City of … You Get the Idea

by Dan H

Dan is almost positive about Cassie Clare’s City of Glass
A couple of weeks ago, our Esteemed Editor got an email from A Reader asking if we were going to review City of Glass. Apparently they’d enjoyed my previous reviews of the books, and had felt that they articulated some of their own issues with the series. I can only assume that said reader’s issues with the series had been “this is shit, shit, shit and I want to tear my own eyes out rather than read another page of it” that being roughly the contents of the last two articles.

The reader particularly wanted to hear about City of Glass because their friends had told them that it was much better than the previous two books.

Well, random reader whose name I don’t know, it is and it isn’t.

A few articles back, I expressed the rather controversial opinion that a TV series (and by extension any other series, including books) doesn’t just suddenly get “good” after a couple of volumes or series of being “bad”. Rather it gets more polished, more competent and more sure of itself and therefore improves immeasurably in the eyes of people who were already sold on the basic premise.

I’d like to go further now, and add that one’s perception of the quality of any given work depends not only on the (to use a loaded term) objective merits of that piece of work but also on the context in which that work appears. In my review of Trudi Canavan’s Age of the Five trilogy (sorry, this article is getting really heavy on the self-linkage) I pointed out that I found the series a little disappointing not because it was actually worse than the Black Magician Trilogy but because it wasn’t much better, and I felt I’d already read a lot of the ideas in it before.

I found that City of Glass had the opposite effect. When you get right down to it, it has all the same problems as the previous two books. Clary is still an infuriating self-insert, Jace is still a whiny little prick whose self-destructive urges grow increasingly tedious, and the whole plot still makes virtually no sense at all. On the other hand once you've come this far, you start to take all that pretty much as read, and enjoy the demon-punching shenanigans.

The other factor that left me slightly better disposed towards City of Glass was, ironically enough, the fact that it still read like Harry Potter fanfic. For the first books, this was a weakness, since it invited comparison to the early Potter books, to which The Mortal Instruments compared unfavourably. The same issues in City of Glass invite comparison with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which is a far better light to be standing in.

Indeed there's a lot about City of Glass that reads like an attempt to address common fan criticisms of, and disappointments with, the final volume of the Potter saga.

The point at which the similarities with Harry Potter got too much for me in the first book was the point where I discovered that a scruffy, paternal character who had been a little bit like Remus Lupin was actually a Werewolf and was therefore exactly like Remus Lupin. This turned into one of the saving graces of City of Glass. If nothing else, post Deathly Hallows “contains a character that is similar to Remus Lupin” can not be considered a point of comparison with the Potter books.

Okay, sarcasm aside, one of the big wasted opportunities that fans complain about with Potter is the various “seeking allies amongst the other magical races” arcs (Hagrid's overtures to the giants, Lupin's infiltration of the werewolves, and so on). There was a lot of buildup in the first five books based around the idea that even without Voldemort's influence, Wizarding society had deep-seated inequalities and bigotries which needed to be addressed and a lot of fans were rather annoyed that they weren't. A lot of fans were even more annoyed that the implicit racism of Wizarding society wound up being reduced to a way that the Wizarding elite could display their superiority.

Where was I. Oh yes, Lupin and Clare's Lupin-analogue. One of the seemingly-major subplots in books five and six of the Potter Saga involves fan-favourite Remus Lupin being sent to infiltrate the Werewolves in an effort to make sure that they did not support Voldemort. This lead to many fans making the foolish assumptions that (a) Lupin might actually do something in book seven and (b) that the Wizards might actually have to fight alongside the other races as equals. Of course what they actually got was Lupin marrying a teenager and dropping dead, and the other races fighting for the wizards in a manner that felt distinctly subordinate.

By contrast, pretty much the whole setup of City of Glass is that the Shadowhunters' only hope of victory is to ally themselves with the four races of Downworlders, and to do so in a way that genuinely involves giving the Downworlders greater respect and increased political power. Indeed, even Clary's super-speshul ability to create new runes is suborned into service to this goal, with her great rune-crafting triumph being the creation of the Rune of Alliance, which allows Shadowhunters and Downworlders to share their powers, creating a union that is part vampire, part lycan and stronger than both. Furthermore, this magic rune-crafting only seals the deal, it's Lucian the Lupin-Analogue who orchestrates the alliance, who brings the Downworlders together and introduces them to the Clave. Clary's role is important but ultimately secondary.

