Cordelia Carstairs is a Shadowhunter, a warrior trained since childhood to battle demons. When her father is accused of a terrible crime, she and her brother travel to London in hopes of preventing the family’s ruin. Cordelia’s mother wants to marry her off, but Cordelia is determined to be a hero rather than a bride. Soon Cordelia encounters childhood friends James and Lucie Herondale and is drawn into their world of glittering ballrooms, secret assignations, and supernatural salons, where vampires and warlocks mingle with mermaids and magicians. All the while, she must hide her secret love for James, who is sworn to marry someone else.
But Cordelia’s new life is blown apart when a shocking series of demon attacks devastate London. These monsters are nothing like those Shadowhunters have fought before—these demons walk in daylight, strike down the unwary with incurable poison, and seem impossible to kill. London is immediately quarantined. Trapped in the city, Cordelia and her friends discover that their own connection to a dark legacy has gifted them with incredible powers—and forced a brutal choice that will reveal the true cruel price of being a hero.
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Days Past: Idris, 1899
Every year for as long as James could remember, he and his family had gone to Idris to spend the summer at Herondale Manor. It was a large edifice of golden-yellow stone, its gardens sloping down to the enchanted green space of Brocelind Forest, a high wall separating it from the manor of the Blackthorn family next door.
James and Lucie would spend the days playing on the outskirts of the dark forest, swimming and fishing in the nearby river, and riding horses over the green fields. Sometimes they would try to peep over the wall of the Blackthorn house, but the walls were choked with thorny vines. Razor-tipped briars wrapped around the gates as if Blackthorn Manor had been long abandoned and overgrown, and though they knew that Tatiana Blackthorn lived there, they had only seen her carriage going in and out from a distance, the doors and windows firmly shut.
James had once asked his parents why they never socialized with the woman who lived next door, especially since Tatiana was related to James’s uncles, Gideon and Gabriel Lightwood. Tessa explained diplomatically that there had been bad blood between their families since Tatiana’s father had been cursed and they’d been unable to save him. Her father and her husband had died that day, and her son, Jesse, had died in the years since. She blamed Will and her brothers for her losses. “People become locked in bitterness sometimes,” Tessa said, “and they wish to find someone, anyone, to blame for their grief. It is a shame, for Will and your uncles would have helped her if they could.”
James had not given much more thought to Tatiana: a strange woman who hated his father unreasonably was not someone he wished to know. Then, the summer James turned thirteen years old, a message came from London to tell Will that Edmund and Linette Herondale, James’s grandparents, had died of influenza.
If Will had not been so distracted by his loss, perhaps things would have gone differently.
But he was, and they didn’t.
The night after they learned of Linette’s and Edmund’s deaths, Will had been sitting on the floor in the drawing room, Tessa in the overstuffed armchair behind him, and Lucie and James had been stretched upon the fireplace rug. Will’s back had been against Tessa’s legs as he stared unseeing into the fire. They had all heard the front doors open; Will had looked up when Jem came in, and Jem, in his Silent Brother robes, went over to Will and sat down beside him. He drew Will’s head against his shoulder, and Will held the front of Jem’s robes in his fists and he cried. Tessa bowed her head over both of them, and the three were united in adult grief, a sphere James could not yet touch. It was the first time it had ever occurred to James that his father might cry about anything.
Lucie and James escaped to the kitchen. That was where Tatiana Blackthorn found them—sitting at a table while their cook, Bridget, fed them pudding for dinner—when she arrived to ask James to cut the briars.
She looked like a gray crow, out of place in their bright kitchen. Her dress was worn serge, ragged at the hems and cuffs, and a dirty hat with a beady-eyed stuffed bird on it was tilted sideways on her head. Her hair was gray, her skin was gray, and her eyes were dull green, as if misery and anger had sucked all the color out of her.
“Boy,” she said, looking at James. “My manor gates are stuck fast by overgrowth. I need someone to cut the briars. Will you do it?”
Maybe if things had been different, if James had not already been feeling restless with the desire to help his father but no idea how to do so, he might have said no. He might have wondered why Mrs. Blackthorn didn’t simply ask whoever had been doing the briar cutting for her all these years, or why she suddenly needed this task accomplished in the evening.
But he didn’t. He stood up from the table and followed Tatiana out into the falling night. Sunset had begun, and the trees of Brocelind Forest seemed to flame at the tops as she strode across the grounds between their two houses, up to the front gates of Blackthorn Manor. They were black and twisted iron, with an arch at the top that spelled out words in Latin: LEX MALLA, LEX NULLA.
A bad law is no law.
