Coven Chat: Wrapping Up the World of Shadowhunters

256683We have had an amazing couple of weeks sharing our love for Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter universe with you. Today we’re wrapping up with a discussion of the ‘verse as a whole, including the television series and film.  

A note: Spoilers abound in this particular Coven Chat, so if you haven’t read or seen anything in the Shadowhunters saga, and you don’t want things spoiled, don’t read on!

Nicola: Naturally, we’re starting our discussion with the core of the Shadowhunter universe: the books. So far there are two completed series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices, and the first book in a third, The Dark Artifices. One of the things I really like about the Shadowhunter books is the way the series share common themes with each other. There are some popular YA themes – the loss or incompetence of parental figures (Tessa’s aunt, Clary’s mother, Julian’s uncle), first love, etc. – but the books also commonly explore themes like forbidden love and the importance of family (by blood and by choice). Not only does this mean the books are linked on a deeper level than shared characters and world, but it also means that there’s room for nuanced exploration of these different topics.

Allison: I am really impressed by Clare’s willingness to “go there” in terms of forbidden love. In November of last year, Scott Bergstrom started that big kerfluffle by implying that his book is unique in that he was willing to put his characters in “morally ambiguous” situations when “other YA” doesn’t typically do that. All I could think was “But does your character fall in love with someone, only to find out that they are their long lost sibling and then DECIDE TO GO AHEAD WITH THE ROMANCE ANYWAY????” Obviously, Bergstrom is a bit of dunce when it comes to knowing the market, but it’s something that folks who are dismissive of YA in general often use to dismiss it. The idea that YA, especially YA fantasy and sci-fi, is generally cut and dry in terms of morality is nuts. Cassandra Clare has been setting the bar for morally ambiguous since City of Bones.

Nicola: THIS. Even though I could never really get behind how Clary and Jace’s relationship developed (just because I think he’s an ass and it was basically instalove), I thought it fit so perfectly with the wider themes of The Mortal Instruments, because it’s all about the importance of family, but specifically about the importance of the people who act like family, not people who are family merely as an accident of birth. As far as the Lightwoods are concerned, Jace is their son, a25494343nd Luke is far more father to Clary than Valentine.

The Clave places a lot of emphasis on how Clary and Jace ought not to be trusted because of their father (never mind that Clary never even met the man), but as you say below one of the continuing themes in the Shadowhunter universe is the contrast between the actions of individual Shadowhunters and the Clave’s policies. While the Clave thinks being Valentine’s children makes Clary and Jace suspicious, Luke, Jocelyn, R obert and Maryse just see the young adults they brought up. In this context, it is Isabelle who is Jace’s sister, and Simon the closest thing to a brother Clary has, so it’s fitting to explore what happens when the two kinds of relationships – blood relatives who are strangers and non-blood relations who become friends and more – collide.

Alyssa: I really like what both of you are saying. I also love that Clare portrays forbidden love and the importance of family as complex and morally ambiguous concepts. While I sometimes get annoyed with the love triangle in The Infernal Devices and with Clary and Jace’s romance (for the same reasons Nicola mentioned), I appreciate that these series aren’t afraid to challenge our moral compass or assumptions. The Infernal Devices seems to accept the possibility of being in love with more than one person, and The Mortal Instruments suggests that Clary and Jace would likely still be in love even if they were in fact brother and sister. Perhaps, Clare’s books demonstrate that feelings of mutual love are never wrong?

Allison: My inclination is to say that Clare’s main point in all this is that these issues exist outside of right and wrong. It’s powerful to even acknowledge that such complexity exists. Along these same lines, I am always fascinated by how Clare positions her heroes. I’ve said this before, but Clare does a great job of making us feel attached to individual Shadowhunters, but question the hell out of the Clave’s moral compass. This is really cool to me because it parallels so much of how the real world is structured. In particular, I find the parallels between Western military and police forces and the Clave to be particularly salient and timely. The Clave asks Shadowhunters to put aside common decency and morality to enforce bigoted laws pretty frequently, all in the name of safety. Some Shadowhunters take advantage, others rail against the system. It’s to Clare’s credit that she includes characters that are someplace in the middle.