Indeed one of the interesting things about the plot of City of Glass is how little – comparatively speaking – it has to do with Clary and her super-specialness. Yes everybody still wants to do her, but in this volume a lot more attention is paid to the fact that ... well ... Valentine has come back and is fucking killing everybody. It ultimately isn't Clary's specialness that defeats Valentine, it's the support of the Downworlders combined with Valentine's own hubris. Set alongside the messianic delusions of Rowling's “protracted plea for tolerance” it seems oddly mature.

It's been over a thousand words now and I've been broadly positive, so as to avoid losing my internet cred entirely I should point out that there are a lot of things in the book that still annoy the hell out of me. There's still the odd what-the-fuck-inducing simile, although none of them stood out as badly as “almost precisely the colour of black ink”. The characterisation is still slightly wobbly. Alex's homosexuality in particular strayed close to what I would consider offensively tokenistic. A certain amount of page-space is given to Alex's relationship with Magnus Bane, with whom he does in fact wind up. The problem is that all of the page-space devoted to their relationship is devoted to them talking about the fact that they're in a relationship, with a side-order of coming-out angst, and no time or thought seems to be put into the question of why these characters are actually attracted to each other, beyond the fact that they are both males of the homosexual persuasion. I'm straying back into Minority Warrior territory here, but it has a nasty whiff of Clare wanting to include a gay character, but not wanting to actually think too hard about the nasty details of two men being a couple.

She also hasn't got over her irritating tendency to show off. As well as eleven out of the twenty chapter titles being pretentious literary allusions (for a full list see the comments section of this article) she keeps dropping in completely pointless psudo-highbrow references for no clear reason. Jace quotes Catullus for no particular purpose other than to show us that Clare has read Catullus, and there's a particularly egregious sequence which unfolds as follows:
Jace smiled. “De ce crezi ca va conversatia

Sebastian met his glance with a look of pleasant interest. “M-ai urmarit de cand ai ajuns aici,” he replied. “Nu-mi dau seama daca nu ma placi ori daca esti atat de banuitor ce toata lumea.” He got to his feet. “I appreciate the Romanian practice, but if you don't mind, I'm going to see what's taking Isabelle so long in the kitchen.”

Look at meeeee! Look at meeeee everybody! I speak Romanian! Isn't that awesome! Don't you want to have sex with me right now! And I've read Milton! And Rimbaud! And Lawrence! And Euripides! And the Bible! And Wilde! And Pope! Look at meeeeee!

What do you mean you expected something relevant to the story?

Anyway, long story short, if you liked the last two books, you'll probably think this one is, like an orgasm on toast or something. If you didn't like the last two books, you probably won't actually like this one either, but you probably won't want to throw it across the room in anger more than once or twice.

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Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 22:20 on 2009-07-23
What's *truly disturbing* about this whole business is that articles on the subject of Ms Clare have slipped over 3 which means SHE GETS HER OWN THEME! ARGH!
Arthur B at 22:28 on 2009-07-23
Isn't it over 4, in fact?
Viorica at 23:13 on 2009-07-23
but it has a nasty whiff of Clare wanting to include a gay character, but not wanting to actually think too hard about the nasty details of two men being a couple.

She comes from fandom, and fandom is very big on fetishising gay relationships without actually respecting the particpants as *people*. Basically, there's a lot of porn, and angst is poured on lke chocolate sauce, but the characters themselves might as well be actors in a pornography for all the depth they get. That sound about right?
Dan H at 15:53 on 2009-07-24
The weird thing is that it isn't even porny, it's totally perfunctory. The only evidence that they're remotely attracted to each other is the fact that they talk about it a certain amount.
Arthur B at 17:04 on 2009-07-24
Sounds like tokenism to me - idly mentioning that two characters happen to be gay and into each other in order to tick the box, and then forgetting all about it.
Arthur B at 22:43 on 2009-07-25
Viorica at 00:59 on 2009-07-26
You know what's really funny about the whole thing? One of the first stories posted in that section was a well-known Roswell fanfic with the names changed. The best part was when one of the "author's" defenders pointed out that "Even CC used to borrow from people!"
Leia at 09:31 on 2009-10-14
Now that I've finally got round to reading these books, I can finally comment on your reviews, Dan. What was your take on the incest?

