Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare
March 3, 2021, from Publisher
Young adult historical urban fantasy
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Cordelia Carstairs seems to have everything she ever wanted. She’s engaged to marry James Herondale, the boy she has loved since childhood. She has a new life in London with her best friend Lucie Herondale and James’s charming companions, the Merry Thieves. She is about to be reunited with her beloved father. And she bears the sword Cortana, a legendary hero’s blade.
But the truth is far grimmer. James and Cordelia’s marriage is a lie, arranged to save Cordelia’s reputation. James is in love with the mysterious Grace Blackthorn whose brother, Jesse, died years ago in a terrible accident. Cortana burns Cordelia’s hand when she touches it, while her father has grown bitter and angry. And a serial murderer is targeting the Shadowhunters of London, killing under cover of darkness, then vanishing without a trace.
Together with the Merry Thieves, Cordelia, James, and Lucie must follow the trail of the knife-wielding killer through the city’s most dangerous streets. All the while, each is keeping a shocking secret: Lucie, that she plans to raise Jesse from the dead; Cordelia, that she has sworn a dangerous oath of loyalty to a mysterious power; and James, that he is being drawn further each night into the dark web of his grandfather, the arch-demon Belial. And that he himself may be the killer they seek.
Chain of Iron was my most anticipated book of the year. I can’t tell you how excited I was to get my hands on this book; I’ve been in a heavy, heavy reading slump since September (which is why my posting here has been … lax), and I was so worried that this book would elude me like the rest of the reading material I have tried and failed to get through. I needn’t have worried. As soon as I started reading, this world and the characters came back to me like a tidal wave, and I couldn’t stop. Even though it was exam week and I couldn’t afford to stay up until four o’clock in the morning reading two nights in a row. Oops.
What always draws me in about Cassandra Clare’s books are her characters, who are just so damn real and animated, and they bring so much comfort in these lonely quarantine times. Matthew Fairchild is unashamedly my favourite of this bunch, and this book delivered on the Good Matthew Fairchild Content. I was on my toes with him. He’s been through so much, and he’s starting to crack. Give that boy a break! I love him so much, and honestly, I was expecting Cassandra to be far rougher on him in this book. Not that it assures me — I find myself only more terrified for his fate. Cordelia is my next favourite of the major characters, and I really adored her in this book. She has also gone through too much and needs a break. The Carstairs definitely have this whole Saving People Thing going on, and I love them for it. Cordelia and Matthew’s interactions had me floored every time. I don’t expect Fairstairs to be endgame, but I will take my crumbs as I can get them, thank you very much.
Both Carstairs siblings, in fact, I adore massively, and I love how Alastair’s character developed in this book. He’s normally so closed off, but we get to see him start to open up, and I love how his relationships–both platonic and romantic–are developing. It’s also nice to see one (1) instance of proper communication between love interests in this book. It’s odd, isn’t it, how two of my favourite characters in this series despise each other? It’s so interesting to see the development of Thomas and Alastair’s relationship. Good for them, I say, good for them! I’m also happy about the Anna Lightwood content–another one of my favourites in this book. I’m doggedly hanging onto all the Anna/Ariadne, and I’m hoping Anna can learn to heal from her past heartbreak.
To my surprise, James really grew on me in this book, though. I remember I thought he was kind of boring in Chain of Gold, but I feel like James becomes a lot more three-dimensional in this book, and what I thought was boring was just him being raised to be unfailingly polite and, well, you’ll have to read the book, IYKYK. Honestly, I know the Herondales are the stars of the Shadowhunters Universe, but I just don’t find the Herondales as interesting here? (I do love Will. And Kit. God, I miss Kit, I miss Ty, don’t make me think about them or I’ll have to think about the agony of waiting until the Wicked Powers.) I will say that the one thread of the story that I found grating was Lucie, Jesse, and Grace, and because these characters were so much of the focus of this book, I found the latter half a bit slower and dragging–and because Grace and Jesse are so isolated from the other characters, I found myself rushing through those parts to get back to Matthew, Cordelia, Anna, and the rest of the Merry Thieves. I’m just not interested in these Blackthorns, I guess, despite my love for the Blackthorns in The Dark Artifices.
Like many of the rest of you folk, I’d recently watched Bridgerton, and the beginning of the book (before all the, you know, murder) definitely gave me Bridgerton vibes that had me on the edge of my toes, until the overarching plot with the, you know, demons and murder and everything overtook the romance. I complain about Cassandra Clare Romance Webs a lot, but this Romance Web definitely works better than in other books, with societal mores of Edwardian Britain to explain forbidden romances and sham marriages and secrets. The poor communication trope gets really bad here, though, and it left me feeling frustrated just as often as not. This, coupled with the fact that I couldn’t keep track of who knows what had me scrambling to keep up.
I will say that the overarching plot feels weaker, despite the strong characters. I’m used to Cassandra Clare’s endings destroying me and leaving me in agony, so I felt let down towards the end, which dragged on for a good hundred or so pages after I thought it would end. I was preparing myself to be hurt, and I wasn’t as hurt as I thought I would be, which definitely left me feeling a bit wanting at the end of the book–not in the “oh-my-goodness-Huge-Cliffhanger-give-me-the-next-one” way, but in an “oh that’s it?” way, if that makes any sense? Nevertheless, I’m still excited for Chain of Thorns, and am fully expecting Cassandra to break me twice as hard.
Even though this book perhaps wasn’t everything I built it up to be in my head, I did sob helplessly on my kitchen floor for two hours at two-thirty in the morning after finishing this book before being sent into a two week and counting breakdown over this whole series and an end to my reading slump, so I’d say Cassandra Clare delivers once again.
content warnings | murder, grief, gore, abuse, alcohol abuse
representation | persian main character & major characters; gay, lesbian, and bisexual major characters