Today I Read…The Selection Trilogy

The SelectionToday I read The Selection trilogy by Kiera Cass: The Selection, The Elite, and The One.

Once every generation comes the time of the Selection–the time when the prince of Illéa must choose a bride from among his subjects. The most beautiful, talented, and virtuous girls of the land must compete to win his heart and his hand. Now it is the turn of Maxon Schreave to choose his princess.

America Singer has a hard life, but a good one. She has a loving family and her work as a musician, and her secret boyfriend, Aspen Leger. But America is a Five, an artist, and Aspen is a Six, a servant, and marriages between the castes is highly restricted. Aspen is proud–he doesn’t wantPrint America to lower herself by marrying him, so he breaks up with her. Devastated, America is manipulated by her ambitious mother into applying to be a member of the Selection, and against all belief she is chosen to be one of the 35 chosen ones. She will live at the palace, learn how to conduct herself as befits a princess of Illéa, and compete with the other girls for the prize–Prince Maxon.

America doesn’t want to like him–she wants to go home, back to her real life. But Maxon is so kind–he’s smart and compassionate and funny and he talks to her. America finds herself falling for him, even while she mourns her relationship with Aspen. Aspen, who has been drafted into the army and is now the palace guard who watches her bedroom door.

The OneOn top of all of this is the strict caste system that the King embodies and promotes, that America has great difficulty living with. There are dangerous rebels, who attack the palace and what they claim are the symbols of a despotic regime–the royal family and the girls of the Selection. There also seem to be more reasonable rebels, who want to talk and work together to improve the state of the kingdom. And there are the other girls, the Elite, some friendly and some not, and all of whom are there for the same reason America is–to be The One to win Maxon’s love. And some of them will stop at nothing to get it.

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I wanted to read these books because they’re been pretty popular lately, especially with the release of The One last month, the final book in the trilogy. Also, the cover designs with the dresses are gorgeous and eye-catching, and I wanted to find out what the books were about.

The Selection is basically a reality show called Who Wants to Marry a Prince set in a 1950s dystopia future (actually I think that was a real show). Society and technology have gone backwards, and history is a very carefully designed mass of propaganda. The caste system is extremely strict, and almost impossible to change The Ones are royalty and have every luxury, while the Eights are homeless. America is lucky enough to like her status as a Five, the artist caste, but not the near-poverty that comes with it. Sexual purity is highly prized for both men and women, but there is still a secret double-standard. America is instructed by palace staff to do anything that Maxon wants, wink wink, but the girls of the Elite can legally be tortured and executed for kissing anyone other than Maxon.

America is a bit of a Mary Sue, and she makes a lot of mistakes,  but her confusion is genuine. She cares for both Maxon and Aspen, but her heart and her duty tear her in two directions. She wants to have the power to create a more fair society, but doesn’t want the attention that being a princess would bring. She doesn’t have the patience or the trust in Maxon to wait while he plots to slowly make things better, the only thing he can do with his abusive and controlling father still the king. Maxon is a little harder to get a handle on since we see him through America’s point of view, and there’s a lot she doesn’t understand until she’s explicitly told. She thinks he’s changeable in his affections, and he thinks he’s protecting himself from someone who won’t commit to him. She thinks he’s cold and imperious, and he thinks he’s cautious and raised to be a prince who must abide by the law. There’s a novella, The Prince, that tells about Maxon’s life before the Elite come to the palace, and I think  might try to find it. Aspen on the other hand lets his pride and jealousy get in the way of his relationship with America, and it’s only thanks to convenient plot devices that they don’t get caught sneaking round the palace kissing. There’s also a novella called The Guard about Aspen’s point of view during the Selection.

I’d say that this is a series with a lot of potential. The Selected is only her second novel, and the first, The Siren, was self-published. It’s good, but I think her writing will become much better with time and practice–it reads like an early novel. It’s not precisely a modern feminist fairy tale, but it’s not a stereotyped teen chicklit romance either. While the romantic triangle is an overused trope, it’s popular for a reason–people like it. As I said, there’s a lot of potential here.

This series will probably appeal most to teenage girls, and I’d recommend it primarily to people looking for a romance story, instead of as a story of societal change or a dystopia.

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WHEN WE GOT THE LETTER in the post, my mother was ecstatic.

She had already decided that all our problems were solved, gone forever. The big hitch in her brilliant plan was me. I didn’t think I was a particularly disobedient daughter, but this was where I drew the line.

I didn’t want to be royalty. And I didn’t want to be a One.

I didn’t even want to try.

I hid in my room, the only place to avoid the chattering of our full house, trying to come up with an argument that would sway her. So far, I had a solid collection of my honest opinions… I didn’t think there was a single one she would listen to.

I couldn’t avoid her much longer. It was approaching dinnertime, and as the oldest child left in the house, cooking duties fell on me. I pulled myself out of bed and walked into the snake pit.

I got a glare from Mom but no words.

We did a silent dance through the kitchen and dining room as we prepared chicken, pasta, and apple slices, and set the table for five. If I glanced up from a task, she’d fix me with a fierce look as if she could shame me into wanting the same things she did. She tried that every so often. Like if I didn’t want to take on a particular job because I knew the family hosting us was unnecessarily rude. Or if she wanted me to do a massive cleaning when we couldn’t afford to have a Six come and help.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. And this was one area where I was unswayable.

She couldn’t stand it when I was stubborn. But I got that from her, so she shouldn’t have been surprised. This wasn’t just about me, though. Mom had been tense lately. The summer was ending, and soon we’d be faced with cold. And worry.

Mom set down the pitcher of tea in the center of the table with an angry thud. My mouth watered at the thought of tea with lemon. But I would have to wait; it would be such a waste to have my glass now and then have to drink water with my meal.

“Would it kill you to fill out the form?” she said, no longer able to contain herself. “The Selection could be a wonderful opportunity for you, for all of us.”

I sighed aloud, thinking that filling out that form might actually be something close to death.

It was no secret that the rebels—the underground colonies that hated Illéa, our large and comparatively young country—made their attacks on the palace both violent and frequent. We’d seen them in action in Carolina before. One of the magistrates’ houses was burned to the ground, and a handful of Twos had their cars vandalized. There was even a magnificent jailbreak once, but considering they only released a teenage girl who’d managed to get herself pregnant and a Seven who was a father to nine, I couldn’t help thinking they were in the right that time.

But beyond the potential danger, I felt like it would hurt my heart to even consider the Selection. I couldn’t help smiling as I thought about all the reasons I had to stay exactly where I was.

“These last few years have been very hard on your father,” she hissed. “If you have any compassion at all, you might think of him.”

Dad. Yeah. I really did want to help Dad. And May and Gerad. And, I supposed, even my mother. When she talked about it that way, there was nothing to smile about. Things had been strained around here for far too long. I wondered if Dad would see this as a way back to normal, if any amount of money could make things better.

It wasn’t that our situation was so precarious that we were living in fear of survival or anything. We weren’t destitute. But I guess we weren’t that far off either.

Our caste was just three away from the bottom. We were artists. And artists and classical musicians were only three steps up from dirt. Literally. Our money was stretched as tight as a high wire, and our income was highly dependent on the changing seasons.

I remembered reading in a timeworn history book that all the major holidays used to be cramped into the winter months.

Something called Halloween followed by Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year’s. All back to back.

Christmas was still the same. It’s not like you could change the birth date of a deity. But when Illéa made the massive peace treaty with China, the New Year came in January or February, depending on the moon. All the individual celebrations of thankfulness and independence from our part of the world were now simply the Grateful Feast. That came in the summer. It was a time to celebrate the forming of Illéa, to rejoice in the fact that we were still here.

I didn’t know what Halloween was. It never resurfaced.

So at least three times a year, the whole family would be fully employed. Dad and May would make their art, and patrons would purchase them as gifts. Mom and I would perform at parties—me singing and her on piano—not turning down a single job if we could manage it. When I was younger, performing in front of an audience terrified me. But now I just tried to equate myself to background music. That’s what we were in the eyes of our employers: meant to be heard and not seen.

Gerad hadn’t found his talent yet. But he was only seven. He still had a little time.

Soon the leaves would change, and our tiny world would be unsteady again. Five mouths but only four workers. No guarantees of employment until Christmastime.

When I thought of it that way, the Selection seemed like a rope, something sure I could grab onto. That stupid letter could lift me out of the darkness, and I could pull my family along with me.

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Today I Read…Cress

CressToday I read Cress by Marissa Meyer, the third book in The Lunar Chronicles series after Cinder and Scarlet.

Cress lives all alone on a satellite that orbits Earth.  A worthless Shell from the Moon, she was condemned to death at birth and rescued by her Mistress. She watches the world below and dreams of a wide open sky, and a handsome prince who will come and rescue her. Cress knows better– Mistress will never let her go free. She was kept alive because she is the best hacker in the world, and this is useful to Mistress and to the wicked Queen Levana, who is finally beginning her invasion of Earth after years of plotting.

But things are changing on Earth and on the Moon–Linh Cinder, the cyborg who defied the Queen, has escaped prison and is on the run with a farm pilot, a renegade Moon soldier, and the handsome, dashing, brave, kind Captain Carswell Thorne. They’re looking for the long-lost Princess Selene, the rightful heir to the Lunar Kingdom, and the only person who can stop Queen Levana from marrying Emperor Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth and becoming the Empress of Earth.

