Today Nicola and I are discussing the first book in Cassandra Clare’s highly anticipated new series, Lady Midnight. The new series, The Dark Artifices, picks up five years after the events in City of Heavenly Fire and follows the members of the LA Institute.
When we last saw Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn, they were children, but now they’re practically grown up. Emma is deeply invested in investigating the murder of her parents, as she doesn’t believe that Sebastian Morgenstern caused their deaths. Julian has taken on the role as parent to his younger siblings, after killing his father in the attack on Idris in City of Heavenly Fire. They are parabatai, but their secrets are damaging their relationship.
Everything comes to a head when a series of murders reveals that a serial killer is targeting faeries. Fae leaders bring Mark Blackthorn, the eldest Blackthorn brother, back from the Wild Hunt as a bargaining chip to manipulate the LA Shadowhunters into helping them. Emma and Julian would do anything to have Mark back and so the adventure begins…
Remember, in a Coven Chat we assume you’ve already read the book. So if you don’t want spoilers, don’t read on! We highly recommend Lady Midnight, so if you haven’t gotten ahold of it yet, go do that!
Allison: This is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. It satisfies so many of my fantasy itches. In particular, I always want to be reading Shadowhunter books, so I’m terribly happy there’s going to be another series! In my recommendation of The Mortal Instruments I talk about Clare’s willingness to torture her darlings, and holy crap does she deliver with Emma and Julian. I think this tops the book Clary and Jace thought they were siblings and I thought nothing could top that.
Nicola: Right?! The worst bit is that I saw it coming from the start – at least, I knew they were going to fall for each other; I didn’t foresee the Clave’s reason for prohibiting it. I mean, I knew it was a Shadowhunter book, and the one person Emma can’t fall in love with is the one person who means the most to her – and vice versa. What else was Clare going to do? So I knew they were going to fall in love and I noticed all the little things between them that showed they were falling for each other and it was like watching a trainwreck in slow motion.
What I appreciated was that the book didn’t treat it like a surprise, as TMI did with Clary and Jace’s supposed sibling connection, because like I said I saw it coming before I even opened the book. Rather, it’s an exploration of their forbidden love. I liked it a lot more than Clary/Jace, partly because I think Jace is a jerkass and never understood why Clary fell for him, but also because of the utter hopelessness of their situation. For Clary and Jace to pursue a relationship would be to ignore an enormous societal taboo – and, don’t get me wrong, that is a HUGE thing – but for Emma and Julian to simply have these feelings for each other is to risk utter destruction of everyone they love. They can’t break their parabatai bond, and they can’t simply cease to love each other. On a purely worldbuilding level, I’d always wondered why parabatai can’t love each other, so I liked that there was a concrete reason for it; it’s a nice reminder that even though the Clave can be harsh and bigoted, sometimes the laws they put in place really are the right choice.
Allison: I really like how Clare sets this up; I feel like it was really clever. The fact that we get such a clear picture of the harsh (and sometimes deeply bigoted) nature of the Clave leads us to believe that the reasons parabatai shouldn’t fall in love is somehow unreasonable and wrong, such as the case with Helen’s exile and the Clave’s refusal to help Mark. She establishes the utterly nasty side of the Clave in a way in this book that I don’t remember from other books in the Shadowhunter universe. They are almost portrayed as an antagonist in this book. So to find out that the reason parabatai shouldn’t fall in love is completely legitimate, as is the reason it’s such a secret, was a bit of a twist. I enjoyed it, and really didn’t see it coming. I assumed that the big horror of it all would be the punishment the Clave would dish out for disobeying the rules, not that it will eventually kill the Shadowhunter.
Your point about it destroying everyone they love is so salient for me. It’s not just Emma and Julian who will die (if they continue their relationship), or be heartbroken (if they end it), but all the Blackthorn kids will be destroyed along with them. Maybe not literally, but it will destroy a family that’s already been destroyed once and that prospect makes the stakes even higher. Julian’s role as a parent means everything to him, and to the kids themselves. It’s one of the most powerful aspects of the book.
Nicola: Yes! Julian’s relationship with his siblings really struck a chord with me because of the ways it’s so similar and so different to my relationship with my younger sisters at his age; I loved them dearly, as Julian loves his younger siblings, but I also had caring parents so I wasn’t responsible for them in the same way, and I certainly was not as mature an older sibling as Julian is. I think my heart cracked a little when Tavvy wandered off late one evening and Julian supposed he had been waiting for Julian to put him to bed. The fact that Julian has tried so hard to be a parent to these kids and that they’ve still missed out on so many things they would have taken for granted if they’d had a proper adult guardian is just heartbreaking, for Julian and the others.