She bent down among the drifting leaves and stood up, holding an enormous knife. It had clearly once been sharp, but now the blade was such a dark brown with rust it looked almost black. For a moment James had the fantasy that Tatiana Blackthorn had brought him here to kill him. She would cut out his heart and leave him lying where his blood ran out across the ground.
Instead she shoved the knife into his hands. “There you go, boy,” she said. “Take your time.”
He thought for a moment that she smiled, but it might have been a trick of the light. She was gone in a rustle of dry grass, leaving James standing before the gates, rusty blade in hand, like Sleeping Beauty’s least successful suitor. With a sigh, he began to cut.
Or at least, he began to try. The dull blade sliced nothing, and the briars were as thick as the bars on the gates. More than once he was stuck sharply by the wicked points of the thorns.
His aching arms soon felt like lead, and his white shirt was spotted with blood. This was ridiculous, he told himself. Surely this went beyond the obligation to help a neighbor. Surely his parents would understand if he tossed the knife aside and went home. Surely—
A pair of hands, white as lilies, suddenly fluttered between the vines. “Herondale boy,” whispered a voice. “Let me help you.”
He stared in astonishment as a few of the vines fell away. A moment later a girl’s face appeared in the gap, pale and small. “Herondale boy,” she said again. “Have you a voice?”
“Yes, and a name,” he said. “It’s James.”
Her face disappeared from the gap in the vines. There was a rattling sound, and a moment later a pair of briar cutters—perhaps not entirely new but certainly serviceable—emerged beneath the gates. James bent to seize them.
He was straightening up when he heard his name called: it was his mother’s voice.
“I must go,” he said. “But thank you, Grace. You are Grace, aren’t you? Grace Blackthorn?”
He heard what sounded like a gasp, and she appeared again at the gap in the vines. “Oh, do please come back,” Grace said. “If you come back tomorrow night, I shall sneak down to the gates here and talk with you while you cut. It has been so long since I spoke with anyone but Mama.”
Her hand reached out through the bars, and he saw red lines on her skin where the thorns had torn her—James raised his own hand and for a moment, their fingers brushed. “I promise,” he found himself saying. “I will come back.”
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
Chain of Gold
By Cassandra Clare
About the Book
After a lifetime of moving from place to place, Cordelia Carstairs has many reasons to be eager to settle in London: to train with her best friend and future parabatai, to persuade influential people that her father deserves a fair trial, and to finally spend time with other Shadowhunters and make friends. But the thing that excites her most about London is James Herondale. The mere sight of James takes her breath away. When she hears that he is madly in love with a woman newly relocated to London, she lets herself hope; she is crushed when she discovers that the woman in question is the tragic Grace Blackthorn. However, Cordelia’s romantic disappointment takes a back seat when a series of daytime demon attacks throws the London Enclave into a state of turmoil. Several key members of the tightly knit Shadowhunter community are injured or sickened by demonic poison in their wounds. Now Cordelia, James, Lucie, and the band of Merry Thieves must discover who summoned these demons, and what they want from James. Is this generation of Shadowhunters strong enough to fight this evil and win? And can Cordelia save the man she loves only to see him build a life with another woman?
1. Part one begins with a quote by Charles Dickens. What does this quote tell you about the story to come? Are there events in the book that prove to be “first links” for the characters involved? Why do you think the author chose a phrase from this quote as the book’s title?
2. The Deumas demon seems to recognize James, although this is not something that lesser demons do. Do any of the other demons that James fights recognize him? What do the different demons say to James, and what effect do these statements have on him? Why do the demons focus on James instead of Lucie?
3. Why is James able to enter the shadow realm? How many people know that he can do it? Why is it happening more often now than it used to, and how are the visits different than they used to be? Do you think this foreshadows anything to come?
4. What does Matthew say to James to send him into the shadow realm? Why does this work?
5. Cordelia thinks of the ball thrown in her family’s honor as “the first skirmish in a war.” Why does she feel this way? Do you agree or disagree with her? Could the ball also be considered the first skirmish in a different war? Explain your answers.
6. Cordelia wonders, “What [is] the point of being a female Consul if you still [have] to fret about keeping people happy?” Why do you think she feels the need to keep people happy? Where do you think this comes from? Are there other instances where pressures of being a woman is evident in Cordelia’s, Lucie’s, or the other Shadowhunters’ behaviors or thoughts? Do you think this has more to do with the era or with the Shadowhunter culture? Explain your answers.
7. What is the significance of Tatiana asking James to trim the briars around Blackthorn Manor? Why does the author mention all the ways that this event could have gone differently?
8. The chapter titled “The Living Hand” begins with a quote from John Keats’s work of the same name. What is the meaning of this passage? Which characters would wish their “own heart[s] dry of blood”?
9. James thinks of Grace as “a fire blazing in the heart of a glacier.” Why does he get this impression from her? Do you think this is how other characters would describe her? What is Grace’s role in Belial’s plan?