Cress contacts Cinder and her friends and offers her help, if they will rescue her from her prison. But Mistress interrupts and Cress and Thorne crash-land in the middle of the desert. Separated from their friends, they must escape the desert and stop the royal wedding that will spell tyranny for the Earth and death for Cinder’s beloved Kai. But they must also avoid the mad scientist who is hunting Lunars–a scientist who has been looking for his lost precious Crescent Moon for a very, very long time…

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This series keeps getting better and better with every installment. Meyer has created a rich world, set in a dystopia framed like a utopia, with fairy tale elements woven in so gracefully that sometimes I’m in the middle of the scene before I remember the reference and make the connection to the original story. For example, Cress’ name is short for Crescent Moon–a logical enough name for someone born in the Lunar Kingdom, where Moon-related names seem to be common. But cress is also in some versions of the story the plant that Rapunzel’s mother craved during her pregnancy and that her father stole from the witch’s garden, which led to the witch demanding the babe as payment for the theft. Cress has long, tangled hair which whirls around the room, because she has been isolated for so long and no one else has been there to cut it for her. And it isn’t a lovely, shining, part of her beauty, it’s heavy and tangled and frizzy and literally a pain in her neck from the weight. Let’s face it, there’s a very good reason that hair past your waist is uncommon nowadays–it’s time-consuming and inconvenient and requires a great deal of attention to keep it tidy and controlled. In the fairy tale the prince is blinded by thorns when he falls from the tower–here Thorne is blinded when he gets hit on the head when the satellite crash-lands on Earth.

Cress is very different from Disney’s spunky Rapunzel–she has the same intelligence and wide range of interests to keep herself occupied, but she’s not quite sane due to her isolation. Not crazy, but her marbles are rolling around a little. Cinder and Scarlet both grew up surrounded by people, friends, family, neighbours, people they liked and people they hated–Cress has had no one for years except for Mistress, who doesn’t exactly like to stop by for tea and gossip. Cress also approaches romance differently than Cinder and Scarlet do–they both meet their princes (or wolves), like them, argue, fall in love, get separated, fight to be reunited…the usual. Cress falls for Thorne before she ever meets him based on how he looks and her in-depth background check that she thinks means she knows ‘the real Thorne’. Cress is a little bit of a creepy internet stalker. She learns that he’s no noble knight in shining armour, but he’s not a ruthless criminal either–he’s just a man. Maybe he’ll be a lover, but first he’ll be a friend.

We spend less time on society in this book, now that the world is more firmly established, and more time on the rebels’ adventures. There are still hints of what is to come–everything is connected, be it ever so long ago and far away. Each of the girls–Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and the forthcoming Winter–are linked by their families, people who set events into motion many years ago that the girls are going to have to work together to set right. And only by working together can they find the truth and destroy Levana’s power.

I’m still loving this series, and I’m looking forward to the fourth and final book, Winter, due out in 2015. (I have to wait a year?!? Aww, man!) Meyer has created a fascinating world populated by very active princesses, and even the damsel in distress still tries to fight back however she can. These princesses will live happily ever after with their chosen princes because they will fight damn hard to make sure that evil is defeated and they get their happy endings. These princesses will change the world.

Still suitable for anyone who likes a butt-kicking princess, whether the butts she kicks are mechanical, electronic, or physical.

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Her satellite made one full orbit around planet Earth every sixteen hours. It was a prison that came with an endlessly breathtaking view—vast blue oceans and swirling clouds and sunrises that set half the world on fire.

When she was first imprisoned, she had loved nothing more than to stack her pillows on top of the desk that was built into the walls and drape her bed linens over the screens, making a small alcove for herself. She would pretend that she was not on a satellite at all, but in a podship en route to the blue planet. Soon she would land and step out onto real dirt, feel real sunshine, smell real oxygen.

She would stare at the continents for hours and hours, imagining what that must be like.

Her view of Luna, however, was always to be avoided. Some days her satellite passed so close that the moon took up the entire view and she could make out the enormous glinting domes on its surface and the sparkling cities where the Lunars lived. Where she, too, had lived. Years ago. Before she’d been banished.

As a child, Cress had hidden from the moon during those achingly long hours. Sometimes she would escape to the small washroom and distract herself by twisting elaborate braids into her hair. Or she would scramble beneath her desk and sing lullabies until she fell asleep. Or she would dream up a mother and a father, and imagine how they would play make-believe with her and read her adventure stories and brush her hair lovingly off her brow, until finally—finally—the moon would sink again behind the protective Earth, and she was safe.

Even now, Cress used those hours to crawl beneath her bed and nap or read or write songs in her head or work out complicated coding. She still did not like to look at the cities of Luna; she harbored a secret paranoia that if she could see the Lunars, surely they could look up beyond their artificial skies and see her.

For more than seven years, this had been her nightmare.

But now the silver horizon of Luna was creeping into the corner of her window, and Cress paid no attention. This time, her wall of invisi-screens was showing her a brand-new nightmare. Brutal words were splattered across the newsfeeds, photos and videos blurring in her vision as she scrolled from one feed to the next. She couldn’t read fast enough.

14 CITIES ATTACKED WORLDWIDE

2-HOUR MURDER SPREE RESULTS IN 16,000 EARTHEN DEATHS

LARGEST MASSACRE IN THIRD ERA

The net was littered with horrors. Victims dead in the streets with shredded abdomens and blood leaking into the gutters. Feral men-creatures with gore on their chins and beneath their fingernails and staining the fronts of their shirts. She scrolled through them all with one hand pressed over her mouth. Breathing became increasingly difficult as the truth of it all sank in.

This was her fault.

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The conspiracy theorists had been slobbering over themselves ever since the cyborg girl had disappeared. Some said that Linh Cinder was working for the Commonwealth government, or Queen Levana, or that she was in cahoots with a secret society determined to overthrow one government or another, or that she was the missing Lunar princess, or that she knew where the Lunar princess was, or that she was somehow tied to the spread of letumosis, or that she had seduced Emperor Kaito and was now pregnant with a Lunar-Earthen-cyborg thing.

There were almost as many rumors surrounding Carswell Thorne. They included theories on the realreason that he was in prison, such as plotting to kill the last emperor, or how he’d been working with Linh Cinder for years prior to her arrest, or how he was connected to an underground network that had infiltrated the prison system years ago in preparation for the day when he would require their assistance. This newest theory was suggesting that Carswell Thorne was, in fact, an undercover Lunar thaumaturge meant to assist Linh Cinder with her escape so that Luna would have an excuse for starting the war.

Essentially, nobody knew anything.

Except for Cress, who knew the truth of Carswell Thorne’s crimes, his trial, and his escape—at least, the elements of the escape she’d been able to piece together using prison surveillance video and the statements from the on-duty guards.

In fact, Cress was convinced that she knew more about Carswell Thorne than anyone else alive. In a life in which newness and novelty were so rare, he had become a fixture of fascination to her. At first, she was disgusted by him and his apparent greed and recklessness. When he’d deserted the military, he’d left half a dozen cadets and two commanding officers stranded on an island in the Caribbean. He had stolen a collection of second-era goddess sculptures from a private collector in the Eastern Commonwealth and a set of Venezuelan dream dolls on loan to a museum in Australia to potentially never be seen in public again. There were additional claims of an unsuccessful robbery of a young widow from the Commonwealth who owned an extensive collection of antique jewelry.

Cress had continued to dig, entranced by his path of self-destruction. Like watching an asteroid collision, she couldn’t look away.

But then, strange anomalies had begun to creep up in her research.

Age eight. The city of Los Angeles spent four days in panic after a rare Sumatran tiger escaped from the zoo. Video surveillance of the cage showed the young Carswell Thorne, there on a field trip with his class, opening the cage. He later told the authorities that the tiger had looked sad locked up like that, and that he didn’t regret it. Luckily, no one, including the tiger, had been hurt.

Age eleven. A police report was filed by his parents claiming they’d been robbed—overnight, a second-era diamond necklace had gone missing from his mother’s jewelry chest. The necklace was traced to a net sales listing, where it had recently sold for 40,000 univs to a buyer in Brazil. The seller was, of course, Carswell himself, who had not yet had a chance to send off the necklace, and was forced to return the payment, along with an official apology. That apology, made public record to prevent other teens from getting the same idea, claimed that he was only trying to raise money for a local charity offering android assistance to the elderly.

Age thirteen. Carswell Thorne was given a weeklong school suspension after fighting with three boys in his grade, a fight he had lost according to the school’s med-droid report. His statement proclaimed that one of the boys had stolen a portscreen from a girl named Kate Fallow. Carswell had been trying to get it back.

One situation after another was brought to Cress’s attention. Theft, violence, trespassing, school suspensions, police reprimands. Yet Carswell Thorne, when given a chance to explain, always had a reason. A good reason. A heart-stopping, pulse-racing, awe-inspiring reason.

Like the sun rising over Earth’s horizon, her perception began to change. Carswell Thorne wasn’t a heartless scoundrel at all. If anyone bothered to get to know him, they would see that he was compassionate and chivalrous.

He was exactly the kind of hero Cress had been dreaming about her entire life.

With that discovery, thoughts of Carswell Thorne began to infiltrate her every waking moment. She dreamed of deep soul connections and passionate kisses and daring escapades. She was certain that he simply had to meet her, just once, and he would feel the same way. It would be like those epic love affairs that exploded into existence and burned white hot for all eternity. The type of love that time and distance and even death couldn’t separate.

Because if there was one thing Cress knew about heroes, it was that they could not resist a damsel in distress.

And she was nothing if not in distress.

 

Today I Read…Scarlet

Today I read Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, the second book in The Lunar Chronicles. My review of the first book, Cinder, can be found here. Scarlet

Scarlet Benoit lives with her grand-mere Michelle on a farm in France. It’s hard work, and they don’t earn much money, but they’re happy there. Until one day when Scarlet’s grandmother disappears. The police are useless–they think that Michelle just decided to up and leave. Scarlet knows better–she knows that something terrible must have happened, but no one will listen to her.

