No one traverses the struggles and obstacles for young love and daddy issues quite like Cassandra Clare in The Mortal Instruments series. She especially doesn’t let down in her latest and fifth installment of the two part trilogy entitled “City of Lost Souls.” Clare deals with these themes so well that she does so with several of her characters and in multiple subplots, including four different love stories. The challenge for her, then, would be to tie up all of these plots and provide the reader with a satisfying progression in these themes that have essentially dominated the entire series up to this point. I believe she accomplishes this task wonderfully and successfully paves the way for the sixth and final conclusion to Clary Fray’s tumultuous story of love, friendship, survival, and maturity.
City of Lost Souls puts us right back into the Mortal Instruments’ fantasy world of shadowhunters, vampires, werewolves, angels, and witches battling demons for the good of mankind. As Clary and her friends leave behind the demon Lilith in the previous novel, City of Fallen Angels, she launches straight into another as the boy she loves, Jace Wayland, goes missing at the hands of her malevolent half-demon, half-angel brother Sebastian. Clary soon finds out that Sebastian has magically bound Jace to himself in order to carry out the plans of their malevolent father Valentine. In order to get Jace back and defeat of Sebastian for good, Clary must leave behind the ones she loves while they go so far as to challenge heaven and hell to help in her absence. Simultaneously, Clary must battle her own personal demons of family, love, and trust in order to bring this journey to a resolution.
This installment in particular tackles many heavy issues throughout its surface level story of love and maturation. The issue with the deepest impact on the story and its characters deals with the complex nature of good and evil. Clare focuses the novel on the idea of the lure of evil, the beauty of evil, and the darkness within everyone; all of which become particularly interesting in the seemingly wicked yet humanized character of Sebastian, and his hold on the soul of her love Jace. Clare presents the serious problem that perhaps one cannot look at evil as black and white. She puts this struggle onto Clary in particular as she simultaneously deals with the pressures of adolescence, namely her developing sexual relationship with Jace. Unable to gage whom she can trust, and maintain control of her chaotic surroundings, this issue effects both her character development as the story’s heroine and the writing of the novel as a whole. Clare implements an excessive use of passive language, shown clearly on the first page when Clary says “there were no clocks.” While at times this language can hinder Clare’s prose, it actually works to separate Clary and her friends from the action and puts them in a sort of waiting game with ample space to contemplate the hidden moral and teenage angst-driven issues within the novel.
Clare cleverly places the reader into a sense of mistrust regarding the true antagonists or evil within the story, relating to Clary’s own trust issues with her boyfriend, her brother, and even herself. As Clary and her friends struggle to find answers, they do so through their own perception. Clare makes great use of perceptive imagery such as the copious amounts of eye descriptions whenever a new character comes into a scene in order to draw attention to the blurred lines of reality and morality. Eyesight and seeing become a huge factor for Clary and the themes present throughout, focusing on the idea that things are not always what they seem.
Clare’s plot continues on in a meticulous fashion. With a web of storylines manifested from the storytelling of four previous novels, she manages to achieve a great deal of organization and solid pacing. Sebastian’s storyline in particular, beginning in the third installment and continuing through this novel, finally reaches its compelling potential, and really draws the reader in to Clary’s internal dilemmas in dealing with his depth of character. Whereas Sebastian previously was a cipher antagonist of pure evil, he finally reaches new levels of complexity within this novel and carries the reader through many twists and turns in the plot. His personal struggles with evil, family, and love take on their own importance and weight next to Clary’s story. In typical Cassandra Clare fashion, Sebastian’s own struggles within these themes of family and trust ends in a possible life altering and disturbing twist toward the novel’s end.
Changing ideas of family essentially become a touchstone for this story and the series as a whole. Clare successfully deals with this issue in many different ways for her characters. One of these storylines belongs to a same-sex coupling between young shadowhunter Alec and the much older Magnus Bane. Clare presents another way of looking at adolescence and the coming of age trope prominent in young adult literature by making the struggles of their relationship extremely deep and relatable for the average reader. Clare does a good job in not making Alec a victim to the sometimes difficult development of his sexuality and his maturity as an individual in this society. While this coupling adds to the questions of family and loyalty, they lead Clary’s best friend Simon to learn from their situation in his own struggles with “coming out” as a vampire to his family. Essentially, each young character deals with a deep sense of “otherness” and finds within family and friends the strength and means to overcome it. In doing so, they create new boundaries for their individuality and their place within a close-knit group.
As Clare takes these young adult tropes of maturation and individuality to the fantasy stage of angels and demons, she manages to add a deeper development as her characters tackle issues of life and death, good and evil, along with the inner workings of family and love. She also successfully creates new challenges for her characters in the way of their budding adulthood and sexualities. This in turn creates a great story for young adults of all genders to challenge themselves and make their own conclusions concerning her deeper questions within the novel.