A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Mentions of places in Edwardian London and in Paris at that time. Some history of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and descriptions of Westminster Abbey, its architectural details and its long-dead inhabitants. Plus references to the Persian epic poem Layla and Majnun and some Persian words sprinkled throughout, especially endearments. Most chapters begin with a literary quote or poem with excerpts from Great Expectations, The Canterbury Tales, Dante's Inferno, and other works.
Many strong messages, but the most powerful is the importance of communication in the face of two emotionally charged topics: addiction and coming out. Alastair says of Matthew's addiction to alcohol that it is "a disease of shame as well as addiction and need. Shame poisons you. It makes you unable to accept help, for you do not believe that you deserve it." Ari says of coming out to her parents, "I am sure my mother is mourning the daughter that she never had. But if she loves me -- and I believe she does -- I think she most love the reality of me." Two other characters speak candidly of coming out and staying true to themselves. Choosing mercy and forgiveness over revenge and hatred is also a strong idea. Christopher says that "hatred poisons the person who hates, not the person who is hated." Also, keeping painful secrets can impede healing.
Positive Role Models
All this positive communication would not be possible without strong, empathetic friendships demonstrated throughout. The friends in this story show teamwork, courage, and perseverance in the face of adversity. James uses skills of self-control he learned from his uncle to find calm, focused resilience when evil powers threaten to envelop him. He keeps secrets for far too long because he doesn't want anyone's pity, but also chooses forgiveness over hatred and revenge. While Cordelia stumbles blindly into some dangerous situations, she does it in the name of saving her friends and family. Cordelia's brother Alastair shows support for little sister Cordelia and opens himself to friendship and love, something he never thought he deserved before. Matthew works hard to conquer his addiction, starting with learning to let his friends help him instead of keeping his struggles to himself. Ariadne finds independence – and a name change to Ari – by accepting herself as a lesbian woman and not letting parental expectations dictate her future. Grace owns up to her many mistakes and learns to forgive herself and move forward.
As usual in the Shadowhunter world, the LGBTQ community is well represented. One couple is gay, another is lesbian, and a man is bisexual. There's also some racial diversity here: Cordelia and Alastair's mother is Persian and they speak Persian at home. Cordelia is described as having light-brown skin. Ariadne is Indian with English adoptive parents. Though societal norms of the early 20th century apply in things like relationships, women in the Shadowhunter world are allowed to be formidable in battle.
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Violence & Scariness
Shadowhunters fight demons, as is their lot in life, with blades flashing and ichor flowing before the demons disappear in a puff of ash. Here an army of dead humans is used as hosts for demons, who must be hacked out of the humans and then killed separately. One close friend of the main characters dies in battle and is heavily mourned and other minor characters die, one with a slit throat. Hostages, including one child, are possessed and burn alive from the inside. A child is kidnapped, in danger of being killed, and cut with a knife. The restless dead are channeled and spoken with and there's a visit to a demon realm with the threat of death and possession. A character suffers from life-threatening alcohol withdrawal. Talk of a mother emotionally abusing her children.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A straight couple married in their late teens has sex for the first time with details about undressing and pain with intercourse and climax. They later have sex in the bathtub. There's less description of a gay couple and a lesbian couple having sex -- mostly undressing, touching, and kissing with scenes cut off there. Innuendo later indicates more happened between them. Two more straight couples kiss passionately.
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"Bloody/bloody hell" and "bastard" are the most common, along with "damn," "ass," and "bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An older teen character is an alcoholic and tries to hide his heavy drinking (including absinthe in Paris) from friends until he's confronted and begins the process of withdrawal and recovery, which is shown as difficult and painful. Other older teens drink in bars, at parties, and in homes, and a bottle of champagne is shared in a prison cell. An adult smokes a tobacco pipe and there's a reference to snuff.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Chain of Thorns is the third and final book in The Last Hours series set in the vast Shadowhunter world of author Cassandra Clare that is geared specifically for mature teens and up. The Last Hours takes place chronologically after The Infernal Devices (early 20th century) and involves James and Lucie, the children of Tess and Will from that series. Like all Shadowhunter novels, there are demons to fight. Ichor spills freely in battles and the demons disappear in a cloud of ash after some gore, this time with dead bodies used as vessels for demons. One close friend of the main characters dies in battle and is heavily mourned and other minor characters die, one with a slit throat. Hostages, including one child, are possessed and burn alive from the inside. A character suffers from life-threatening alcohol withdrawal after hiding his drinking, and there's a bit more drinking from other older teen characters besides. Sexual content is ramped up in this finale, as expected. Readers have been waiting the whole series for the main straight married couple in the story to finally be together physically, so two scenes have some vivid details. There are also scenes of gay and lesbian couples kissing and undressing, but the details are left more to the imagination. This is an 800-pager with lots going on, but one thing holds the heart of the story together splendidly: the communication skills of the circle of friends featured, especially for these two emotionally charged topics: addiction and coming out. Alastair says of Matthew's addiction to alcohol that it is "a disease of shame as well as addiction and need. Shame poisons you. It makes you unable to accept help, for you do not believe that you deserve it." Ari says of coming out to her parents, "I am sure my mother is mourning the daughter that she never had. But if she loves me – and I believe she does – I think she most love the reality of me." Two other characters speak candidly of coming out and staying true to themselves. Others speak sagely of forgiveness and not holding onto anger or painful secrets. So there's much more to ponder for mature teen readers than romance and demon fighting.
Is It Any Good?
This Shadowhunter series finale sticks to the best-selling formula: melodrama and sultry romance topped off with a world-saving demon battle royale. And because it's Edwardian London, toss in some gorgeous dresses and carriage rides and trips to historic places like Westminster Abbey and Cross Bones Graveyard. Unfortunately for fans of ye olde London, it's in pretty rough shape for much of the book because of one power-hungry demon -- Belial, aka James and Lucie's grandpa. It's only James, Lucie, Cordelia, and friends who decide not to abandon London when gramps comes calling; only they know about Belial's army, his nefarious plans, only they can figure out how to defeat him. And only they can travel to his depressing demon realm and come back alive. It's a blessed break from the usual infuriating Clave politics of the series -- the Clave that seems to exist only to impede and punish young Shadowhunters. Instead, when the worst goes down, James and friends get free reign to be fancy weapon-wielding, demon-fighting heroes together.
The young Shadowhunters are present for each other in other ways, too. Some truly thoughtful and touching scenes grapple with Matthew's alcoholism and how best to help him, and when Ari explains why she refuses to be anyone but herself, a woman who loves other women, all her friends rally around her. As usual, the main love story is full of complications, some of them that feel fabricated to keep the miserable couple apart just a little longer. But it does make their reunion all the sweeter. At 800 pages, Chain of Thorns is a long haul, but readers have plenty of demons, passionate kisses, and tender friendship moments to hold them to the end.
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