Nicola: Yes! I love this aspect, too. One of the things I think Clare does well here is that it’s almost understandable why many Shadowhunters look dowClockwork Princessn upon mundanes, because from their perspective they fight and die to protect mundanes, who don’t even know it’s happening. It’s clear from the narrative, particularly Clary’s storyline, that this attitude is not acceptable, but at the same time there isn’t utter condemnation for the people who have lost so much in a fight they never chose while the rest of the world is completely ignorant of it. I think for many Shadowhunters there’s a bit of envy for mundanes, along the lines of Jessamine’s, but they can’t be mundanes without losing their families and culture, so they channel their anger at the injustice towards the people they wish they could be. It’s petty and wrong, but not entirely unsympathetic.

Alyssa: I also like that Clare’s books are compassionate towards characters who are struggling with what’s right and wrong, good and evil, and who sometimes (or often) make immoral or morally compromised decisions. She pushes her readers to try to understand why creatures–humans, nephilim, angels, demons–behave cruelly, but she does not excuse their cruelty. Clare compares the moral ambiguity of humans, Shadowhunters and Downworlders with pure notions of good and evil, especially when you consider religious beliefs and the demon realms.

Take Sebastian, for example. Although he’s such a blatantly evil character because of his demon blood, I also couldn’t help wondering how much Clary’s mother is to blame for Sebastian’s evil nature…beyond his biological makeup and paternal influence. How much of Sebastian’s cruelty and violence result from his feelings of abandonment and loneliness? His parents rejected him (even Valentine for Jace), and Sebastian seems to genuinely want his sister to love and value him (as twisted as his efforts are to win her love). If their mother had loved and cared about Sebastian’s well-being and loved him unconditionally, even though he has demon rather than angel blood, would that have made a difference in his behavior? If his mother and sister had cared about him, would he have been less cruel? I’m not sure, but Clare raises those questions about whether good and evil are black and white concepts, or whether everything is morally ambiguous and everyone has the potential to be good or bad, depending on whether they are loved or hated. Shadowhunters as a whole are both benevolent and callous, superheroes and monsters.

Nicola: That’s a very good point, Alyssa. Even the Clave and Shadowhunter culture as a whole cannot be regarded as a one-dimensional bigoted force. Much of Shadowhunter culture is shaped by their role as protectors and demon-slayers, but at the same time concepts like parabatai and runes for marriage celebrate human love and relationships.

Allison: Yes, this idea that the Clave is both law (and as we know “the law is hard, but it is the law”) and people that enforce the law is so complex. So prevalent is the idea that laws and societal rules must grow and change with the times and with bodies of people and the truth that this is a hard process. I love how messy Clare lets it all be and that she shows how individuals work to turn the tides of these discussions, but that the tides are forces of nature and that change is slow.

It’s for all these reasons that I have trouble deciding which series I love best. There are aspects of The Mortal Instruments that I like better than the other seimagesries, but until Lady Midnight, I loved The Infernal Devices as a series more. Now I think The Dark Artifices will probably be my favorite series because so far it features my favorite characters and it’s the conglomeration of all the different complexities that Clare has been developing for years in other series.

Alyssa: I haven’t finished The Infernal Devices or read Lady Midnight yet, so I can’t say which is my favorite series. But I’m really looking forward to reading The Last Hours and The Dark Artifices and having an even better understanding of how all of these series relate.

Nicola: I think The Infernal Devices is still my favourite, but I did love a lot of the characters in Lady Midnight, so after the rest of The Dark Artifices comes out it’ll probably be a toss up between the two.

So we all love all the books, but what about the movie and TV series based off of them? The impression I always get of the film is that the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they were making a movie for existing fans or making a movie for Shadowhunter newbies, and they ended up with something confusing to non-fans (my fiancé had to keep asking me what was happening!) that changed some significant features of the book, upsetting existing fans – for instance, I couldn’t really get behind the portrayal of Valentine because he didn’t fit the well-manicured, charismatic character from the book.

This is something I think tShadowhunters-TV-show-poster-1448056730he TV series manages to balance better, in part because of the different formats; the first few episodes of the series felt plagued by the same problem as the movie, but then it diverged enough that, as a book fan I can enjoy it as a loose adaptation, but if I were unfamiliar with the books I’d be able to follow the story because it doesn’t presuppose an understanding of the Shadowhunter universe.

Allison: I totally agree with what you’re saying about the TV series handling this a bit better.  The thing the movie had going for it from my perspective was great actors and beautiful costumes and sets. It felt like the Shadowhunter world to me. Not quite the one I imagined in my head, but the aesthetic made sense, though I agree 100% that Valentine was not Valentine in the film. Trying to make him young and sexy just didn’t work.