The weird thing is that it isn't even porny, it's totally perfunctory. The only evidence that they're remotely attracted to each other is the fact that they talk about it a certain amount.

But can't one say the same thing about Clary & Jace or Simon & Isabelle & Mai? I mean, there isn't really much reason why the respective individuals have fallen in "love" each other (put in quotes because I am old and jaded and wary of using that word to describe teenage romantic relationships) in the space of a month other than they just are...

That aside, I am torn between really liking the original ideas that CC put in the books (and the trope reversion she did on some of the more derivative ideas) and despairing of the way the protagonists are portrayed. I have less problem with Clary being able to make new runes - there is at least an explanation for that in-story and the hero being "Chosen"/"Super-Speshul"/"Uniquely Powerful" is a trope as old as time and it's not going to change with this book - than I do with Clary being written as an inconsistent and generally unlikable person and at the same time as a character that the writer evidently expects us to love and admire.

Dan H at 16:02 on 2009-10-14
But can't one say the same thing about Clary & Jace or Simon & Isabelle & Mai?

To an extent, but I think there's a difference. Clary and Jace, for all its histrionics is actually given pagecount. Within the worldview of an adolescent power fantasy, meeting the Boy of Your Dreams and falling in love with him instantly is perfectly acceptable, and we get *genuine* evidence that Clary has feelings for Jace. She thinks about him all the damned time after all.

Simon's relationships are given cursory treatment, but they really are cursory relationships.

Basically Simon gets relationships that are like real teenage relationships, founded on convenience and vague physical attraction. Clary gets a relationship that is like teenagers *think* their relationships are or should be (q.v. Buffy/Angel, Bella/Edward etc). Alex gets ... sort of arbitrarily paired off with a man, because he is a gay.

I think you're right that Magnus/Alex is no *less* satisfying than Simon/Isabelle, but it's given greater significance within the text. Simon's relationships are secondary to his relationship with Clary, while Alex' "gay arc" is basically his entire story.

As for the incest, it didn't bother me, chiefly because I fully expected her to cop out at the end, which she duly did. On a more general note, I do find Fandom's obsession with incest slightly squicky, particularly when paired with its obsession with homosexuality.
Leia at 16:27 on 2009-10-14
Well, I don't know if pagecount alone counts (pun unintended!) as substance. I mean, Clary's romance(s) will definitely take center-stage because she is the main character and naturally, anything that has to do with her will be the focus of the story. Also, TMI is pretty much a romance between Clary & Jace with the backdrop of a demon-infested Manhattan and an impending war to keep things interesting. But despite all the paragraphs used to describe their epic love, Clary's and Jace's feelings for each other don't seem to be anything deeper than physical attraction. Unless they're making out, they don't even act as if they *like* each other most of the time. The same can be said about Alec and Magnus. They apparently "love" each other because they're both hot and oriented in a way that make them attractive to each other.

Simon's feelings for Clary (and Alec's for Jace) are the only ones that might actually make sense - but again, you wonder why *anyone* would fall in love (not lust, but love) with people who resemble Clary and Jace in real life.

I'm miffed that she copped out of the incest at the last minute, especially after she claimed that she wrote TMI because of research done on Genetic Sexual Attraction and the Westermack Effect. There was something almost intellectual about the emphasis on Clary having no physical attraction to Simon because of their close history while she had a strong attraction to Jace because of the GSA effect. Then she nixed that completely and completely contradicted every attempt at intellectualism by adding the melodramatic and medieval angle of Clary being violently repulsed by Sebastian/Jonathan's kiss.
Dan H at 00:26 on 2009-10-15
I think we're talking at slightly cross purposes. I don't think Clary/Jace is *functional* but I think it's *believable* not in the sense of being realistic, but in the sense of being something you can understand. You can understand that Clary is invested in the relationship.