No one, that is, except for Wolf, the street fighter. Wolf may be large and violent and strange, but he keeps turning up and helping Scarlet–more so than her own father, who finally shows up at the farm after abandoning her years ago. Her father, who has been tortured, who betrayed his own mother to his tormentors and helped kidnap her so that she too can be interrogated and tortured. Now Scarlet and Wolf are traveling to Paris to try and rescue Michelle from Wolf’s former packmates , the violent gang who call themselves the Wolves. At least, Wolf says they’re a gang, just like he says he ran away from them. Whether Wolf can be trusted remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Cinder has escaped from jail with the help of the self-proclaimed “Captain” Thorne and his stolen spaceship, and now they’re on the run from the evil Queen Levana and her Lunars who are demanding Cinder’s capture and execution, and from Emperor Kai and the Eastern Commonwealth–Kai who just wants to understand how the pretty mechanic Cinder can really be a murderous, lying Lunar and a repulsive cyborg. He also has to balance his feelings for Cinder against the demands of Queen Levana, who has offered him a choice–marry her or be invaded.

Good thing nobody ever said being a long-lost magical moon princess was easy. *************************************************************************************************

Scarlet is an excellent follow-up to Cinder. It introduces Scarlet Benoit, or Little Red Riding Hood, and tells her story of trying to rescue her grandmother from the Wolves, but it also continues Cinder’s story from the first book while showing how their stories are intertwined.

Scarlet doesn’t focus as much on Earth class structures, since Scarlet is fully human. While she was raised to be open-minded by her grandmother, and defends Cinder even before she meets her or finds out about their connection, Scarlet doesn’t have the same concerns as Cinder does. Instead we learn a little bit more about Lunar culture, which has deviated from Earth culture over the years that they have been separated, with little contact between the two worlds. Queen Levana not only rules her subjects’ behaviour but also their minds and bodies, to the point of changing her army into monsters. Wolf is caught between what he was created to be and what he could be with Scarlet.

The action is also ramped up in this story, since both Scarlet and Cinder are on the run trying to find something–Scarlet running to find her kidnapped grandmother and Cinder running away from prison and trying to discover the truth about herself and her past. With the attacks by the Wolf packs and the start of the Lunar invasion, there is a lot more violence in this book than in the last one, and a more explicit romance between Scarlet and Wolf than there was between Cinder and Kai. However, both the violence and the sex are still at about a PG rating.

Meyer has created an interesting world, and filled it with strong characters (I have to admit, a strong female protagonist, especially a self-rescuing princess, will hook me in every time). The only problem is that now I have to wait until next year when the third book, Cress, is scheduled to be released. I want to know what happens next!

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Anger clawed its way back up Scarlet’s throat and she half slammed, half dropped the stack of plates back onto the booth’s table. She ignored the startled expressions around her and shoved through the crowd, circling to the back of the bar.

The bewildered bartender watched on as Scarlet pushed some liquor bottles out of the way and climbed up onto the counter that stretched the length of the wall. Reaching up, she opened a wall panel beneath a shelf of cognac glasses and plucked out the netlink cable. All three screens went black, the palace garden and cyborg girl vanishing.

A roar of protest bellowed up around her.

Scarlet spun to face them, accidentally kicking a bottle of wine off the bar. The glass shattered on the floor, but Scarlet barely heard it as she waved the cable at the incensed crowd. “You all should have some respect! That girl’s going to be executed!”

“That girl’s a Lunar!” a woman yelled. “She should be executed!”

The sentiment was enforced with nods and someone lobbing a crust of bread at Scarlet’s shoulder. She planted both hands on her hips. “She’s only sixteen.”

A brash of arguments roared up, men and women alike clambering to their feet and screaming about Lunars and evil and that girl tried to kill a Union leader!

“Hey, hey, everyone calm down! Give Scarlet a break!” Roland yelled, his confidence bolstered by the whiskey on his breath. He held his hands out toward the jostling crowd. “We all know crazy runs in her family. First that old goose runs off, and now Scar’s defending Lunar rights!”

A parade of laughter and jeers marched past Scarlet’s ears, but were muddled by the sound of her own rushing blood. Without knowing how she’d gotten off the counter, she was suddenly halfway over the bar, bottles and glasses scattering, her fist connecting with Roland’s ear.

He yelped and spun back to face her. “What—”

“My grandma’s not crazy!” She grabbed the front of his shirt. “Is that what you told the detective? When he questioned you? Did you tell him she was crazy?”

“Of course I told him she was crazy!” he yelled back, the stench of alcohol flooding over her. She squeezed the fabric until her fists ached. “And I bet I wasn’t the only one. With the way she keeps herself holed up in that old house, talks to animals and androids like they’re people, chases folk away with a rifle—”

“One time, and he was an escort salesman!”

“I’m not one tinge surprised that Granny Benoit split her last rocket. Seems to me it’s been coming a long while.”

Scarlet shoved Roland hard with both hands. He stumbled back into Émilie, who’d been trying to get in between them. Émilie screamed and fell back onto a table in her effort to keep Roland from crushing her.

Roland regained his balance, looking like he couldn’t decide if he wanted to smirk or snarl. “Better be careful, Scar, or you’re going to end up just like the old—”

Table legs screeched against tile and then the fighter had one hand wrapped around Roland’s neck, lifting him clear off the floor.

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She wiped her damp palm on her bleached-white jumper. This was not about Carswell Thorne. This was about Queen Levana and Emperor Kai and Princess Selene. The innocent child Levana had tried to murder thirteen years ago, but who had been rescued and smuggled down to Earth. Who remained the most-wanted person in the world. Who just happened to be Cinder herself.

She’d known for less than twenty-four hours. Dr. Erland, who had known for weeks, decided to inform her that he’d run DNA tests proving her bloodline only after Queen Levana had recognized her at the annual ball and threatened to attack Earth if Cinder wasn’t thrown into jail for being an illegal Lunar emigrant.

So Dr. Erland had sneaked into her prison cell and given her a new foot (hers had fallen off on the palace steps), a state-of-the-art cyborg hand with fancy gadgets that she was still getting used to, and the biggest shock of her life. He’d then told her to escape and come meet him in Africa, like that would be no more difficult than installing a new processor on a Gard3.9.

This order, simultaneously so simple and so impossible, had given her something to focus on other than her newfound identity. Good thing too because when she dwelled on that, her entire body had a tendency to seize up, leaving her useless, and this was a bad time to be suffering from indecision. Regardless of what she would do when she got out, she was sure of one thing:not escaping meant certain death when Queen Levana came to claim her.

She peered back at the inmate again. If she had a close destination in mind, and a working spaceship at that, it could be the key to her escape.

He was still twiddling his thumbs, still obeying her command—just leave me alone. The words had been fire in her mouth when she’d said them, while her blood had boiled and her skin had burned. The sensation of overheating was a side effect of her new Lunar gift—powers that Dr. Erland had managed to unlock after a device implanted on her spine had kept her from using them for so many years. Although it still seemed like magic to her, it was really a genetic trait Lunars were born with that allowed them to control and manipulate the bioelectricity of other living creatures. They could trick people into seeing things that weren’t real or experiencing made-up emotions. They could brainwash people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Without argument. Without resistance.

Cinder was still learning how to use this “gift” and she wasn’t entirely sure how she’d managed to control Carswell Thorne, just as she wasn’t sure how she’d managed to persuade one of the jail guards to move her to a more convenient cell. All she knew was that she’d wanted to strangle this inmate when he wouldn’t stop talking, and her Lunar gift had surged at the base of her neck, spurred on by stress and nerves. She’d lost control of it for a moment and in that breath Thorne had done precisely what she’d wanted him to do.

He’d stopped talking and left her alone.

Her guilt had been instantaneous. She didn’t know what kind of effect it had on a person, all that brain manipulation. And, more than that, she didn’t want to be one of those Lunars who took advantage of her powers just because she could. She didn’t want to be Lunar at all.

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Kai paced before the netscreen, his gut twisting with anxiety. He straightened his shirt, wrinkled from a long day, but at least he’d still been in his office when the alert had come. He believed he might never experience a full night of sleep again after this.

After what he was about to do.

In his frenzied thoughts, he couldn’t help thinking of Cinder at the ball. How happy he’d been to see her descending the stairs into the ball room. How innocently amused he’d been at her rain-drenched hair and wrinkled dress, thinking it was a fitting look for the city’s most renowned mechanic. He’d thought she must be immune to society’s whims of fashion and decorum. So comfortable in her own skin that she could come to a royal ball as the emperor’s own guest with messy hair and oil stains on her gloves and keep her head high as she did so.

That was before he knew that she’d rushed to the ball to give him a warning.

Cinder had sacrificed her own safety to plead with him not to accept the alliance. Not to marry Levana. Because after the marriage ceremony was done and she had ascended to the throne of the Eastern Commonwealth, Levana intended to kill him.

He felt sick to his stomach, knowing that Cinder was right. He knew that Levana wouldn’t hesitate to dispose of him as soon as he’d served his purpose.

But he had to stop these murders. He had to stop this war.

Cinder was not the only one capable of sacrificing herself for something greater.

Inhaling, exhaling, he faced the screen.

“Establish vidlink to Queen Levana of Luna.”

The small globe in the corner turned over only once before it brightened with the image of the Lunar queen, draped in her lacy white veil. He imagined her face old and haggard and decrepit beneath its sheath, and it didn’t help.

Kai sensed she’d been waiting for his comm. He sensed she’d been listening in on everything, and already knew precisely what his intentions were. He sensed she was smirking behind the veil.

“My dear Emperor Kaito, what a pleasant surprise. It must be quite late in New Beijing. About two hours and twenty-four minutes past midnight, is that correct?”

He swallowed his disgust as best he could and opened his hands wide to her. “Your Majesty, I beg you. Please stop this attack. Please call off your soldiers.”

The veil shifted as she listed her head to the side. “You beg me? How delightful. Do go on.”

