The last time I bawled my eyes out for a book was over Stephen King's The Green Mile and that happened like a bajillion years ago when I was in college. I cried on the part where Paul Edgecombe goes home after John Coffey's execution and he just collapsed from despair. The description was so raw and real that it just completely crushed my heart and it felt like Paul's pain seeped through my bones. It was truly a beautiful yet extraordinarily haunting experience. Damn Stephen! Your writing skills are dope. Anyway, I mentioned this because I was able to once again experience the sensation I felt in The Green Mile with Patrick Ness' A Monster Calls, but this time it wasn't just because the description was well-written but because I can actually relate to it.
This book wasn't exactly a priority read, but after watching the movie I bumped it up my reading list. It was short anyway so I said "What the hey, might as well" and I finished it in just a couple of days. Again, not a fast and one-sitting reader so forgive the lengthy time frame. -_-
The story is about Conor O'Malley; a boy coping with his mother's terminal cancer and in the process unconsciously denying the inevitable. Then one night a yew tree transformed into a giant monster and went tromping into his home then... It told him stories. Anticlimactic I know, but it gets better. So every past midnight the monster came and told him odd tales of a prince, a queen, an apothecary, a parson, and an invisible man. The prince and queen is my favorite; the dark twist to it was quite entertaining. After all three stories were told, the monster demanded the last tale from Conor and there he revealed his darkest secret and worst nightmare, which in turn helped him to "let go". The last chapter really made me cry a river... I think I went to bed crying after finishing this book. It shattered my heart to pieces and it was so beautiful.
WHAT I LOVE:
This is really one amazing book and I can't think of any other way that this should be written. The descriptions were spot on, characters were realistic, the plot was not generic, the climax really took my breath away, and the resolution was just brilliant. Heartbreaking and excruciatingly painful, but really brilliant.
WHAT I DON'T LIKE:
I Wish There Was More
I have no complaints about the ending, it was truly magnificent but I had hoped that the resolution extended to whether Conor was able to make amends with Harry, the guy he beat up to a pulp. It'll kinda be an epilogue where Harry comes back to school, sees Conor and apologizes for all the bullying. Then Conor, Harry, and Lily ends up the best of friends, signifying Conor' days will be better. Anyway, this is pretty minor and I guess it's good that Patrick Ness left this loose end for readers to weave their own conclusions, just like I did.
If a book was able to move me this much and made me cry for hours, I don't think I need to say more. This is one beautiful, touching, and soulful piece of literature. Well done Patrick Ness, you've made Siobhan Dowd proud. You didn't just put her idea in writing, but brought it to life, gave it majestic wings, and let it soar. Thank you so much.
Like I said earlier, I was able to relate to this book because, like Conor, my mother also has cancer. Oh damn! Here comes the water works... X( Anyway, when I watched this movie the cancer was still just a speculation, but when my mom had her surgery everything just went crashing down. By the time I finished this book my mom's breast cancer has already progressed to Stage 4. So you can imagine what it was like for me to read the ending... I've never felt so helpless in my life. My mom's already in her late 50's and ever since I could remember she's always had a sick body so undergoing Chemo is out of the question. She will not survive the treatment. Right now my family and I are putting our hopes to an alternative doctor who promises that 80% of her Stage 4 cancer patients have been healed. Like Conor, I believe with all my heart that my mom will be cured, but at the back of my mind is a terrible scenario that keeps replaying no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise. That fear, that nightmare, I can never seem to make it go away. At times I get the ridiculous idea that when worse comes to worst I hope a giant monster comes by my house to tell stories and help me "let go".
Disclaimer: Some of the images/gif are not mine and can be searched online
So with Lady Midnight done and a couple more months before Lord of Shadows' release, what's left for me was to finish another anthology from Cassandra Clare's Shadowhunter chronicles: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. This compilation of short stories focuses on Simon Lewis, who is also known as Clary's best friend, on-and-off-again boyfriend of Isabelle, Jace's bronemy, a former vampire nicknamed Daylighter, a victim of demon amnesia, and a certified nerd mcspaztron. Wow! Epic profile. XD
So like in The Bane Chronicles, I'll review and rate this per story and include Cassandra Jean's comic strips since they're just totally awesome. Squee!#1 WELCOME TO SHADOWHUNTER ACADEMY
So this story is basically what happened to Simon Lewis after he lost his memory in City of Heavenly Fire. If you remember in the epilogue, Magnus hinted he could reverse the demon amnesia cursed on Simon and reversed he did. Sadly, it wasn't a total undoing since Simon could barely remember anything, but at least it was enough for him to recognize his friends and how his mom... Well, how his mom disowned him for being a vampire. Ouch! So with his slightly repaired memory on Nephilim and Downworld, he decided to enter the Shadowhunter Academy to hopefully regain some of those lost bits and pieces and basically become awesome (His own words). It's a good story to start the anthology and I like the new characters introduced like George Lovelace. It's also nice that Catarina Loss was there as one of the Academy's fine teachers and Simon's discreet kind-of guardian. Moments I especially love are Simon forced to wear lady gear for being too slim and Isabelle threatening his classmates not touch her "boyfriend". That part was seriously fun. The story also has its noteworthy points on integrity like Simon standing up for the dregs (mundanes) and George sacrificing his Nephilim cred just to support Simon. Really nice.