Nicola: Yes, me too! That’s actually one of my main gripes about the TV series; I don’t like the high-tech aspects of the New York Institute because there shouldn’t even be computers in a Shadowhunter Institute.

Allison: YESSSS. No computers in any of the Institutes! I understand why they’re doing it, but it’s one of the things that’s so integral to Shadowhunter culture and it informs so much about how they are separate from the world.

Alyssa: I haven’t seen the City of Bones movie, but I’m really glad the series didn’t continue as a film franchise and was adapted as a TV series instead. While the first few episodes suffered a bit from weak character and plot development, I thought the second half of the TV series improved immensely. The beginning episodes felt a bit rushed, the acting and storylines somewhat awkward, forced and cheesy; but then the actors became more comfortable and natural in their roles.

I also really like that the characters in the TV series are a bit different than how they are in the books; they are not just a few years older, but Jace and Isabelle, for example, are less pompous and more relatable in the TV show. I also like that the storylines diverge from the books. Season One incorporates and changes plotlines from City of Ashes and City of Glass. I think it would be problematic if season one followed City of Bones, season two followed City of Ashes, and so on.

Nicola: I really struggled to get into the series at first for the same reasons you mention. In more recent episodes, however, the series has diverged enough from the book that even though the characters still don’t feel quite like their book versions, they feel like rounded, interesting characters all the same. I get the impression that the producers wanted to do a loose adaptation along the lines of The Vampire Diaries or Pretty Little Liars, and felt the need to get major plot points out of the way as soon as possible, which didn’t leave room for much character development. Now that it’s forging its own path I’m enjoying it a lot more – with the plus that I don’t see everything coming!

Allison: I totally agree. I worried that the series would flop for about half of the first season.My biggest issue with the show in the beginning was the cheese factor. It lost a lot of its dark edge with the over-stylized “Shadowhunter” costumes and the bad makeup for the runes. I’m really hoping that FreeForm is willing to dump some money into the show to clean up the aesthetic a bit more.

Nicola: The Lydia Branwell storyline is intriguing for the way it explores how traditional social mores and family obligations would encourage a young man like Alec to suppress his sexuality and marry Lydia. It is so like the Clave to be so involved in Shadowhunters’ lives that they cannot even be open about their sexuality; there is simply no room in the Clave’s worldview for Shadowhunters who don’t marry other Shadowhunters and make little Shadowhunter babies.

Allison: Yes, I think that storyline’s appearance did a lot for the development of the show in terms of both plotlines and character development. We get to understand more how narrow the Clave is at the time of The Mortal Instruments, and see how our characters react to the restrictive nature of the Clave’s morality.

The fact that Jace leaves with Valentine in the last episode of the season leaves so much open for more character development in Season Two. We’ll see Clary deal with all the complex stuff we’ve talked about from the books in terms of her feelings for Jace, as well as watching him confront the father who raised him and the idea that he might not be a “good guy” anymore. I’m hoping this will give the characters the same breathing room for complexity that the books allow.

It’s been so wonderful to talk with you ladies over the last weeks about Clare’s world of Shadowhunters. As for our readers, let us know your thoughts in the comments!


Coven Chat: Lady Midnight

25494343Today 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!  

Shadowhunters, Victorian Edition

Clockwork AngelA few months ago I talked about The Infernal Devices as part of my post on prequels. At the time, I focussed on its relationship to The Mortal Instruments, and so today I’m going to talk about it as a series in its own right. One of the things I love about the world of the Shadowhunters is that, while the series are all interrelated, each series can be enjoyed on its own, and TID is probably my favourite so far.

Similarly to TMI, we’re introduced to the story through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with the Shadow world. This means that you don’t need to have read TMI at all to enjoy TID, because you can learn everything you need to know about Shadowhunters and Downworlders alongside Tessa.

Victorian London provides the perfect backdrop for this story. Setting it more than a hundred years before TMI means there are few characters that cross over between the two series (though, considering the immortality of warlocks and vampires, there are a few), allowing the series to distinguish itself from its predecessor. More than that, though, Victorian London was a hub of industrialisation and scientific progress, meaning the automaton army that Tessa and her friends face is distinctively Victorian.

