City of Ashes: A Study In Bad Writing


Title: City of Ashes
Author: Cassandra Clare
Series: The Mortal Instruments #2
Publication date: March 2009
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
ISBN: 1416914293
Length: 453 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy, YA, romance,


Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

In this breathtaking sequel to City of Bones, Cassandra Clare lures her readers back into the dark grip of New York City’s Downworld, where love is never safe and power becomes the deadliest temptation.

My Review

You’re a big fat liar, Entertainment Weekly.

If you’ve read my review of City of Bones, you’ll know I didn’t enjoy it, and City of Ashes did nothing to change my opinion on the series. Can someone explain to me the appeal of this series? Sure, as a 15/16yo I would’ve probably enjoyed the series immensely (in fact I loved these first two books the first time around), but right now the only thing keeping me from just stopping is sheer force of will.

The Writing

One of the classes I’m taking this semester focuses on rhetoric in English texts, this is a class I’d like to introduce Clare to because, dear god almighty, this woman cannot write. I’m starting to wonder whether City of Ashes actually went through an editor at all what with awkward phrases and scenes, questionable choice of words, terrible internal rhythm and even more similes and metaphors than the first book. Allow me to demonstrate:

For a moment, bright as daylight, he saw the whole room: the cell, the barred door, the bare flagstones beyond, and the dead body of Jeremiah huddled against the floor. There was a door just behind Jeremiah. It was opening slowly. Something heaved its way through the door. Something huge and dark and formless. Eyes like burning ice, sunk deep into dark folds, regarded Jace with a snarling amusement. Then the thing lunged forward. A great cloud of roiling vapor rose up in front of Jace’s eyes like a wave sweeping across the surface of the ocean.

I could probably find a better paragraph as an example but let’s go with this. Now, I’m no expert on textual analysis (in fact a general agreement amongst anyone who’s ever had me as a student was that I never seem to go deep enough when analysing) but here are the problems I’ve found:

  • There are 3 similes in the space of SEVEN lines. No. That is entirely too much unless the text is a parody or a pastiche, which is not the case here.
  • Yes, varying the length of sentences can be exciting since it changes the pace but having four short sentences back to back stunts the rhythm of the paragraph.
  • On that note, I understand the repetition of ‘something’ and the use of ‘thing’ are meant to give the demon an air of mystery (useless if you ask me since it’s not maintained for more than a few minutes) but all I can think of is a dark blob with bright blue eyes, so not exactly the scariest thing.
  • Can a dead body ‘huddle’? What does ‘eyes like burning ice’ even mean?

This may come off as nitpicking, but I guarantee even the most forgiving of readers would be irritated when confronted with 453 pages of this, and I am not quite that forgiving.

The characters

Beyond the merry band in CoB, City of Ashes introduces a host of new, adult, characters that are closely linked to The Clave, thus giving the readers an insight into the, frankly shady, government of the Shadow World (that’s basically what they are). Or, at least, I’m assuming that’s what these characters were supposed to do. Instead, virtually all the new adult characters directly linked to The Clave (Maryse, The Inquisitor) come off as whiny and juvenile, with portrayals that do not correspond to their reputation. Take Maryse, for example, Jace, Alec, and Izzy painted Maryse as this badass mother whom they all loved, but my first encounter with her as a character left me more confused than starstruck as her actions in the beginning of the novel not only appear juvenile enough for even Jace to notice, but the explanation provided later doesn’t make her behaviour any more acceptable (she even managed to make me sympathise with Jace, which is not something I was expecting). This is the strong and badass woman running the institute? I could do a better job at it and all it takes to sway me is puppy-dog eyes.

Back to the merry band. I’ll have to go with Luke on this one:

“Teenagers,” said Luke, as if it were the filthiest word he knew.

Because it pretty much sums up my feelings for Clary, Simon, and Jace, and, to a lesser extent, Izzy and Alec. There was no significant character development, Clary is annoying and constantly surprised at the fact that Izzy is not, in fact, a raging bitch (Izzy’s been nothing but nice to the girl, I don’t understand why this bs keeps going on), while Jace is even more of a dick to literally everyone around him.

Meanwhile, Valentine continues to piss me off by being an exceptionally boring villain, despite being Drama Queen Extraordinaire. His crazy only increases in this book and his behaviour towards Clary and Jace comes off as erratic. You’d think that he’d want to keep both his children by his side, just to use them if anything, but he’d rather constantly toy with them, particularly Jace. The is actually something that happens fairly early on in the book:

‘Oh Jace, I’m going to insist on how much I need you and how beneficial it would be for you to join me, but I’m also going to leave you chained up here and pretty much frame you for killing a shit tonne of shadowhunters. Yeah, have fun dealing with that, bye!’

Honestly, the only characters I actually liked in this book were Maia, Luke, and Max. I would definitely get along better with this series if they became more central to it.

The Romance

Right off the bat, the Climon (Clary/Simon) situation was incredibly awkward (which could be intentional) and also just plain weird. Clary becomes completely passive after having kissed Simon once when she’s not even sure she wants to be in a relationship with him (she just accepts his advances and kind of shrugs it off even though they didn’t talk about it at all. That is not how you portray a relationship). Meanwhile over on Clace Island, Clary and Jace are completely losing it over the fact that they just can’t be together because they’re siblings, making me want to forget my morals and have them get together as they are now if only to stop the constant, never ending, angst. Or, better yet, just take a DNA test, please, I am begging you.

I started sensing a pattern as I wrote this review: my distaste for the series got stronger whenever Clary and/or Jace were directly involved (so pretty much all of the book, yes I realise), but the scenes where either barely made an impact were actually somewhat bearable. City of Ashes did nothing to change my opinion of the series so far, and I’ll probably end up groaning my way through its entirety if things continue this way.



8 thoughts on “City of Ashes: A Study In Bad Writing

  1. A lot of people seem to talk about this series as being awesome and a must-read. And yet those same people also found the characters to be whiny. This wonderful review sealed the deal. I will not read this one. By the way the highlighted paragraph was the best. Even that small sample of writing made me laugh. Reminds me of when I read the first page of Twilight. My students were telling me it was the best thing ever. That first page was annoying enough that I chose to put it down and stay as far away as possible.
    x The Captain

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Avoiding this series is a very wise decision. Honestly, despite its cheesiness and questionable acting, I think the tv series was much better than the books, so if you’re ever tempted, just go for that.
      I’d say the comparison to Twilight is pretty accurate since that’s another book that has a lot of fans, despite how annoying Bella is from the very first page (I tried to reread it last year and barely got past page 3).


  2. “Back to the merry band. I’ll have to go with Luke on this one: ‘Teenagers,’ said Luke, as if it were the filthiest word he knew.”

    Ha! I mean, sorry to hear you were bashing your head into a wall throughout this book.

    Yeah, that paragraph you analyzed is beyond awful–but your class sounds really fun. Wish I’d taken some rhetoric classes when I had the chance.

    Looking forward to hearing more of your groaning, if you do finish the series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The head-bashing only really lasted 2 days, so at least it was over quickly. At first I just was going to point out the three similes in that paragraph and then I realised how bad it was in its entirety, so it was perfect to give a taste of the writing.
      Well I have read 4 books already at this point, I might as well finish the series, and entertain you in the process :P.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I literally loved this post so much. I completely agree with you on basically everything! I never really enjoyed The Mortal Instruments series, and just could never get into them. “Meanwhile, Valentine continues to piss me off by being an exceptionally boring villain, despite being Drama Queen Extraordinaire.” I laughed out loud at this point in the review!

    Liked by 1 person

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