#2 THE LOST HERONDALE
This takes place a couple of months in since Simon entered the Academy and so far... Yeah. He's being killed in there. He's not exactly tortured or punished, but for Simon that's what Shadowhunter training feels like. Well, what can you expect from a teenage boy that have magic cards, Dungeons&Dragons, and band practice as sole physical activities? Still, you gotta admire his determination 'coz if it was me I would have dropped my sword and walked off into the sunset. I really love how Simon's struggles were a perfect combination of comedy and tragedy, but definitely mostly funny with his unwavering determination to introduce pop culture to hardcore Nephilim. From events in the Academy, this story jumps to Tobias Herondale's back story; a character briefly mentioned in Lady Midnight. According to Tavvy, Tobias's story is scary and after reading this he definitely has a very good point. In Shadowhunter history, Tobias Herondale is the legendary coward known for running away from a demon-fight that resulted in his comrades' gruesome demise. Under Nephilim law such actions are considered as unforgivable treachery and therefore punishable by death. Tobias' punishment was insane and it really gave me goosebumps just imagining it, especially when I found out what truly happened and not just the Clave's self righteous version. In this case, the law wasn't just hard it was psycho.
#3 THE WHITECHAPEL FIEND
It's always a treat for me to read stories about Will Herondale, Tessa Gray, and Jem Carstairs. Especially when it's told years after Clockwork Princess where they were already married and have kids. Well, except Jem 'coz he became a silent brother, but nonetheless still a big part of Will and Tessa's life. This is actually a story recounted by Tessa herself in one of Simon's lectures in the Academy where she pointed out that some mundane myths and legends are, in a way, true. Tessa told how she, Will, Jem, Cecily, and Gabriel were able to solve the mystery behind the infamous Jack the Ripper murders and defeated the demon responsible for it with the help of Jessamine... The friendly ghost. Badum-tsss! I'm not even ashamed. Hahaha! The descriptions are a bit on the violent side since it has to deal with brutally murdered women, but still a very nice read. It has the right amount of gore, if that makes sense. Oooh O.O
#4 NOTHING BUT SHADOWS
Like story #3, this is a sequel to Clockwork Princess and another teaser to The Last hours (TLH) series that will be released on 2018. Now this story takes place when characters of The Infernal Devices' (TID) kids went to the Academy, during the time when the building was still in its prime and not the disgusting hell hole Simon came to know. [Shiver] Giant slug. O_O This is one of Catarina's stories to Simon about how James Herondale, Will and Tessa's son, got bullied for his unusual golden eyes, discriminated for his inherited magical Shadow skills, and in the end expelled. And I thought my high school life was pretty bad. What's worst was a Carstairs was making his life miserable. Now that was a shocker for me since I'm a big fan of the Jem and Will bromance. It was so mind-boggling that it literally took me a few minutes to let that sink in. It's definitely not the happiest story, but there were moments I deeply appreciated and gushed over like Will showing his tender side as a loving father, Brother Zachariah (Jem) comforting James after he found out he has Shadow powers, and James gaining a best friend slash Parabatai for life. Aaw!
#5 THE EVIL WE LOVE
I'm gonna say this flat out: I hate this story. One because it's boring and two because it's focused on Robert Lightwood, my least favorite character in the entire Shadowhunter franchise. In the last books of The Mortal Instruments (TMI), I'm not sure which one, Alec and his father had a conversion about his sexuality and relationship. There Robert mentioned that he once had a best friend named Michael Wayland who he had a fallingout with during their last years in the Academy that caused his Parabatai mark to fade and weakened his "bro sense" to the point where he didn't feel Michael's death when Valentine murdered him. Our violent snowflake strikes again! Now this story, told in Robert's perspective, answers the question to why he and Michael broke up as bros and ruined the chance to be in the epic bromances hall of fame. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. -_- He narrates his years in the Academy and as member of the newly assembled Circle where he basically just followed Valentine around like a dog and most of the time was confused by a lot things. As in a loooooooooot of things. He was so ridiculous I couldn't even feel sorry for him. He was that much of a blockhead. How did he become Inquisitor? Seriously???
