Monday, June 2, 2014

Ave Atque Vale, TMI: City of Heavenly Fire Review

City of Heavenly Fire is the sixth and final installment of YA bestseller Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” series. While I still wish Clare had ended with the excellent conclusion of the original trilogy, CoHF is better than the previous two books combined. Much of the clumsiness and stale fanservice of City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls are traded for the deft mix of action and wit-tempered angst that made the original books so fun, bringing the series to a satisfying close. 

As usual, there’s a good balance between the main plot and the character arcs. There are no huge surprises in store, but Sebastian Morgenstern is a suitably deranged villain (I can’t help but picture him as a young, bleached-out Ramsay Snow) and the conflict propels the reader quickly along. While Clare’s numerous romantic subplots are often in the foreground, she is surprisingly at her best here when she explores other types of love—familial, and platonic. For instance, as invested as many readers are in Alec and Magnus (and yes, this ‘ship remains in focus), the most poignant and best written of Alec’s scenes instead explore his relationships with Simon, Jace, and his father. The concept of parabatai remains one of the most interesting facets of Clare’s ‘verse, and there are ample hints here that it will play a primary role in her forthcoming series, “The Dark Artifices.” (For the record: I’d put my money on a Parabatai-in-Forbidden-Love scenario with new characters Emma and Julian, but I wish someone would encourage Clare to ease off the romance peddle and try something else—she would really be great at it!).

There are some good payoffs to be found here for fans of Clare’s Victorian Shadowhunter trilogy, “The Infernal Devices.” Particularly satisfying is a logical and plot-related fix-it for the somewhat ludicrous “twist” at the conclusion of Clockwork Princess

{My actual face upon finishing Clockwork Princess.}

And for readers who followed Clare’s ascent from the depths of fandom…well. Let’s just say that there is a sex scene that reads so blatantly, awkwardly, and wonderfully like the beginning of mediocre fanfiction smut that said readers are warned not to eat or drink anything they might choke on while reading this particular scene, because they will definitely be howling with laughter.

(I say this purely from a theoretical standpoint, obviously!)

The book’s only real shortcoming is that it’s unnecessarily long. A number of the action sequences feel superfluous. It isn’t so much the writing itself, but the issue of the Shadowhunters being so OP. There are casualties, but very rarely does the reader have a true sense of dread over the protagonists’ fates. The other issue here is that there’s a significant chunk of the book devoted to setting up “The Dark Artifices.” A gaggle of new and mostly interchangeable kid characters are introduced in the beginning and returned to throughout in what feels like exposition+. Their interactions with Clary and co. are limited enough that I skimmed the majority of their segments, as I do not intend to read TDA. Likewise, the battle scenes are easily skimmed without missing much pertinent information.

Clare has demonstrated a habit of pouring out the angst only to mop it up in an overly-rosy conclusion, and there’s no difference here. I imagine that fans will be divided on this point, particularly in regards to the fate of one of the protagonists. However, I do think there might be something to be said for happy endings in a YA market saturated by downers. Of the popular YA lit I’ve encountered in the past couple years, I think the most upbeat ending could at best be described as “bittersweet.” Ultimately, my eye-rolling at the ending was paired with an understanding that, in a classically escapist genre, sometimes young readers could use a break from the gloom and doom.

I may have purchased City of Heavenly Fire out of my begrudging loyalty to Cassandra Clare and the fact that I had a six hour flight ahead of me, but I can’t stress enough how pleasantly this book surprised me. Whether it was my low expectations after the underwhelming CoFA and CoLS, or the fact that Cassie never fails to deliver on writing my favorite brand of sassy one-liners, I devoured this one. A satisfying end to uneven but fun series. Ave atque vale, TMI.

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