Clockwork PrinceThe contradictory morality of the Victorians also forms an interesting foil for the Clave’s own bigotry and biases. On the one hand, the Clave is more progressive than its mundane counterparts in allowing a woman to run an Institute, but at the same time it’s made clear that the only reason Charlotte Branwell was chosen was because the Consul hoped that, as a woman, she would be pliant and biddable, thus demonstrating the same attitude that the Victorians held. Likewise, the Clave does not take an imperialistic attitude towards other human cultures, as mundane Victorians did, but its approach towards Downworlders is eerily similar. The parallels between the real-world Victorians and the Clave throughout the ages are subtle, but this setting adds another layer of richness to the overall portrayal of the Clave’s underlying prejudices and bigotry.

As Allison said on Tuesday, one of Clare’s strengths as a writer is the relationships between her characters, and nowhere is this more true than in TID. The core romantic storyline is a love triangle, but it is so beautifully, heart-wrenchingly written that it has me in tears every time. Love triangles seem to be a bit passé lately, perhaps because of their ubiquity in YA a few years back, but I’m of the firm opinion that, while love triangles as an easy way to add drama to a relationship are never a good idea, a well-written love triangle is like romantic angst gold. And, oh, does Clare bring the angst.

Clockwork PrincessOne of the reasons I adore the love triangle in these books is that the Will and Jem are never rivals for Tessa’s love; they’re parabatai, Shadowhunters bonded together for life, and their love for each other is at least as strong as their love for Tessa. The fact that neither boy will compete with the other for Tessa’s love changes the dynamic from the typical love triangle and places the emphasis on Tessa’s agency and choice rather than any petty feuding between her romantic interests. It also, of course, means an extra helping of angst for all three characters, because Will and Jem’s unfailing support for each other makes it nearly impossible for Tessa to even realise when her actions hurt one or the other, because neither will show it out of fear of hurting his parabatai. In the end, the relationship between Will and Jem is just as interesting to read as that between Will and Tessa or between Jem and Tessa.

The Infernal Devices is an ideal read for existing Shadowhunter fans who have read The Mortal Instruments and are hungry for more. Because it’s discrete from that series, however, it is also the perfect introdution to the world of the Shadowhunters for readers who are more interested in steampunk or historical fantasy than in urban fantasy.

Nicola thinks being a Shadowhunter would be pretty cool, except the whole constant danger bit.

Shadowhunters and Downworlders and Mundanes, OH MY!

256683 I know I said last week that we were going to start talking about Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Trilogy this week, buuuut, as life would have it, we all read Cassandra Clare’s new book Lady Midnight first and we’ve been itching to talk Shadowhunters with you for a while now. Never fear, fans of The Winner’s Trilogy, we’re returning to the series in a couple weeks, but starting today we’re going to spend the next couple weeks delving into Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters universe.

Honestly, I’m not sure how none of us has recommended any of the Shadowhunters books to you before now. Perhaps it’s the epic scope of the Shadowhunter universe. There’s a lot of books to talk about! Cassandra Clare has no less than six series (and a codex) planned or already written within the Shadowhunters universe, with The Morta1582996l Instruments as its “flagship” series. These are books for people who like the long game. If you’re looking for quick reads, these books aren’t going to fill that bill. I’m going to get to talking about TMI in a bit, but first I want to get Shadowhunter newbies acquainted with the ‘verse.

Clare’s worldbuilding is based on the idea that there is a secret supernatural world that normal humans (mundanes) cannot see. There are angels, demons, “Downworlders” and “Shadowhunters.” Downworlders are magical beings who have distant demonic relations (warlocks, werewolves, vampires and faeries). They aren’t necessarily bad or evil, due to their demonic origins, but their magical abilities separate them from humans, and they’re generally looked down upon by Shadowhunter society. As for Shadowhunters:

“Shadowhunters (also known as Nephilim) are the appointed warriors on Earth of the Angel Raziel. They are appointed specifically to control and preside over the demons and supernatural creatures that reside in our world. A thousand years ago Raziel bestowed the tools to accomplish this task. These tools are: The Mortal Instruments—used so Shadowhunters may know truth, speak with angels, and make more of their kind; The country of Idris—where Shadowhunters live away from demons and the mundane world; The Book of Raziel (or “Gray Book”)—used by Shadowhunters to access the magic of angels to protect and augment themselves. Raziel gave these gifts to the first Nephilim, Jonathan Shadowhunter—the Shadowhunter namesake.” (from Shadowhunters 101)

Basically, Shadowhunters are total badasses, but their governing organization (The Clave) has set a bunch of laws that are incredibly strict and often unfair. These laws are necessary in many cases, but are often outdated in terms of inclusiveness and difference. The Clave has a tendency to get caught up in its own self-righteousness and its openly bigoted towards Downworlders, and has problems with Shadowhunters who are “different” in any way. As readers, we pretty much love individual Shadowhunters, but feel like the Clave is a bunch of jerks with sticks up their rears. I did3777732n’t even attempt to find a more elegant way to say that… You should know that while the Clave can be a bunch of close-minded asshats that Clare’s Shadowhunters are usually kind and there is increasing diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender as the world expands into other series.