Heat flooded his face. “Innocent people are dying—women and children, bystanders, people who haven’t done anything to you. You’ve won, and you know it. So please, end it now.”

“You say I’ve won, but what is my prize, young emperor? Have you captured the cyborg girl who started all this? She is the one you should be appealing to. If she turns herself over to me then I will call off my men. That is my offer. Do let me know when you are prepared to bargain with me. Until then, good night.”

“Wait!”

She folded her hands. “Yes?”

His pulse thrummed painfully against his temples. “I can’t give you the girl—we thought we had her, but she’s gotten away again, as I suspect you already know. But I can’t let you continue to murder innocent Earthens while we try and find another way to track her.”

“I’m afraid that’s not my problem, Your Majesty.”

“There’s something else you want, something I can offer. We both know what that is.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you speak of.”

Kai didn’t realize he was gripping his hands, practically pleading with her, until his knuckles started to ache. “If your offer of a marriage alliance still stands, I accept. Your prize for calling off your men will be the Commonwealth.” His voice broke on the final word and he clamped his jaw shut.

He waited, breathless, knowing that every second that passed meant more bloodshed on the streets of Earth.

After an agonizing silence, Levana tittered. “My dear Emperor. How could I resist such a charming proposal?”

Today I Read…Cinder

CinderToday I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer, the first book in The Lunar Chronicles.

Linh Cinder knows exactly what she is–her nasty stepmother, her cruel neighbours, and the entire Empire never let her forget. Cinder is a cyborg–someone who should have died from serious injuries, but was saved through science and the robotic parts that replace her spine, her arm, and her foot. But saved for what reason? Cyborgs aren’t citizens, they have no rights, they aren’t even considered to be human. Cinder is an ugly waste of life, a burden on her stepmother who has two real, living daughters to care for, despite the fact that it is Cinder’s skills as a mechanic that bring in the money to support their family.

But then one day Prince Kaito, the heir to the Empire, comes into her little shop in the marketplace and asks her to fix his personal android. He’s kind, and smart, and funny, and handsome–and he has no idea that Cinder isn’t human. But Cinder can’t just avoid him, even if she wanted to–the royal physician Dr. Erland thinks that she is immune to the deadly letumosis plague that has been ravaging the world for the last few years. He hopes to use her blood to create a cure, and she can’t possibly say no–her little sister Peony, the only member of her family that she loves, is sick with the plague, and Cinder would do anything to save her. Even go to the palace and risk Kai discovering her secret.  The stakes are raised even higher when Cinder finds out that Queen Levana, the wicked and despotic queen of the Moon, is plotting to marry Kai so she can kill him and invade the Earth. What’s a cyborg in love with a prince to do but crash the ball?

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Cinder is a really interesting take on the Cinderella story, and I’m particularly interested by the class system that the cyborgs are a part of. Marissa Meyer supposedly decided to make Cinderella a cyborg when she wondered what would happen if Cinderella lost a foot instead of a shoe on the stairs at the ball. Cyborgs are an artificial (pun intended) lower class, with the idea that anyone who has been injured and repaired through cyborg technology is living on borrowed time, and therefore no longer human and not deserving of any rights. This is the justification used for cyborgs being drafted as unwilling plague test subjects–that the cyborgs are repaying the extra life that they owe society for saving them the first time. Cinder, as a cyborg, is under the permanent guardianship of her stepmother, a ‘real’ human, and legally cannot own the money that she earns through her work. This kind of class system in real life is usually based on traits that you are born with, and the justification is that certain people were ‘born inferior.’ It often appears with the companion justification that oppression is for the minority’s own good, really–the reason why women needed a male guardian and could not own property until about the 1800s, why black people needed to be enslaved, why gay people do not deserve the right to marriage or children, etc. In Cinder we see the same justifications used on a new group of people, to the point that Cinder believes what she’s told–that being cyborg, something that was done to her without her express permission when she was a child, and that she can’t even remember–makes her unclean, ugly, worthless, and undeserving of love or respect. While she is angry at the way she personally is mistreated, she still internalizes all of those attitudes about cyborgs, which is demonstrated when she can’t believe that Prince Kai could ever like her if he knew what she really was. Cinder’s self-image is as a cyborg first, and as a person second.

Kai is much more fleshed out that a simple prince-shaped way out of Cinder’s terrible life. He’s not simply charming to Cinder, but funny, honest, kind, and respectful of her skills as a mechanic. While he is very conscious of his position as the prince and heir to a large empire, when he requests a favour it is distinctly a request for a favour and not an order for something that he feels entitled to. We see Kai dealing with his father’s illness, the political problems caused by his father’s death and Kai’s coronation, and how he interacts with the other world leaders, and with the evil Queen Levana. He hates and distrusts her, but he puts aside his own feelings to do what he thinks is best for the Commonwealth.

The secret of Cinder’s birth is pretty heavily foreshadowed throughout the book–anyone paying at least a little attention will quickly figure out who she is–but the secret of how she came to be a cyborg and living with the Linh family is not revealed until later in the series. It’s still a long way off until ‘and they all lived happily ever after’–for one thing, I don’t recall the prince arresting Cinderella after the ball–but I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Cinder doesn’t wait around to be rescued by the prince–she’s the one who tries to rescue him. She doesn’t entirely succeed, but she does warn him of the danger he is in, even when the warning puts her in more danger herself.

I really like this book. It will be appreciated by anyone who likes rewritten fairy tales, especially ones with a feminist bent. Since it is a YA book, it will also be good for kicking off a discussion about class systems and inequalities, as I mini-essayed above. Meyer includes some discussion questions, including some writing exercises and visual art questions, for classes and book clubs on her website here.

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Adri lifted her chin and finally acknowledged Cinder’s presence by swiping her gaze down Cinder’s filthy boots and cargo pants. “Why aren’t you at the market?”

“It closed down early today,” said Cinder, with a meaningful look at the netscreen that Adri didn’t follow. Feigning nonchalance, Cinder thrust a thumb toward the hall. “So I’ll just go get cleaned up, and then I’ll be ready for my dress fitting.”

The seamstress paused. “Another dress, Linh-ji? I did not bring material for—”

“Have you replaced the magbelt on the hover yet?”

Cinder’s smile faltered. “No. Not yet.”

“Well, none of us will be going to the ball unless that gets fixed, will we?”

Cinder stifled her irritation. They’d already had this conversation twice in the past week. “I need money to buy a new magbelt. 800 univs, at least. If income from the market wasn’t deposited directly into your account, I would have bought one by now.”

“And trust you not to spend it all on your frivolous toys?” Adri said toyswith a glare at Iko and a curl of her lip, even though Iko technically belonged to her. “Besides, I can’t afford both a magbelt and a new dress that you’ll only wear once. You’ll have to find some other way of fixing the hover or find your own gown for the ball.”

Irritation hardened in Cinder’s gut. She might have pointed out that Pearl and Peony could have been given ready-made rather than custom dresses in order to budget for Cinder’s as well. She might have pointed out that they would only wear their dresses one time too. She might have pointed out that, as she was the one doing the work, the money should have been hers to spend as she saw fit. But all arguments would come to nothing. Legally, Cinder belonged to Adri as much as the household android and so too did her money, her few possessions, even the new foot she’d just attached. Adri loved to remind her of that.

So she stomped the anger down before Adri could see a spark of rebellion.

“I may be able to offer a trade for the magbelt. I’ll check with the local shops.”

Adri sniffed. “Why don’t we trade that worthless android for it?”

Iko ducked behind Cinder’s legs.

“We wouldn’t get much for her,” said Cinder. “Nobody wants such an old model.”

“No. They don’t, do they? Perhaps I will have to sell both of you off as spare parts.” Adri reached forward and fidgeted with the unfinished hem of Pearl’s sleeve. “I don’t care how you fix the hover, just fix it before the ball—and cheaply. I don’t need that pile of junk taking up valuable parking space.”

Cinder tucked her hands into her back pockets. “Are you saying that if I fix the hover and get a dress, I can really go this year?”

Adri’s lips puckered slightly at the corners. “It will be a miracle if you can find something suitable to wear that will hide your”—her gaze dropped to Cinder’s boots—“eccentricities. But, yes. If you fix the hover, I suppose you can go to the ball.”

Peony flashed Cinder a stunned half smile, while her older sister spun on their mother. “You can’t be serious! Her? Go with us?”

Cinder pressed her shoulder into the door frame, trying to hide her disappointment from Peony. Pearl’s outrage was unnecessary. A little orange light had flickered in the corner of Cinder’s vision—Adri had not meant her promise.

“Well,” she said, attempting to look heartened. “I guess I’d better go find a magbelt then.”

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Cinder shuffled around the random tools that had collected beneath the worktable. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not going.”

“But it does matter. It’s the ball. And the prince!”

“Iko, I’m fixing an android for him. It’s not like we’re friends now.” Mentioning the prince’s android sparked a memory, and a moment later Cinder pulled the floor jack out from behind its tread. “And it doesn’t matter because Adri will never let me go.”

“She said if you fixed the hover—”

“Right. And after I fix the hover? What about Peony’s portscreen that’s always acting up? What about—” She scanned the room and spotted a rusty android tucked away in the corner. “What about that old Gard7.3?”

“What would Adri want with that old thing? She doesn’t have a garden anymore. She doesn’t even have a balcony.”

“I’m just saying that she has no real intention of letting me go. As long as she can come up with things for me to fix, my ‘chores’ will never be done.” Cinder shoved a couple jack stands into her bag, telling herself that she didn’t care. Not really.

She wouldn’t fit in at a formal ball anyway. Even if she did find dress gloves and slippers that could hide her metal monstrosities, her mousy hair would never hold a curl, and she didn’t know the first thing about makeup. She would just end up sitting off the dance floor and making fun of the girls who swooned to get Prince Kai’s attention, pretending she wasn’t jealous. Pretending it didn’t bother her.