10. Jesse describes himself as being “on the threshold of a door. I am unable to take a step outside the door, and I know I can never be allowed back in, to live again. But the door has not closed behind me.” How is this statement different from those made by other ghosts encountered in this world? How did Jesse get in this state?
11. Why does James view Cordelia’s presence as “a steady light . . . when the world’s [gone] dark?” How is this different from what Grace represents to him? Are there times when Cordelia is a literal light for James?
12. Why is it important to Tessa to represent each Shadowhunter family equally when she’s redecorating the Institute? Which characters are ill-treated by their fellow Shadowhunters because of their familial connections?
13. Grace’s descriptions of Blackthorn Manor make James think of the house as “a carcass, once a beautiful living thing, rotting away.” Do you think this is an apt description of the house? Are there other carcasses at Blackthorn Manor? Explain your answers.
14. Cordelia does not believe in hating people because they are forced to make impossible choices. Do you think she’s forced into making any impossible choices? Are any of her friends and loved ones faced with impossible choices? Does Cordelia forgive them for making these choices? Explain your answers.
15. Why does Tatiana hate so many of her fellow Shadowhunters? How will her plan help her to exact revenge? Do you think it works? Do you think she learns from the experience?
16. The bracelet that Grace gives to James is engraved with the words “loyaulté me lie,” or “loyalty binds me.” Do you think it’s loyalty that binds him to Grace? Explain your answer. Is there anyone else to whom his loyalty does bind him?
17. Anna talks of a time when Shadowhunters had relationships with Downworlders, and the two groups were able to help each other. What happens when these relationships are allowed to die off? Do the Shadowhunters and Downworlders help each other in any of the author’s previous books?
18. Tatiana tells James that caring about Grace is his weakness. Do you think she’s right about this? Does Tatiana suffer from this same weakness? Do any of the other characters?
19. Tessa says, “‘I wonder sometimes if it is easier to be brave when one is young, before one knows truly how much there is to lose.’” What do Tessa and Will have to lose, now that they are older? Do you think James and his friends know what is at stake if they lose?
20. Why is dying of poison not a part of Shadowhunter life? How does this add to the sadness of Barbara’s and Oliver’s deaths?
21. Why do people underestimate Matthew? Do you see any reason to think this is true? Has he ever let James down? Explain your answers using examples from the book.
22. This book is divided into two separate parts. Why do you think the author chose to do this? What is the difference between the two parts? Why do you think the author chose to divide the work where she did?
23. Magnus Bane tells James, “‘You are who you are, made by the sum of your choices and actions. Not a teaspoon of demon’s blood.’” Is this statement borne out in the story? Does James’s demon blood have an effect on his life?
24. While convincing Thomas that he can create the antidote, James gives him a look of “quiet intensity mixed with immovable conviction. This [is] James at his best . . . His faith in his friends [is] unwavering: it [is] strength, and they [share] that strength between them.” Are there other examples of James’s faith in his friends? If so, what does James’s support allow them to accomplish? Does anyone have this same kind of faith in James?
25. Why does Jesse give his last breath to James? How would Tatiana feel if she knew about it?
1. This book contains a number of creative and amusing insults, including the phrase “you daft boot.” Research insults used in this era, and work some of them into your everyday vocabulary. What are other common words or expressions? Have a conversation with one of your friends where you are only allowed to use language that would fit in during this time period.
2. The events in this book take place after the Infernal Devices series, but before the other Shadowhunter books. Create a Shadowhunter time line that includes all major events from Cassandra Clare’s books. Alternatively, for a smaller scope, you can choose a specific Shadowhunter family or artifact, such as Cortana, to trace.
3. Cordelia’s family traveled a lot, so she understands that there are benefits to living in Idris and benefits to living in the mundane world. Write two real-estate listings: one for a house in Idris, and one for a house in your town. Be sure to include points that would make each home enticing to a Shadowhunter.
4. In addition to the usual Latin phrases, this book also contains phrases in Welsh, courtesy of Will, and in Persian, from Cordelia and her family. Choose one of these languages or another language that interests you, and learn some key words and phrases.
5. Both Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde are quoted or mentioned numerous times by characters in this book. Read a work by one of these authors, and write a short report on it. Reflect on reasons why the characters may have been so taken by these authors.
6. Several Persian dishes are mentioned in the book. Find a recipe for one of these meals, or for another Persian dish that sounds tasty, and cook dinner for your family or friends.
7. Matthew and Cordelia’s father both have drinking problems. How does this affect them? Is there an organization at your school or in your community that works to help students avoid alcohol dependency or provides support for family members? Investigate further to see if there is some way that you can get involved.
Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.