#6 PALE KINGS AND PRINCES
This story left me with mixed emotions, but mostly made me sad. Sad that Shadowhunters vent their anger and hatred on the innocent Helen Blackthorn for being half Fey. Sad that Andrew and Arthur Blackthorn had to endure unimaginable and bizarre torture in the faerie realm just because of reasons. Sad that no Nephilim will ever know that a Fey has the capacity for true and pure love. Sad that the Shadowhunters have to declare the Cold Peace because it's much easier to discriminate and punish all fairies than to be lenient to the few innocent ones. In short, Faeries are messed up but the Nephilim are not any better. I've never heard of a race more proud and arrogant. As it stands, Shadowhunters seem to act more like bullies than half-angel warriors defending the weak and innocent. It's like they didn't get the memo to implement the law, but not go crazy overdoing it. Seriously Shadowhunters? Seriously??? And yes... I'm ranting about rights and injustices of imaginary characters written in a YA fiction book. Thank you Cassandra Clare, you've made me insane and I love it! Hahaha! XD
#7 BITTER OF TONGUE
I don't know what's worse: Receive xenophobic treatment or be abandoned by your own kind? Either way, those are pretty nasty circumstances and I can't imagine enduring any of them. It's probably as bad as eating a whole, raw onion. OMG! The horror. O_O Between Helen and Mark Blakcthorn, I think Mark had the worst end of the Nephilim prejudice. Imagine being cast away and forgotten to the clutches of beings that basically hate your guts? If you've read Lady Midnight then you know how cruel the faeries were to Mark. Just the description of his scars was enough to make my eyes water. Oh Mark. ToT Now this story is about Simon accidentally crossing paths with Mark after an Academy mission gone wrong, where he ended up falling into the realm of faeries and becoming one of its prisoners. It broke my heart when Mark asked whether Simon was sent by the Clave to rescue him and Simon had to tell him the truth. That moment was truly heartbreaking and I commend Simon for his self-restraint and cool head in explaining to Mark the whole, messy situation and encouraging him to fight and not lose hope. Now that's a true Shadowhunter. [Applause] If I haven't read Lady Midnight first this story would've had more depth and emotional impact for me, but since I unintentionally spoiled myself it fell a little umm.... Underwhelming. Still, technically it's a very good story and I enjoyed it very much regardless of the spoiler.
#8 THE FIERY TRIAL
This story confirms two things: Clary and Simon are meant to be Parabatai, while Emma and Julian are not, as in "NOT" times infinity. It begins with Clary and Simon undergoing the test of "water" to make sure that they're truly Parabatai material, and by test of "water" I meant letting them drink the poisonous water from Lake Lyn. Surprisingly, that was Jem's idea. Who knew? A former silent brother and all around good guy would actually encourage the use of hallucinogenic water just to prove a point. Well, well, well... Brother Zachariah likes to live dangerously. Damn! What's up with that lake anyway? It could just be a big pool of dissolved LSD for all we know. Oh Angel Raziel, you angel you. XD So I like that bit of the story, but when it came to the part where Simon and Clary witnessed Emma and Julian's Parabatai ceremony I kinda got a bit frustrated. The whole Emma-Julian Parabatai thing being a huge mistake was written all over the ceremony and only one of them barely got the hint: Simon. He knew there was something wrong, but couldn't quite put a finger on it. So yah... Really frustrating. I was basically yelling "Come on!!!", "Figure it out Simon!!!", and "What the hell??? Somebody stop this ceremony!!!". If my Ipad was alive it'd probably slap me upside the face and yell back "It's not real!!!". Being berated by your own gadget seems like a whole new level of low. Yikes! Hahaha! Infuriating as it is, I like the description of how the Parabatai ceremony was done. It had the right amount of magic without the gritty cheesy bits.