Although she was curious about the food.

And the prince did know her now, sort of. He had been kind to her at the market. Perhaps he would ask her to dance. Out of politeness. Out of chivalry when he saw her standing alone.

The precarious fantasy crashed down around her as quickly as it had begun. It was impossible. Not worth thinking about.

She was cyborg, and she would never go to the ball.

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Kai shrugged and turned to Cinder. His eyes softened a little with a polite bow of his head. “I hope our paths will cross again.”

“Really? In that case, I guess I’ll keep following you.” She regretted the joke for half a breath before Kai laughed. A real laugh, and her chest warmed.

Then the prince reached for her hand—her cyborg hand.

Cinder tensed, terrified that he would feel the hard metal, even through her gloves, and yet even more afraid to pull away lest he find it suspicious. She mentally urged the robotic limb to go soft, to be pliant, to be human, as she watched Kai lift the hand and kiss the back of it. She held her breath, overwhelmed and embarrassed.

The prince released her, bowed—his hair falling into his eyes again—and left the room.

Cinder stood frozen, her wired nerves humming.

She heard Dr. Erland grunt in curiosity, but the door opened again as soon as it had closed.

“Gracious,” Dr. Erland muttered as Kai stepped back inside.

“Pardon me, but might I have one more brief word with Linh-mèi?”

Dr. Erland flicked his wrist toward her. “By all means.”

Kai turned to her, still in the doorway. “I know this sounds like very poor timing, but trust me when I say my motives are based on self-preservation.” He inhaled a sharp breath. “Would you consider being my personal guest at the ball?”

The floor dissolved beneath Cinder. Her mind blanked. Surely, she hadn’t heard correctly.

But he just stood, patient, and after a long moment raised both his eyebrows in a mute prompt.

“E-excuse me?”

Kai cleared his throat. Stood straighter. “I assume you are going to the ball?”

“I-I don’t know. I mean, no. No, I’m sorry, I’m not going to the ball.”

Kai drew back, confused. “Oh. Well…but…maybe you would change your mind? Because I am, you know.”

“The prince.”

“Not bragging,” he said quickly. “Just a fact.”

“I know.” She gulped. The ball. Prince Kai was asking her to the ball. But that was the night she and Iko would be running away, if the car was fixed in time. The night she would escape.

Besides, he didn’t know who, what, he was asking. If he knew the truth…how mortified would he be if anyone found out?

Kai shifted on his feet, casting a nervous glance toward the doctor.

“I-I’m sorry,” she stammered. “Thank you—I…Thank you, Your Highness. But I must respectfully decline.”

He blinked. His eyes fell as he processed her response. Then he lifted his chin and attempted a grin that was almost painfully dejected. “No, it’s all right. I understand.”

Dr. Erland leaned back against his desk. “My sincerest condolences, Your Highness. In more ways than one, it seems.”

Cinder cast him a frosty glare, but he focused his attention on cleaning his spectacles again.

Kai scratched behind his neck. “It was nice to see you again, Linh-mèi.”

She flinched at the return of the formality and made to speak, her voice catching at apologies, explanations, but the prince didn’t wait for them. The door was already shutting behind him.

She snapped her jaw shut, thoughts sparking in her head. Dr. Erland clucked his tongue, and Cinder prepared to rail at him with those budding explanations, but he turned away before she could and paced back to his seat.

“What a shame you cannot blush, Miss Linh.”

Today I Read…City of Fallen Angels

Today I read City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, the fourth book in The Mortal Instruments series. city-of-fallen-angels

Valentine and his son Jonathan are dead, the Clave is finally working together with the Downworlders, Clary is learning how to be a Shadowhunter, and Clary and Jace are free to be together. Everything should be perfect.

Only Jace has been having nightmares about hurting Clary and pushes her away, to protect her. Simon is being followed by agents of Camille, the ancient vampire queen who has been absent from the city and the clan for years. Simon’s new roommate Kyle is a werewolf, who is charged to protect Simon, except Kyle has secrets of his own. And someone is murdering babies in New York.

Looks like evil never really dies…

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Simon’s story really starts to take over from Clary and Jace in this book, which starts a new trilogy in the series. His powers as a Daylighter, a vampire who can walk in the sunlight, become more than a simple plot device in this book. Raphael and Camille both want to use him and his powers to their own ends, to support their power. Simon also has the Mark of Cain, which Clary put on him in the last book, but it is more fully explained what the consequences are. He has to deal with his mother thinking he is a monster and throwing him out of his house. He is dating two girls at once, Maia the werewolf and Isabelle the Shadowhunter, and neither of them knows about each other–until they find out. And his roommate Kyle is actually Jordan Kyle, the ex-boyfriend of Maia, who attacked her and turned her into a werewolf.

Clary and Jace’s epically angst-ridden relationship continues, even though Jace is pulling the macho stay-away-from-me-for-your-own-good-while-never-actually-explaining-what’s-wrong thing. The good thing is that Clary refuses to put up with his nonsense, even though she is going through training, investigating the babies’ murders, and preparing for her mother’s wedding to Luke at the same time.

The series is as complicated as a soap opera, with twists and turns and secrets and lies around every corner. However, it never gets so complicated that the reader loses interest.

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“So, did you have fun with Isabelle tonight?” Clary, her phone jammed against her ear, maneuvered herself carefully from one long beam to another. The beams were set twenty feet up in the rafters of the Institute’s attic, where the training room was located. Walking the beams was meant to teach you how to balance. Clary hated them. Her fear of heights made the whole business sickening, despite the flexible cord tied around her waist that was supposed to keep her from hitting the floor if she fell. “Have you told her about Maia yet?”

Simon made a faint, noncommittal noise that Clary knew meant “no.” She could hear music in the background; she could picture him lying on his bed, the stereo playing softly as he talked to her. He sounded tired, that sort of bone-deep tired she knew meant that his light tone didn’t reflect his mood. She’d asked him if he was all right several times at the beginning of the conversation, but he’d brushed away her concern. She snorted. “You’re playing with fire, Simon. I hope you know that.”

“I don’t know. Do you real y think it’s such a big deal?” Simon sounded plaintive. “I haven’t had a single conversation with Isabelle—or Maia—about dating exclusively.”

“Let me tell you something about girls.” Clary sat down on a beam, letting her legs dangle out into the air. The attic’s half-moon windows were open, and cool night air spilled in, chilling her sweaty skin. She had always thought the Shadowhunters trained in their tough, leatherlike gear, but as it turned out, that was for later training, which involved weapons. For the sort of training she was doing—exercises meant to increase her flexibility, speed, and sense of balance—she wore a light tank top and drawstring pants that reminded her of medical scrubs. “Even if you haven’t had the exclusivity conversation, they’re stil going to be mad if they find out you’re dating someone they know and you haven’t mentioned it. It’s a dating rule.”

“Well, how am I supposed to know that rule?”

“Everyone knows that rule.”

“I thought you were supposed to be on my side.”

“I am on your side!”

“So why aren’t you being more sympathetic?”

Clary switched the phone to her other ear and peered down into the shadows below her. Where was Jace? He’d gone to get another rope and said he’d be back in five minutes. Of course, if he caught her on the phone up here, he’d probably kill her. He was rarely in charge of her training—that was usually Maryse, Kadir, or various other members of the New York Conclave pinch-hitting until a replacement for the Institute’s previous tutor, Hodge, could be found—but when he was, he took it very seriously. “Because,” she said, “your problems are not real problems. You’re dating two beautiful girls at once. Think about it. That’s like . . . rock-star problems.”

“Having rock-star problems may be the closest I ever get to being an actual rock star.”

“No one told you to cal your band Salacious Mold, my friend.”

“We’re Millennium Lint now,” Simon protested.

“Look, just figure this out before the wedding. If they both think they’re going to it with you and they find out at the wedding that you’re dating them both, they’ll kill you.” She stood up. “And then my mom’s wedding will be ruined, and she’ll kill you. So you’ll be dead twice. Well, three times, technically . . .”

“I never told either of them I was going to the wedding with them!” Simon sounded panicked.

“Yes, but they’re going to expect you to. That’s why girls have boyfriends. So you have someone to take you to boring functions.” Clary moved out to the edge of the beam, looking down into the witchlight-illuminated shadows below. There was an old training circle chalked on the floor; it looked like a bull’s-eye. “Anyway, I have to jump off this beam now and possibly hurdle to my horrible death. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

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The moment Simon opened the door, he knew he’d miscalculated. He’d thought his mother would be asleep by now, but she wasn’t. She was awake, sitting in an armchair facing the front door, her phone on the table next to her, and she saw the blood on his jacket immediately. To his surprise she didn’t scream, but her hand flew to her mouth. “Simon.”

“It’s not my blood,” he said quickly. “I was over at Eric’s, and Matt had a nosebleed—”

“I don’t want to hear it.” That sharp tone was one she rarely used; it reminded him of the way she’d talked during those last months when his father had been sick, anxiety like a knife in her voice. “I don’t want to hear any more lies.”

Simon dropped his keys onto the table next to the door. “Mom—”

“All you do is tell me lies. I’m tired of it.”

“That’s not true,” he said, but he felt sick, knowing it was. “I just have a lot going on in my life right now.”

“I know you do.” His mother got to her feet; she had always been a skinny woman, and she looked bony now, her dark hair, the same color as his, streaked with more gray than he had remembered where it fell around her face.

“Come with me, young man. Now.”

Puzzled, Simon followed her into the small bright-yellow kitchen. His mother stopped and pointed toward the counter. “Care to explain those?”