If some of this feels a little familiar to you, it might be because some of Clare’s work was based on her Harry Potter fanfiction (and a ton of frequently used fantasy tropes that pretty much everyone writing urban fantasy uses). I only mention this because you may have heard some of the controversy around Clare’s writing. So let me dispel some of that for you right now: The Shadowhunter ‘verse is NOT Harry Potter in the slightest, and it does share familiar bones with a lot of urban fantasy, but so does most urban fantasy. So let’s just move on from that. Nicola, Alyssa and I agree that part of what’s appealing about reading these books is getting to stay in a worldbuilding framework you love, with new (amazing) characters from series to series, an amazing amount of intricate worldbuilding that spans centuries and general excitement and good writing.

So if you want to delve into some books that will yield several series worth of stories in one cohesive universe, let me start by recommending The Mortal Instruments to you. Though Clare’s series The Infernal Devices is technically “first” in terms of linear time, you don’t want to read it first. Starting with The Mo6752378rtal Instruments is key because Clary Fray is our way in. Everything you need to know about Shadowhunters, you can learn by following Clary’s story.

At the start of the first book of TMI, City of Bones (which has been made into a film and now a television series), Clary Fray is an ordinary girl in New York City. She’s an artist, she has a best friend named Simon and life is just all around fairly mundane. But she witnesses a gruesome murder at a dance club one evening and everything changes. The “murder” she sees is actually a group of Shadowhunters slaying a demon, and if Clary is a mundane, she absolutely should not be able to see such a thing. One of the Shadowhunters, Jace Wayland, makes a connection with Clary and reveals himself to her. At first, the Shadowhunters assume that Clary is a rare human with the Sight, but of course there’s more to Clary’s story than a touch of magic.

As the mystery unfolds, Clary’s mother is kidnapped and Clary is attacked by a demon. All hell (literally) breaks loose at this point and Clary is thrown into the Shadowhunter world head first. City of Bones is8755776 my favorite of the six books in TMI. Getting to know how Clary fits into the Shadowhunter world is really fun. It’s also a bit horrific at times. One of the things that strikes me about TMI as a series is that it’s supernatural horror. The demons are scary. The fight scenes are incredibly tense. The stakes are really, really high.

New York City is an amazing backdrop for the series and it’s so fun to follow Clary as she gets older and finds out who she really is. These books are heavy on the romance, Clary falls hard for Jace and their relationship comes with bucketloads of built in angst, lies and mysteries. I am consistently impressed with how Clare is willing to torture her darlings. Really, the depths to which all of her romantic leads are tested are kind of stunning. Though TMI focuses mainly on Clary, there is a great cast of supporting characters, and the complicated relationships that Clary has with each of them (and that they have with one another) are par8755785t of what makes this series not only incredibly readable, but I daresay a bit addictive.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to recommend not only this series, but the entire span of Clare’s work, is because I am a reader who never wants the story to be over when I really love a series. I love being able to pick up books that have new characters, but in a world I already understand. Of course, there are characters that make their way through all of the Shadowhunters books, so the people you love will show up again in one way or another. I like that.

Clare has made a career out of the Shadowhunters. You might think that somehow the stories would become diluted and not as fun, but I’ve actually found it’s the opposite. Everything that Clare creates in TMI just gets better in subsequent books. This is because Clare’s talent isn’t primarily awesome worldbuilding (though she has that going on too), it’s great characters with exciting relationships. Love, friendship, family, all of these things are what make these series worth reading. Give them a shot, and welcome to our two weeks of Shadowhunter love!

Allison Carr Waechter would usually prefer to be a vampire, but in terms of the Shadowhunter ‘verse, she’s pretty sure she’d be slaying demonic hordes. Maybe she’s just feeling violent this week, it is the end of the semester after all.