters, I'll be blunt and say that I strongly dislike Clary as a main character. She's incredibly selfish; all of her thoughts and actions revolve around what she wants, which at this point is Jace. She's reaching Bella Swan levels of obsession with her boyfriend - almost every thought in her head is about Jace, how attractive he is, how much she wants to get in his pants, how he isn't himself when being controlled by Sebastian, and so on. She has no interests or hobbies outside of her significant other. I can only read about Jace for so many pages before I start to get irritated at this character's lack of a life outside of her relationship. Also, after five books, she's still terrible about making stupid, impulsive decisions that put herself and her friends in danger, even when others try to make her see reason. This wouldn't be a problem if it was presented as a character flaw...but it isn't. Instead, people attribute it to Clary being headstrong and stubborn; in essence, they stand around going "Oh, that Clary! What can you do?" I don't understand why she hasn't grown at all, despite being the main character for five books.
As an aside, if I didn't like my Kindle so much, I possibly would have chucked it at the wall when Clary called to Sebastian to essentially tattle on Jace when, in a brief moment of regaining control over himself, he wanted to turn himself into the Clave. It's possibly the prime example of Clary being inexcusably selfish. Coincidentally, this is also why I think they're a terrible couple. Clary only thinks of herself; at no point does she consider her boyfriend's feelings...it is all centered on what she wants. She sort of makes up for it by stabbing Jace at the end when she realizes she can't reach Sebastian, but the damage is done.
Speaking of Jace, I didn't really see too much of a difference between mind-controlled Jace and normal Jace. Mind-controlled Jace was perhaps a little more bloodthirsty and of course was more obedient of Sebastian's orders, but both he and Clary went on and on about how mind-controlled Jace was a completely different man than regular Jace, and I just didn't see enough of a difference to validate that statement.
Most of the other characters (with a couple notable exceptions) seem to be shadows of who they were in the first trilogy. Simon is easily one of my favourites. If a character makes me laugh, it's usually Simon (or Magnus). I've enjoyed watching him come to terms with what he is and what having the Mark of Cain means (though, on that note, couldn't he just ask Clary to draw another one for him after losing it in this book?). Heck, I've even liked seeing his relationship with Isabelle develop. My only complaint regarding Simon is how much time he spends with Clary. He's supposed to have moved on from her...and while I get that they're best friends, he still seems incredibly devoted to her (moreso than to his potential girlfriend, which he thankfully realizes late in the book). Isabelle and Alec almost aren't worth mentioning because they either aren't terribly present (Isabelle) or have had their character butchered (Alec). Magnus is Magnus...he's always magnificent. Jordan and Maia, again, could have been left out of the book for all they accomplish both in terms of plot and character growth.
Sebastian really just isn't doing it for me as the novel's villain. He's evil, that much is made clear, and we get it. However, it often feels like Clare is trying to make him bigger and more nefarious than Valentine, and while he's perhaps nastier than Valentine, he isn't as satisfying an antagonist. I liked Valentine because, despite his means and goals being questionable, he had a sort of honour, which produced some lovely shades of grey when dealing with him. Sebastian lacks the same multi-faceted persona. He's just pure evil, which isn't that interesting.
So, in closing, I essentially have nothing good to say about "City of Lost Souls." I thought the last book would be worst installment of the series, but it looks like this one will hold that honour. It suffers horribly from middle book syndrome: nothing really happens and most of the book is fluff, meant simply to fill the space between the first book of the second trilogy and the third. With the exception of a couple things at the end, you could probably skip this one and go into the last book without missing anything. When Jordan and Maia went to the Praetor Lupus headquarters, they encounter a werewolf who is being reprimanded for some big event in Boston that resulted in his charge's leg being broken...I found myself wondering why we couldn't have read about that story instead of the boring drama we ended up with. Ultimately, that's the biggest problem with this novel: it's full of uninteresting relationship drama. We get it, they're teens and their hormones are raging...but the world as they know it is possibly about to end. Let's get our priorities straight, people! If there wasn't only one book left, I'd probably abandon the series here, but as it stands, I'll be reading the final installment, if only to see how this mess ends up. One star...and that's only because amazon won't let me give a zero or negative star rating.