By comparison, Alex/Magnus has a bit of the old Tonks/Lupin about it. It just kind of comes out of left field.
Leia at 07:35 on 2009-10-15
OK, I see what you mean. I don't really agree with it. Alec/Magnus didn't appear out of the left field to me - CC's writing isn't particularly subtle. What seemed debatable was whether Alec was invested in the relationship and I think the scene with Jace, when Jace confronts him about his (Alec's) own crush on him (Jace) and Alec faces the fact that his crush isn't so much about love but about safety, covers this.

Er... I can't believe I am defending TMI! I'm not saying the Alec/Magnus romance was particularly well done... but it's about par to most of the other romances in the book. It certainly was better than the Jocelyn/Luke which was one that I really thought came out of the left field and was just CC's insistence on having a cookie cutter happy ending for all characters.
Dan H at 11:53 on 2009-10-15
I think the thing is that in most of the other relationships I can see what the partners find attractive about each other, even if I don't necessarily agree with it. Clary is attracted to Jace because he's exciting, dangerous and forbidden. Simon is attracted to Clary because they're good friends and he'd like to be "more" (plus Clary is of course super-speshul).

By comparison, Alex seems to be attracted to Magnus because ... well ... because they're both gay. Part of it is simply that Alex isn't a viewpoint character so we don't get his perspective on things, but I do think that you have to be very careful with homosexual relationships in fiction not to reduce them to "I'm gay, you're gay, let's do gay together".
Sister Magpie at 15:20 on 2009-10-15
Heh. You're reminding me of that movie Grand Canyon where a characters sets up two people he barely knows, telling them they're perfect for each other. And it turns out they do get into a great relationship. But then one day they realize that neither of them knew the guy very why exactly did he think they were so perfect for each other when he didn't know either of them.

And then one of them says--quite possibly correctly: "Maybe we're the only black people he knows."
Andy G at 15:42 on 2009-10-15
"I'm gay, you're gay, let's do gay together"

This could have a certain appeal as a very direct chat-up line however ...
Jamie Johnston at 00:28 on 2009-10-16
Ooh, I can one-up Sister Magpie's story with an anecdote from Real Life! A show I was in had two and only two gay men in the cast, and practically everyone else was seriously shipping them throughout rehearsals. I was all righteous and "Yeah but you're only saying that because they're the only two gay men", and everyone else said, "Mm, true", and then they got together and remain to this day a lovely couple. Don't you hate it when tokenism works?
Leia at 07:27 on 2009-10-16

Oh I certainly agree that one has to be careful with tokenism and there is a lot of tokenism in TMI. At the same time, I think - as much as I hate defend CC - that I'll have to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she put just as little thought towards Alec's feelings for Magnus as she did to Isabelle's feelings for Simon and certainly more than she did to Jocelyn's feelings for Luke. In fact, that's probably not even a compliment!

I'm actually more miffed about the "Sebastian is eveeel" because he has demon blood when the whole series hinges on the concept that it is wrong to discriminate or persecute the Downworlders for their demon ancestry.
Wardog at 09:40 on 2009-10-16
Just to throw in my two coppers, about a book I haven't read ... I think the difference is that thoughtless heterosexual relationships have, well, centuries of cultural precedence behind them. It is very easy to invest in heterosexual relationships because we join up the dots automatically even when the author doesn't bother to do it for us. It doesn't matter whether we personally find the *depiction of the relationship* convincing.

Take Clary and Jace - as Dan says above, The Dangerous One and The Superspecial One is a well-established trope.

The problem with homosexual relationships is that what you tend to get is The Gay One and The Oher Gay One.
Dan H at 10:25 on 2009-10-16
I'm actually more miffed about the "Sebastian is eveeel" because he has demon blood when the whole series hinges on the concept that it is wrong to discriminate or persecute the Downworlders for their demon ancestry.

Once again it's rather reminiscent of the treatment of muggles and muggleborns in Harry Potter.

Treating non-wizards as second class citizens because they can't do magic? Fine. Treating wizards as second class citizens because they have ancestors who can't do magic? Not fine.

At the risk of getting onto highly dangerous ground, it's a lot like some of the well-meaning-but-actually-rather-dodgy stuff you got post 9-11 about how you shouldn't be prejudiced against Muslims that all wound up saying "remember, some Muslims aren't terrorists, although they probably know people who are".

