#BookTok, Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: Chain of Thorns by Cassandra Clare

My most anticipated book of 2023 is here! Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter Chronicles have been a long-time resident of my bookshelves. I was first introduced to this series in middle school (shoutout to public libraries for making books accessible!) and it is one of the few historical fantasy series that I read regularly.

Coming in at a whopping 800 pages (yes, you read that correctly), Chain of Thorns is the third book in The Last Hours trilogy. If you haven’t already, check out my review of the second book, Chain of Iron. The trilogy follows a group of teens in 1903 London as they navigate romance, friendship, and saving the world from demons and princes of hell. I’ll try my best to be spoiler-free for the third book, but I recommend catching up on the last two books before reading this review!

There are a lot of characters in this story, so I’m only going to focus on the core group. Cordelia Carstairs and her brother Alastair are the new Shadowhunters in town, but they’re not unknown to the members of the London institute. Cordelia is best friends with Lucie Herondale and has been in love with Lucie’s brother, James, since childhood. Alastair has a longstanding feud with James and his friends—referred to as the Merry Thieves—due to events that led up to their expulsion from the Shadownhunter Academy.

In the first two books, Cordelia and Alastair have settled themselves into a core part off the London Institute society by attending Christmas parties, social outings, and the occasional battle. In Chain of Iron, Cordelia entered a marriage of appearances with James, although the feelings between them are very real (even if neither can recognize it). But at the end of the last book, Cordelia ran off to Paris with Matthew Lightwood, the best friend of James, and Lucie disappeared with a warlock and the corpse of a boy who she’s fallen in love with. Gasp! At this point, demon hunting would probably be preferable to personal problem solving for the young Shadowhunters.

Chain of Thorns wastes no time in returning to the complex misunderstandings and romantic escapades of the teens. For the solid first chunk of the book, the story focuses mostly on the love triangles and secret romances of the core cast. I can’t help but wonder if it would’ve been better for Clare to cut back on the core cast so that more time could be dedicated to a handful of central plots. There’s a distinct focus on the Cordelia-James-Matthew drama, but instead of one main subplot there’s at least five, and that can leave the book feeling overcrowded. By the third book, I’m thoroughly invested in the romantic plot lines, but for a book about demon hunting teens, the teens didn’t do much demon hunting for a large part of the story. Whereas in the first two installments the characters faced challenges all throughout the story, in this book I sort of felt like the greater demon Belial was waiting to make his move until Christopher could have a few scenes with Grace, and Cordelia could be thoroughly confused and then clarified on the intentions of Matthew and James.

The beginning might be slow, but once the action picks up it does not stop. Some of the high stakes moments felt a bit similar to her previous books, and depending what type of reader you are, this will either feel frustrating or sweetly nostalgic. I will not spoil the ending, but that trademark Cassandra Clare devastation returns, and I was left utterly heartbroken by some turns of events. For such a long book, I don’t think Chain of Thorns fully addressed the magnitude of tragedy that has befallen the characters in the way that some other Clare novels have.

If you’re already invested in the Shadowhunter Chronicles, I don’t think this book will disappoint you. It has shocking twists and some truly heartbreaking moments. All of those personal dramas that made the first two books so addictingly messy reach their head, and while I think there could’ve been a bit less brooding and a bit more demon hunting, this historical trilogy is a fun read for both new and old fans of both the Shadowhunter chronicles and historical fantasy.

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