Simon’s mouth went dry. Lined up along the counter like a row of toy soldiers were the bottles of blood that had been in the mini-fridge inside his closet. One was half-full, the others entirely full, the red liquid inside them shining like an accusation. She had also found the empty blood bags he had washed out and carefully stuffed inside a shopping bag before dumping them into his trash can. They were spread out over the counter too, like a grotesque decoration.

“I thought at first the bottles were wine,” Elaine Lewis said in a shaking voice. “Then I found the bags. So I opened one of the bottles. It’s blood. Isn’t it?”

Simon said nothing. His voice seemed to have fled.

“You’ve been acting so strangely lately,” his mother went on. “Out at all hours, you never eat, you barely sleep, you have friends I’ve never met, never heard of. You think I can’t tell when you’re lying to me? I can tell, Simon. I thought maybe you were on drugs.”

Simon found his voice. “So you searched my room?”

His mother flushed. “I had to! I thought—I thought if I found drugs there, I could help you, get you into a rehab program, but this?” She gestured wildly at the bottles. “I don’t even know what to think about this. What’s going on, Simon? Have you joined some kind of cult?”

Simon shook his head.

“Then, tell me,” his mother said, her lips trembling. “Because the only explanations I can think of are horrible and sick. Simon, please—”

“I’m a vampire,” Simon said. He had no idea how he had said it, or even why. But there it was. The words hung in the air between them like poisonous gas.

His mother’s knees seemed to give out, and she sank into a kitchen chair. “What did you say?” she breathed.

“I’m a vampire,” Simon said. “I’ve been one for about two months now. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I didn’t know how.”

Elaine Lewis’s face was chalk white. “Vampires don’t exist, Simon.”

“Yes,” he said. “They do. Look, I didn’t ask to be a vampire. I was attacked. I didn’t have a choice. I’d change it if I could.” He thought wildly back to the pamphlet Clary had given him so long ago, the one about coming out to your parents. It had seemed like a funny analogy then; now it didn’t.

“You think you’re a vampire,” Simon’s mother said numbly. “You think you drink blood.”

“I do drink blood,” Simon said. “I drink animal blood.”

“But you’re a vegetarian.” His mother looked to be on the verge of tears.

“I was. I’m not now. I can’t be. Blood is what I live on.” Simon’s throat felt tight. “I’ve never hurt a person. I’d never drink someone’s blood. I’m still the same person. I’m still me.”

His mother seemed to be fighting for control. “Your new friends—are they vampires too?”

Simon thought of Isabelle, Maia, Jace. He couldn’t explain Shadowhunters and werewolves, too. It was too much. “No. But—they know I am one.”

“Did—did they give you drugs? Make you take something? Something that would make you hallucinate?” She seemed to have barely heard his answer.

“No. Mom, this is real.”

“It’s not real,” she whispered. “You think it’s real. Oh, God. Simon. I’m so sorry. I should have noticed. We’ll get you help. We’ll find someone.A doctor. Whatever it costs—”

“I can’t go to a doctor, Mom.”

“Yes, you can. You need to be somewhere. A hospital, maybe—”

He held out his wrist to her. “Feel my pulse,” he said.

She looked at him, bewildered. “What?”

“My pulse,” he said. “Take it. If I have one, okay. I’ll go to the hospital with you. If not, you have to believe me.”

She wiped the tears from her eyes and slowly reached to take his wrist. After so long taking care of Simon’s father when he’d been sick, she knew how to take a pulse as well as any nurse. She pressed her index fingertip to the inside of his wrist, and waited.

He watched as her face changed, from misery and upset to confusion, and then to terror. She stood up, dropping his hand, backing away from him. Her eyes were huge and dark in her white face. “What are you?”

Simon felt sick. “I told you. I’m a vampire.”

“You’re not my son. You’re not Simon.” She was shuddering. “What kind of living thing doesn’t have a pulse? What kind of monster are you? What have you done with my child?”

“I am Simon—” He took a step toward his mother.

She screamed. He had never heard her scream like that, and he never wanted to again. It was a horrible noise.

“Get away from me.” Her voice broke. “Don’t come any closer.” She began to whisper.

“Barukh ata Adonai sho’me’a t’fila . . .”

She was praying, Simon realized with a jolt. She was so terrified of him that she was praying that he would go away, be banished. And what was worse was that he could feel it. The name of God tightened his stomach and made his throat ache. She was right to pray, he thought, sick to his soul. He was cursed. He didn’t belong in the world. What kind of living thing doesn’t have a pulse?

Today I Read…City of Glass

city of glassToday I read City of Glass by Cassandra Clare, the third book in The Mortal Instruments series.

The Clave, the governing body of the Shadowhunters who rule from the city of Alicante in the land of Idris, wants to meet Clary Fray. Which is just fine with her, since she wants to go to Idris to find the warlock Ragnor Fell, who might be able to wake her mother, still in a coma after being rescued from the evil Valentine–Clary’s father. Jace, on the other hand, wants Clary to stay home where it’s safe–he says he doesn’t have any feelings for her anymore, but she is still his little sister. But when the group is attacked as they are about to travel to Alicante, Simon the newly-made vampire goes through the portal instead of Clary. Too bad vampires are forbidden from Idris, and have been for centuries.

Using her special abilities to make new Marks, Clary opens a Portal to Idris, where she finds Jace awfully close to the beautiful Shadowhunter Aline. And she meets Sebastian, handsome, accomplished, and flirtatious–except she tastes ashes when he kisses her.

With Valentine’s final attack on the Shadowhunters, old secrets come to light, including why Jace and Clary have their special abilities, and exactly who they are to each other. Someone will return. Someone will betray them. And someone will die.

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This is the end of the first trilogy in the series-the 4th book starts a new story arc. We finally get all the answers about what Valentine was doing back during his first rebellion against the Clave, what he did to Jace and Clary, and all of the people who were hurt back then and are still affected now. We finally find out who Jace is. It’s nice to get a happy ending–at least until City of Fallen Angels begins. I don’t want to say too much here, because I hate it when people ruin the end of the book.

I will say that Luke makes a much better leader than most of the Clave. And I still really like Magnus Bane. Seven hundred years old (ok, eight hundred, but he doesn’t look it), but he’s still a fool for love. At least he’s a fool on his own terms, and he does it with style.

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“But you just got here!” Clary protested. “I thought we could hang out, watch a movie or something—”

You need to pack.” Simon smiled, bright as sunshine after rain. She could almost believe there was nothing bothering him. “I’ll come by later to say good-bye before you go.”

“Oh, come on,” Clary protested. “Stay—”

“I can’t.” His tone was final. “I’m meeting Maia.”

“Oh. Great,” Clary said. Maia, she told herself, was nice. She was smart. She was pretty. She was also a werewolf. A werewolf with a crush on Simon. But maybe that was as it should be. Maybe his new friend should be a Downworlder. After all, he was a Downworlder himself now. Technically, he shouldn’t even be spending time with Shadowhunters like Clary. “I guess you’d better go, then.”

“I guess I’d better.” Simon’s dark eyes were unreadable. This was new—she’d always been able to read Simon before. She wondered if it was a side effect of the vampirism, or something else entirely. “Good-bye,” he said, and bent as if to kiss her on the cheek, sweeping her hair back with one of his hands. Then he paused and drew back, his expression uncertain. She frowned in surprise, but he was already gone, brushing past Luke in the doorway. She heard the front door bang in the distance.

“He’s acting so weird,” she exclaimed, hugging the velvet coat against herself for reassurance. “Do you think it’s the whole vampire thing?”

“Probably not.” Luke looked faintly amused. “Becoming a Downworlder doesn’t change the way you feel about things. Or people. Give him time. You did break up with him.”

“I did not. He broke up with me.”

“Because you weren’t in love with him. That’s an iffy proposition, and I think he’s handling it with grace. A lot of teenage boys would sulk, or lurk around under your window with a boom box.”

“No one has a boom box anymore. That was the eighties.” Clary scrambled off the bed, pulling the coat on. She buttoned it up to the neck, luxuriating in the soft feel of the velvet. “I just want Simon to go back to normal.”

********************************************************************************************

“Because,” Simon said. “If you want me to lie—not to Clary, but to all your Shadowhunter friends—if you want me to pretend that it was Clary’s own decision not to come here, and if you want me to pretend that I don’t know about her powers, or what she can really do, then you have to do something for me.”

“Fine,” Jace said. “What is it you want?”

Simon was silent for a moment, looking past Jace at the line of stone houses fronting the sparkling canal. Past their crenellated roofs he could see the gleaming tops of the demon towers. “I want you to do whatever you need to do to convince Clary that you don’t have feelings for her. And don’t—don’t tell me you’re her brother; I already know that. Stop stringing her along when you know that whatever you two have has no future. And I’m not saying this because I want her for myself. I’m saying it because I’m her friend and I don’t want her hurt.”

Jace looked down at his hands for a long moment without answering. They were thin hands, the fingers and knuckles scuffed with old calluses. The backs of them were laced with the thin white lines of old Marks. They were a soldier’s hands, not a teenage boy’s. “I’ve already done that,” he said. “I told her I was only interested in being her brother.”

“Oh.” Simon had expected Jace to fight him on this, to argue, not to just give up. A Jace who just gave up was new—and left Simon feeling almost ashamed for having asked. Clary never mentioned it to me, he wanted to say, but then why would she have? Come to think of it, she had seemed unusually quiet and withdrawn lately whenever Jace’s name had come up. “Well, that takes care of that, I guess. There’s one last thing.”

“Oh?” Jace spoke without much apparent interest. “And what’s that?”

“What was it Valentine said when Clary drew that rune on the ship? It sounded like a foreign language. Memesomething—?”

“Mene mene tekel upharsin,” Jace said with a faint smile. “You don’t recognize it? It’s from the Bible, vampire. The old one.

That’s your book, isn’t it?”