Allison: Oh my gosh, yes. The part where Julian remembers the first time he thought of Tavvy as “my baby” instead of “the baby” had me in tears. Hell, it has me misty and choked up right now. I feel like his love for all of them, his fear that Mark will be liked more, his terror at Tavvy’s kidnapping all felt so vivid. Beautiful, but heartbreaking at the same time.
Nicola: Yeah. I think their whole relationship is one of my favourite parts of the book just for the sheer level of feels. It did make me uncomfortable that the mechanism Clare used to give Julian all this responsibility was a mentally ill guardian; while I realise that being the eldest child in a family with an ill parent/guardian is a huge burden to bear, it didn’t really feel like we got a sense of Arthur’s own suffering, so his illness was essentially a plot device to cause Julian angst. I get that this is a YA novel so it makes sense to focus on the effect of this on the children rather than the adult, but I would have preferred for Arthur’s ineptness as a guardian to come from his own choices and actions, rather than his mental illness.
Allison: To a certain extent, I agree with this, and I am hoping that we get some more “fleshing out” in subsequent books. But I do think that a reality of untreated and mentally ill parents/guardians is that children are sometimes (not always) neglected. I think in any case where a single parent or guardian is dealing with a serious chronic illness on their own there’s a chance that children will suffer. So for me, that part felt very realistic.
I do completely agree with you though that it seems like it was a plot device, at this point, rather than a character trait that was fully developed. I think there’s some hints that Arthur’s time in Faerie is going to be explored more fully. Still not sure how I feel about the idea that Faerie made him mentally ill… Or maybe he was predisposed to mental illness beforehand? Only time will tell. Arthur is a fascinating character all around, so I’m looking forward to seeing him develop.
Nicola: Yeah, I’m hoping to see more development, too. Clare’s actually pretty good at developing her adult characters/parental figures moreso than some YA (Jocelyn and Luke come to mind, as do the younger Charlotte and Henry), so I am optimistic that we’ll learn more about him. At the moment, though, the most relevant part of it all is how it’s forced Julian to be a parent, and even to be somewhat brutal and ruthless in protecting his siblings. In particular, the way Julian framed Anselm Nightshade at the end was rather unsettling. I mean I completely understand why he did it, but I also hope it’ll come back to haunt him later because I’m not really okay with a minor character being punished (probably brutally) to protect the protagonists.
Allison: That was a surprise for me. I didn’t expect that from Arthur or Julian, though I suppose I should have. I feel like this book establishes how both the Clave and the Downworlder governing bodies are so harsh in a way that other books haven’t, so yes, I am very worried for poor Anselm. While this book focuses on Emma and Julian, I was really impressed with the way the supporting cast was fleshed out, especially as there are so many of them! I love the dynamics Clare is setting up with the way the supporting cast interact with Emma and Julian. Who were some of your favorites?
Nicola: Emma and Cristina, hands down. I always love a good female friendship, and I really enjoyed the way the two of them supported each other throughout the novel.
Allison: Yes! I was really glad to see this because I think that Clare’s books haven’t had this depth of focus on female relationships before and it’s cool to see that she is Emma’s closest peer relationship outside of Julian. I also like that we start to get more of her POV as the book goes on.
I was fascinated with the way Mark and Emma interact from the first day he returns to the Institute. I’m interested to see if Mark becomes a viable candidate for Emma’s love. I think it’s clear that she and Julian are the endgame here, but let’s remember that Simon and Clary did have a real romantic relationship when Clary thought Jace was her brother. I think it’s possible that Mark and Emma have a bit of a chance.
Nicola: That hadn’t even occurred to me, but now that you’ve brought it up, I think it would be fascinating to read. Julian’s jealousy over his siblings around Mark would easily extend to Emma, while Emma would, I imagine, feel incredibly conflicted; even though she wants to make Julian think she’s in love with Mark so he stops loving her, she’d still, I think, feel it was a betrayal to actually fall in love with Mark. And caught in the middle would be Mark, blissfully unaware of his brother’s forbidden feelings for his girlfriend.
All in all, The Dark Artifices is shaping up to be my favourite Shadowhunter series yet, and I can’t wait to see where the next book takes it.
Allison: You took the words out of my keyboard. I agree, The Dark Artifices already has my heart. Can’t wait to see what happens next! Next week we’ll be wrapping up our Shadowhunters discussion with some fangirling over Clare’s who universe, and dishing about the TV show. Tell us what you thought about Lady Midnight in the comments!