Although on a wider level, I think that might be a problem with using "demon" as a metaphor for "minority". There's a big difference between being black or gay and being a bloodsucking corpse that regularly kills people.
Leia at 10:46 on 2009-10-16

The politics of the TMI fantasy world certainly isn't very well thought out. The Shadowhunters are supposed to protect the mundies from demons... but they despise them and treat them like dirt. And like the Muggle/Muggle-born dilemma of HP, this is something that is never addressed in the books. If anything, the author supports the "Mundies suck!" rule when she turns Simon into a vampire so that he can be more of an equal to Clary and her new gang of super-speshul teens. Then going back to Sebastian - he's evil because he has demon blood as a result of Valentine's experiments but why aren't Clary & Jace saints for having angel blood?
Dan H at 23:42 on 2009-10-16
but why aren't Clary & Jace saints for having angel blood?

I'm not certain that we aren't supposed to think that they are...

Gosh that's a lot of multiple negation.
Wordless at 07:23 on 2009-11-12
Im sorry I know this petty but did you notice the number of punctuation errors in the entire book. Comma splices, nonsensical metaphors....alright its a personal issue but when your grade average goes from A to B/C because of lousy grammatical errors in an essay and you see a grown woman publishes an entire fucking book AND its a bestseller!!! well...just makes you wanna piss on education doesn't it?

Jace smiled. “De ce crezi ca va conversatia”

Sebastian met his glance with a look of pleasant interest. “M-ai urmarit de cand ai ajuns aici,” he replied. “Nu-mi dau seama daca nu ma placi ori daca esti atat de banuitor ce toata lumea.” He got to his feet. “I appreciate the Romanian practice, but if you don't mind, I'm going to see what's taking Isabelle so long in the kitchen.”

That just pissed me right the fuck off!!! the guy already SAID he speaks Romanian....I sat for another hundred pages waiting for the relevance of that. the point where Sebastian died, i realized there wasn't. call me an idiot but I thought there'd be a last little dialogue: Maybe a "remember what i said..." or something.that was a stupid piece of paragraph that was pretencious and made me wonder what people who actually read Romanian and felt like
you know, someone comes up to with a superior expression and says;
Hi My name is Kimberly. I speak English. How are You?

Plus Magnus as a character intrigued me for a while, at least in the beginning before the whole gay thing....i liked his little autobiography even thought he would be that gray character that was a little complex. then he said he loved Alec. then I threw up.

*sigh*no im not done yet.

but to speed it up I'll ask my problems in the form of questions.

Did anyone notice that Aldertree read like a mixture of Fudge and Umbridge?
Malachi was that new minister of magic watisface-the lion dude!
what was the point of he clave?-they did nothing significant from start to finish
where was the Urban fantasy? it read like a medieval one-no electricity, cars basically most of the stuff that makes urban life well...urban. Clares exact words were:"these urban landscapes hold their own reverence, beauty"blah blah blah... so yeah where was that?

ugh. at 01:51 on 2009-12-08
Agreed. On everything. Agreed!

My point, however, is on the bit of Romanian that is gratuitously quoted above by you: It. Does. Not. Make. Any. Sense. At all.

Just... What the fuck? It's pointless. There are spelling mistakes in it. It's... so random. I feel violated, truly.

I wish I could add more to this, but the trilogy is just as bad as I always knew it would be from the instant someone mentioned to me that Cassandra Claire, known Harry Potter fan fiction plagiarist, had been professionally published.

Bookwyrm at 03:39 on 2013-02-06
Oh the Mortal Instruments Series... how I loathe thee.

I'll spare you all rant about all the things I detest about this series and just ask a few questions about some major plot points.
(Spoiler Warning)
Do you think the reason that Clary and Jace's attachment to each other is a result of the angel blood? If I recall correctly the Faerie Queen said something about a predication about Clary falling for someone with the same blood. Maybe having angel blood creates some kind of magical soul-link or something.

When the angel gave Clary a wish why did she only use it to save Jace instead of asking the angel to resurrect all of the people who died in battle?

Also is it wrong that I somehow liked Sebastian better than Jace even though I knew he was evil before I read the book?
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