“Just because I’m Jewish doesn’t mean I’ve memorized the Old Testament.”

“It’s the Writing on the Wall. ‘God hath numbered thy kingdom, and brought it to an end; thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.’ It’s a portent of doom—it means the end of an empire.”

“But what does that have to do with Valentine?”

“Not just Valentine,” said Jace. “All of us. The Clave and the Law—what Clary can do overturns everything they know to be true. No human being can create new runes, or draw the sort of runes Clary can. Only angels have that power. And since Clary can do that—well, it seems like a portent. Things are changing. The Laws are changing. The old ways may never be the right ways again. Just as the rebellion of the angels ended the world as it was—it split heaven in half and created hell—this could mean the end of the Nephilim as they currently exist. This is our war in heaven, vampire, and only one side can win it. And my father means it to be his.”

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The scene showed a cellar, the same cellar that Clary knew she was standing in right now. The same scrawled pentagram scarred the floor, and within the center of the star lay the angel. Valentine stood by, once again with a burning seraph blade in his hand. He looked years older now, no longer a young man. “Ithuriel,” he said. “We are old friends now, aren’t we? I could have left you buried alive under those ruins, but no, I brought you here with me. All these years I’ve kept you close, hoping one day you would tell me what I wanted—needed—to know.” He came closer, holding the blade out, its blaze lighting the runic barrier to a shimmer. “When I summoned you, I dreamed that you would tell me why. Why Raziel created us, his race of Shadowhunters, yet did not give us the powers Downworlders have—the speed of the wolves, the immortality of the Fair Folk, the magic of warlocks, even the endurance of vampires. He left us naked before the hosts of hell but for these painted lines on our skin. Why should their powers be greater than ours? Why can’t we share in what they have? How is that just?”

Within its imprisoning star the angel sat silent as a marble statue, unmoving, its wings folded. Its eyes expressed nothing beyond a terrible silent sorrow. Valentine’s mouth twisted.

“Very well. Keep your silence. I will have my chance.” Valentine lifted the blade. “I have the Mortal Cup, Ithuriel, and soon I shall have the Sword—but without the Mirror I cannot begin the summoning. The Mirror is all I need. Tell me where it is. Tell me where it is, Ithuriel, and I will let you die.”

Today I Read…City of Ashes

Today I read City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare, the second book in The Mortal Instruments series. city of ashes

Everything has changed since Jace Wayland and Clary Fray learned that they are the children of the evil Valentine. Jace’s foster mother, the one who has raised him for the last seven years, has accused him of being a spy for Valentine and thrown him out of his home. So naturally he decides to go out and start picking fights in a werewolf bar. Clary is waiting for her mother to wake up from the coma Valentine left her in. Simon, Clary’s best friend, has been turned into a vampire, as well as Clary’s new boyfriend. And Maia is trying to adjust to life as a werewolf after she was attacked by her ex-boyfriend Jordan.

And now the Inquisitor is coming to question Jace and prove his loyalty–or his treachery. Valentine has killed the Brothers of the Silent City to steal the Mortal Sword. And Clary and Jace are still trying to fight their attraction to each other. Faeries and demons and warlocks, oh my…

Things are changing. And they will never be the same again.

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Clary and Jace keep meeting more people, and their lives keep getting more complicated. In City of Ashes we learn more about how Valentine affected people during the last war, and more about his current plots. Valentine is the master of the subtle knife- you don’t even know that he has it until you’re already lying on the ground bleeding. Is he lying, when he tells Jace that he loves him and wants him to join Valentine’s cause? Or is he telling the truth, knowing that it will hurt more? Or is he telling the truth in the way that will make people believe whatever he wants them to believe? We learn that there are those in Shadowhunter society who will hold the son responsible for the sins of the father, and that Valentine has sinned indeed. Valentine’s favourite story is Milton’s Paradise Lost, and he sympathizes with Lucifer–the influence on Valentine as a character is clear. The worst thing about Valentine is his total belief that he is right. That the ends justify the means. And that there are certain groups which, simply by being what they are born to be, deserve to die, and anyone who gets in the way on purpose or by accident is nothing more than collateral damage.

Hm, this sounds familiar. From about a dozen instances in history. And current events.

Clary and Jace’s epic, tortured romance continues–their love is too strong to deny, even though they are brother and sister and can never be together. Normally all this teenage angst would annoy me a bit, but they both handle it so badly that I have to sympathize with them. Jace can be an arrogant jerk, and frequently is. He pushes Clary away and is rude to everyone, especially anyone in authority, but he does feel so helpless. He loves Clary and knows that it is wrong. He loves Valentine, the father who raised him and taught him, even though he knows that Valentine is a monster. Clary knows that she should love Simon–he’s been her best friend for forever, her constant loyal companion, and he loves her so much, but Jace…Everybody screws up. How they handle it is where the story happens.

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She jumped a little, spilling some of the wine. “Jace. I didn’t hear you come in.”

He didn’t move. “Do you remember that song you used to sing to Isabelle and Alec—when they were little and afraid of the dark—to get them to fall asleep?”

Maryse appeared taken aback. “What are you talking about?”

“I used to hear you through the walls,” he said. “Alec’s bedroom was next to mine then.”

She said nothing.

“It was in French,” Jace said. “The song.”

“I don’t know why you’d remember something like that.” She looked at him as if he’d accused her of something.

“You never sang to me.”

There was a barely perceptible pause. Then, “Oh, you,” she said. “You were never afraid of the dark.”

“What kind of ten-year-old is never afraid of the dark?”

Her eyebrows went up. “Sit down, Jonathan,” she said. “Now.”

He went, just slowly enough to annoy her, across the room, and threw himself into one of the wing-back chairs beside the desk. “I’d rather you didn’t call me Jonathan.”

“Why not? It’s your name.” She looked at him consideringly. “How long have you known?”

“Known what?”

“Don’t be stupid. You know exactly what I’m asking you.” She turned her glass in her fingers.

“How long have you known that Valentine is your father?”

Jace considered and discarded several responses. Usually he could get his way with Maryse by making her laugh. He was one of the only people in the world who could make her laugh.

“About as long as you have.”

Maryse shook her head slowly. “I don’t believe that.”

Jace sat up straight. His hands were in fists where they rested on the chair arms. He could see a slight tremor in his fingers, wondered if he’d ever had it before. He didn’t think so. His hands had always been as steady as his heartbeat. “You don’t believe me?”

He heard the incredulity in his own voice and winced inwardly. Of course she didn’t believe him. That had been obvious from the moment she had arrived home.

“It doesn’t make sense, Jace. How could you not know who your own father is?”

“He told me he was Michael Wayland. We lived in the Wayland country house—”

“A nice touch,” said Maryse, “that. And your name? What’s your real name?”

“You know my real name.”

“Jonathan Christopher. I knew that was Valentine’s son’s name. I knew Michael had a son named Jonathan too. It’s a common enough Shadowhunter name—I never thought it was strange they shared it, and as for Michael’s boy’s middle name, I never inquired. But now I can’t help wondering. What was Michael Wayland’s son’s real middle name? How long had Valentine been planning what he was going to do? How long did he know he was going to murder Jonathan Wayland—?” She broke off, her eyes fixed on Jace. “You never looked like Michael, you know,”

she said. “But sometimes children don’t look like their parents. I didn’t think about it before. But now I can see Valentine in you. The way you’re looking at me. That defiance. You don’t care what I say, do you?”

But he did care. All he was good at was making sure she couldn’t see it. “Would it make a difference if I did?”

She set the glass down on the table beside her. It was empty. “And you answer questions with questions to throw me off, just like Valentine always did. Maybe I should have known.”

“Maybe nothing. I’m still exactly the same person I’ve been for the past seven years. Nothing’s changed about me. If I didn’t remind you of Valentine before, I don’t see why I would now.”

Her glance moved over him and away as if she couldn’t bear to look directly at him. “Surely when we talked about Michael, you must have known we couldn’t possibly have meant your father. The things we said about him could never have applied to Valentine.”

“You said he was a good man.” Anger twisted inside him. “A brave Shadowhunter. A loving father. I thought that seemed accurate enough.”

“What about photographs? You must have seen photographs of Michael Wayland and realized he wasn’t the man you called your father.” She bit her lip. “Help me out here, Jace.”

“All the photographs were destroyed in the Uprising. That’s what you told me. Now I wonder if it wasn’t because Valentine had them all burned so nobody would know who was in the Circle.

I never had a photograph of my father,” Jace said, and wondered if he sounded as bitter as he felt.

Maryse put a hand to her temple and massaged it as if her head were aching. “I can’t believe this,” she said, as if to herself. “It’s insane.”

“So don’t believe it. Believe me,” Jace said, and felt the tremor in his hands increase.

She dropped her hand. “Don’t you think I want to?” she demanded, and for a moment he heard the echo in her voice of the Maryse who’d come into his bedroom at night when he was ten years old and staring dry-eyed at the ceiling, thinking of his father—and she’d sat by the bed with him until he’d fallen asleep just before dawn.

“I didn’t know,” Jace said again. “And when he asked me to come with him back to Idris, I said no. I’m still here. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

She turned to look back at the decanter, as if considering another drink, then seemed to discard the idea. “I wish it did,” she said. “But there are so many reasons your father might want you to remain at the Institute. Where Valentine is concerned, I can’t afford to trust anyone his influence has touched.”

“His influence touched you,” Jace said, and instantly regretted it at the look that flashed across her face.

“And I repudiated him,” said Maryse. “Have you? Couldyou?” Her blue eyes were the same color as Alec’s, but Alec had never looked at him like this. “Tell me you hate him, Jace. Tell me you hate that man and everything he stands for.”

A moment passed, and another, and Jace, looking down, saw that his hands were so tightly fisted that the knuckles stood out white and hard like the bones in a fish’s spine. “I can’t say that.”

