"Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices Book 2)" by Cassandra Clare; Margaret K. McElderry Books (720 pages, $24.99)
At the end of "Lady Midnight" the debut of "The Dark Artifices" series, the latest installment of Cassandra Clare's "Shadowhunter Chronicles," Julian Blackthorn's much missed older brother was allowed to return home and his "parabatai" Emma Carstairs finally avenged her parents' murder. They should be happy, right? "Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices Book 2)" by Cassandra Clare will remind longtime fans that in the Shadow World, happy endings are never that easy to come by.
The story picks up weeks after the cliffhanger ending of "Lady Midnight," and the audience learns that despite previous victories the Los Angeles Institute is still in turmoil. With the Blackthorns' older sister Helen still in exile, enemies still clamoring for Blackthorn blood, and Emma and Julian's cursed love to top it off, the young heroes have no shortage of troubles.
If "Lady Midnight" was about truth, "Lord of Shadows" was about consequences. The consequences of outgrowing your first love. The consequences of the secrets kept from loved ones. The consequences of when children are never truly allowed to deal with their trauma and grow up too quickly. And importantly the consequences of governments, of citizens allowing hate to run wild.
Beyond the various romances and close calls with death, the Blackthorns are faced with many grim realities. Tensions are mounting in the Shadowworld, and demons aren't the only thing they have to fear. In Cassandra Clare's previous books, it's been made apparent that in the background of whatever evil the heroes are facing the Clave, the Shadowhunter government, poses its own special threat. In this story, readers will learn that the prejudices the Clave has long clung to, and it's unforgiving nature is not simply an irritant. It's something that might tear the Shadowworld apart. The bigotry that downworlders (werewolves, warlocks, faeries, vampires) and those who love them face provides timely social commentary given the current political climate.
The sequel to "Lady Midnight" highlights Clare's strengths and weaknesses as a writer simultaneously. The strengths: the humor to balance out the heartache; her usually lovable characters; the relatable sibling dynamics. The weaknesses: Clare has a tendency to focus on the wrong things and sometimes inadvertently creates ensemble characters more interesting than her protagonists. The sections of the novel dedicated to Julian and Emma dealing with their complex and forbidden romantic feelings drag on, whereas seeing the other Blackthorns' interactions and growing pains are far more interesting.
Despite the novel's flaws and a few of the story's deaths that felt like an unnecessary George R.R. Martin "Game of Thrones" impersonation, it's a story worth reading. The trials and tribulations the families of birth and of creation encounter in this story make for a compelling journey. Any reader of this book, whether they've been in the Shadowhunter world for 10 years or two, will want the Blackthorns and Herondales and Carstairs they meet to be OK. But, as any Cassandra Clare fan would know, no character makes it through one of her series completely unscathed. Readers can look forward to seeing beloved characters from Clare's other series and foreshadowing from series yet to come.