#9 BORN TO ENDLESS NIGHT
This is my definite fave out of all the stories in the anthology. It starts with Simon and George finding an abandoned warlock baby on the Academy doorstep and having no idea what to do called Magnus who happen to be staying there as an invitation from Catarina. Alec was also in the Academy with Magnus and both of them took the responsibility of caring for the blue-colored infant. From there things just got better like the entire Lightwood family plus Jace and Clary making a hilarious fuss about the baby, Lily the vampire coming over to ask for Alec's help and advice, Maryse and Robert proposing the name "Max" to the baby and acting like normal, doting grandparents, Alec proposing to Magnus, and finally Simon having the "talk" with Alec. I love this story to death just for being terribly funny and absolutely adorable, but mostly because it foretells of a possible future where the Nephilim and Downworlders, or even mundanes, live equally. No more perception that Shadowhunters are the superior beings and those below it are just scum. No more prejudice, no more unjustified killings, and no more forbidden love. What a wonderful world, am I right? Magnus and Alec doing a somewhat "Brangelina" marriage protest was pretty cute, but the ending where Magnus voiced a sad reality to his newly adopted son was quite heartbreaking. A reality that no matter how pure and unbending Magnus and Alec's love is for each other, in the end Magnus will be the one left behind. All aboard the "Feels" train. Choo-choo! ToT
#10 ANGELS TWICE DESCENDING
This is the last story and the most difficult one to review. To be honest I've no idea how to feel about it. It completely caught me off-guard... I was all smiles, even a little teary-eyed of joy, all through-out until the end. It was like BAM! Right in the feels. It's really ridiculous that I did not see this coming after reading Cassandra Clare's entire collection, well almost since I haven't finished the Shadowhunter Codex yet. The point is I should known that she'd pull something like this, she's like the master manipulator of feels. Damn! If I had been a tad ready this shouldn't have left me numb for a couple of hours. I joke you not, I just put my Ipad down, laid on my bed, and stared at the ceiling while repeatedly asking "Why? Why? Why?" in my mind. What happened? Well, basically this story is about Simon's finishing touches before he Ascends and become the awesome Shadowhunter he always aspired to be. So before the ceremony, Simon was able to overcome his fears and doubts on whether he'll be worthy to drink from the Mortal Cup and made peace with his mom, who despite not having any memory of vampire Simon, still felt phantom guilt about betraying her own son. Simon also cleared things with George that even though they're not Parabatai they'll be blood brothers for life. Aaw! Now keep in mind that precious sentiment of Simon and George being the next Will and Jem in bromance 'coz what happened at the Ascension was truly... How do I say this? A cherry on top of an emotional roller coaster. So at the Ascenscion Simon drank from the Mortal Cup and successfully became Nephilim, even gaining his lost memories during the process. Woo-hoo! Right? NO! Not really. 'Coz while they were all busy being happy and stuff someone screamed and ended up dead. Wanna guess who? Of course it had to be George. He was deemed unworthy by the Cup and so bye-bye George. Damn it Cassandra!!! Why must you torture us with these emotions??? Sigh! YA... Why you ruin me life? If my experience with this story would have an analogy, it'd be something like this:
Cassandra: Hey Duchess Gala! Do you like balloons?
Duchess Gala: Omg! Of course I do.
Cassandra: Okay, here's a balloon and have an awesome time with it.
[Proceeds to have awesome time with balloon]
Cassandra: Hey there again, did you have an awesome time?
Duchess Gala: Oh yes! So much fun. This balloon is amazing!!!
Cassandra: Okay great.
[Pulls out pin then pops balloon]
Duchess Gala: O_O
Cassandra: Now remember how awesome that balloon was now it's gone.
Duchess Gala: O_O
Cassandra: Isn't that feeling great? You're welcome.
[Cassandra rides into the sunset with her unicorn]
Duchess Gala: O_O
At first I was a bit bitter and angry about George's death 'coz duh! But the ending where Simon takes Lovelace as his last name to honor his beloved brother was really beautiful. Heartbreaking and tragic, but very beautiful. TvT
OVERALL STAR RATING:
I like this anthology much more than The Bane Chronicles. Not because it's better written or anything technical, but because it revolves around the first characters I fell in love with when I started reading the Shadowhunter chronicles and because I can truly relate to Simon, being a Nerd Mcspaztron myself. What I really love about this anthology is that Cassandra didn't portray Simon as the miraculous super human that the Academy has never seen before. Like bam! Instant amaze-balls Shadowhunter, the best of the best of the best. Thankfully she didn't. She gave readers the privilege to grow with Simon as he struggled to overcome the tribulations of a mundane hoping to become Nephilim. I also liked that this was not a case of insta-love where Isabelle automatically becomes Simon's girlfriend since they seem to get along well in the last chapter of The City of Heavenly Fire. They were given the realistic opportunity to have fights, to overcome frustrations, and to fall in love all over again without the shadow of vampire Simon dampening up demon amnesia Simon's sweet moves. The last story was quite the tearjerker, but I loved how it all came together and made the anthology more meaningful and precious. The entire experience felt like ripping off a Band-Aid; unworldly, excruciating pain at first, then followed by blessed relief. Oh Simon. ^^
Disclaimer: Some of the images/gif are not mine and can be searched online