Maryse sucked in her breath. ” Why not?”

“Why can’t you say that you trust me? I’ve lived with you almost half my life. Surely you must know me better than that?”

“You sound so honest, Jonathan. You always have, even when you were a little boy trying to pin the blame for something you’d done wrong on Isabelle or Alec. I’ve only ever met one person who could sound as persuasive as you.”

Jace tasted copper in his mouth. “You mean my father.”

“There were only ever two kinds of people in the world for Valentine,” she said. “Those who were for the Circle and those who were against it. The latter were enemies, and the former were weapons in his arsenal. I saw him try to turn each of his friends, even his own wife, into a weapon for the Cause—and you want me to believe he wouldn’t have done the same with his own son?”

She shook her head. “I knew him better than that.” For the first time, Maryse looked at him with more sadness than anger. “You are an arrow shot directly into the heart of the Clave, Jace. You are Valentine’s arrow. Whether you know it or not.”

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“Clary, I’m telling you he made his own decisions. What you’re blaming yourself for is being what you are. And that’s no one’s fault and nothing you can change. You told him the truth and he made up his own mind what he wanted to do about that. Everyone has choices to make; no one has the right to take those choices away from us. Not even out of love.”

“But that’s just it,” Clary said. “When you love someone, you don’t have a choice.” She thought of the way her heart had contracted when Isabelle had called to tell her Jace was missing.

She’d left the house without a moment’s thought or hesitation. “Love takes your choices away.”

“It’s a lot better than the alternative.”

Today I Read…City of Bones

Today I read City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, the first book in the best-selling The Mortal Instruments series.

city of bonesClary Fray and her best friend Simon are out for a night of fun when she sees two boys following a couple—but Simon can’t see them. When Clary tries to intervene to stop the two boys and the girl from killing the other cute boy, they tell her he is a demon. Claws, black blood, body disappearing—whatever is going on, it isn’t normal.

The next day, Clary gets a call from her mother telling her to stay away from home, which ends with the sound of screaming and things breaking. When she gets home she finds her mother missing and a Ravener demon in her apartment, which promptly tries to kill her. The demon-killing trio—Jace, Isabelle and Alec—find her tell her that they are Shadowhunters—descendants from an angel whose sworn duty is to kill demons and Downworlders who make trouble—vampires, werewolves, warlocks, fairies. Most mundanes can’t see any of them, but Clary can. But there are bigger problems than the fact that Clary’s mother has disappeared after lying to her for her whole life or arrogant, rude, beautiful boys named Jace who won’t leave her alone. The Downworlders are whispering that Valentine is back—a rogue Shadowhunter who tried start a war and break the Covenant that lets Shadowhunters and Downworlders live in (relative) peace. Except that Valentine is supposed to be dead.

I’ve heard that The Mortal Instruments series is supposed to be the next big YA series, now that Harry Potter and Twilight are over, although The Hunger Games is still going strong. The first movie, starring Lily Collins as Clary, is due out this year. There is one particular issue that I’ll be interested to see how they handle in the movie—it is revealed in the first book that Clary and Jace are actually brother and sister, and the children of Valentine. This obviously complicates their burgeoning epic romance, and adds considerably to the angst quotient. It’s like if Han Solo was Princess Leia’s brother and the son of Darth Vader instead of Luke Skywalker, but Han was still the love interest. It can’t be omitted, because it’s a fairly important plot point that continues through several of the books—I’ll discuss it further in those reviews. Incest tends to be a fairly serious taboo in modern culture.

The story is very much a soap opera with monsters, with secrets from the past being revealed, complicated relationships, and long-running feuds between the various groups. Clare’s strength is how individual each character is—even the ones who don’t get much direct time in the spotlight still have very distinct personalities, and eventually they all get their time to shine. Loyal Luke, flamboyant Magnus, overlooked Simon, perfect Isabelle, hiding Alec, arrogant Jace, determined Clary, manipulative Hodge, evil Valentine…but each is so much more than just one simple adjective, no matter what they initially appear to be.

I won’t call this an instant favourite (at least not mine), but it is addictive to see what happens next, with a good balance of relationship drama, mysteries from the past being revealed, and action.

***********************************************************

“Of course I can see you,” Clary said. “I’m not blind, you know.”

“Oh, but you are,” said Jace, bending to pick up his knife. “You just don’t know it.” He straightened up. “You’d better get out of here, if you know what’s good for you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Clary said. “If I do, you’ll kill him.” She pointed at the boy with the blue hair.

“That’s true,” admitted Jace, twirling the knife between his fingers. “What do you care if I kill him or not?”

“Be-because—,” Clary spluttered. “You can’t just go around killing people.”

“You’re right,” said Jace. “You can’t go around killing people.” He pointed at the boy with blue hair, whose eyes were slitted. Clary wondered if he’d fainted. “That’s not a person, little girl. It may look like a person and talk like a person and maybe even bleed like a person. But it’s a monster.”

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“I told you before, my name is not little girl,” she said through her teeth. “It’s Clary.”

“I know,” he said. “Pretty name. Like the herb, clary sage. In the old days people thought eating the seeds would let you see the Fair Folk. Did you know that?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t know much, do you?” he said. There was a lazy contempt in his gold eyes. “You seem to be a mundane like any other mundane, yet you can see me. It’s a conundrum.”

“What’s a mundane?”

“Someone of the human world. Someone like you.”

“But you’re human,” Clary said.

“I am,” he said. “But I’m not like you.” There was no defensiveness in his tone. He sounded like he didn’t care if she believed him or not.

“You think you’re better. That’s why you were laughing at us.”

“I was laughing at you because declarations of love amuse me, especially when unrequited,” he said. “And because your Simon is one of the most mundane mundanes I’ve ever encountered. And because Hodge thought you might be dangerous, but if you are, you certainly don’t know it.”

“I’m dangerous?” Clary echoed in astonishment. “I saw you kill someone last night. I saw you drive a knife up under his ribs, and—” And I saw him slash at you with fingers like razor blades. I saw you cut and bleeding, and now you look as if nothing ever touched you.

“I may be a killer,” Jace said, “but I know what I am. Can you say the same?”

*************************************************************

Hodge jerked upright, so abruptly that Hugo, who had been resting comfortably on his shoulder, launched himself into the air with an irritable caw. “Valentine?”

“Yes,” Clary said. “I heard the same name in Pandemonium from the boy—I mean, the demon—”

“It’s a name we all know,” Hodge said shortly. His voice was steady, but she could see a slight tremble in his hands. Hugo, back on his shoulder, ruffed his feathers uneasily.

“A demon?”

“No. Valentine is— was—a Shadowhunter.”

“A Shadowhunter? Why do you say was?”

“Because he’s dead,” said Hodge flatly. “He’s been dead for fifteen years.”

Clary sank back against the couch cushions. Her head was throbbing. Maybe she should have gone for that tea after all.

“Could it be someone else? Someone with the same name?”

Hodge’s laugh was a humorless bark. “No. But it could have been someone using his name to send a message.” He stood up and paced to his desk, hands locked behind his back. “And this would be the time to do it.”

“Why now?”

“Because of the Accords.”

“The peace negotiations? Jace mentioned those. Peace with who?”

“Downworlders,” Hodge murmured. He looked down at Clary. His mouth was a tight line. “Forgive me,” he said. “This must be confusing for you.”

“You think?”

He leaned against the desk, stroking Hugo’s feathers absently. “Downworlders are those who share the Shadow World with us. We have always lived in an uneasy peace with them.”

“Like vampires, werewolves, and…”

“The Fair Folk,” Hodge said. “Faeries. And Lilith’s children, being half-demon, are warlocks.”

“So what are you Shadowhunters?”

“We are sometimes called the Nephilim,” said Hodge. “In the Bible they were the offspring of humans and angels. The legend of the origin of Shadowhunters is that they were created more than a thousand years ago, when humans were being overrun by demon invasions from other worlds. A warlock summoned the Angel Raziel, who mixed some of his own blood with the blood of men in a cup, and gave it to those men to drink. Those who drank the Angel’s blood became Shadowhunters, as did their children and their children’s children. The cup thereafter was known as the Mortal Cup. Though the legend may not be fact, what is true is that through the years, when Shadowhunter ranks were depleted, it was always possible to create more Shadowhunters using the Cup.”

“Was always possible?”

“The Cup is gone,” said Hodge. “Destroyed by Valentine, just before he died. He set a great fire and burned himself to death along with his family, his wife, and his child. Scorched the land black. No one will build there still. They say the land is cursed.”

“Is it?”

“Possibly. The Clave hands down curses on occasion as punishment for breaking the Law. Valentine broke the greatest Law of all—he took up arms against his fellow Shadowhunters and slew them. He and his group, the Circle, killed dozens of their brethren along with hundreds of Downworlders during the last Accords. They were only barely defeated.”

“Why would he want to turn on other Shadowhunters?”

“He didn’t approve of the Accords. He despised Downworlders and felt that they should be slaughtered, wholesale, to keep this world pure for human beings. Though the Downworlders are not demons, not invaders, he felt they were demonic in nature, and that that was enough. The Clave did not agree—they felt the assistance of Downworlders was necessary if we were ever to drive off demonkind for good. And who could argue, really, that the Fair Folk do not belong in this world, when they have been here longer than we have?”

“Did the Accords get signed?”

“Yes, they were signed. When the Downworlders saw the Clave turn on Valentine and his Circle in their defense, they realized Shadowhunters were not their enemies. Ironically, with his insurrection Valentine made the Accords possible.” Hodge sat down in the chair again. “I apologize, this must be a dull history lesson for you. That was Valentine. A firebrand, a visionary, a man of great personal charm and conviction. And a killer. Now someone is invoking his name …”