Last night, way too late, I finished up the final book in the Mortal Instruments trilogy, City of Glass by Cassandra Clare. And I went to bed feeling disappointed and a little grumpy that I’d stayed up late to finish a book that left me disappointed.
I loved the pace and feel of the first book, City of Bones. In this first book, Clare does a great job establishing her characters and creating the urban fantasy world of Shadowhunters, demons, and Downworlders. Reading the first book was like eating a perfectly sized slice of rich dark chocolate cake: not something I like to do every day, but a great treat. But of course finishing the first book left me wanting to read the second, City of Ashes, which I promptly took out of the library and devoured in a couple of sittings. And by the end of City of Ashes I felt like I’d had a piece of slightly stale supermarket birthday cake with super sweet frosting. City of Ashes isn’t nearly as creative or engrossing as its predecessor, and (like my friend Lisa) I found the brother-sister plotline to be an annoying and gross plot manipulation. But, of course, I still needed to know what happened next, so I requested City of Glass from the library network and eagerly sat down to read it through as soon as it arrived. My bakery analogy for City of Glass? A bit like an overcooked, lardy brownie that kind of cracks your teeth and sits like lead in your stomach.
Here’s why I think City of Glass doesn’t work: the whole book takes place in the land of Idris, not New York City, removing the urban fantasy setting that made the first book so fresh and hip. No more punk nightclubs for Clary; no more rundown urban hotels that are infested with vampires. Just the boring bucolic Shadowhunter country setting.
But it’s more than the lack of urban grit. Clare’s plot mapping feels too obvious in City of Glass. While reading, I knew that she needed to take her characters from point A through point B in order for them to end up at point C, the end of the book. And some things were too obvious to work [plot spoiler here, sorry]: I knew back at the end of the first book that Jace wasn’t Clary’s brother, and frankly it pissed me off that it took the author 1,470 pages to resolve the seemingly incestuous romantic conflict between them. It would have been better if she had given her audience a little more credit for brains and fixed the brother-sister problem several hundred pages sooner.
I could go on with small gripes about plotting and lack of character development in City of Glass, but it’s not necessary. These books are decent young adult fantasy, definitely higher quality than Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and I did enjoy reading them. I just wish that the last two books of the trilogy didn’t feel as if they were written in a rush, but I suppose that’s more a product of the publishing industry today (churn out the sequels quick while the first one’s hot) than of the author’s inability to complete the series in a way that respects what she accomplished in the first book. It makes me feel for authors who are put under that kind of pressure and who must surely sacrifice some of their artistic vision while bowing to that pressure. Ah, if only we could move away from the desperate need for lengthy trilogies, and back to the good ol’ days of stand-alone works of fiction…