If books came with hype men, I feel Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series would have a guy yelling at you, ‘DO YOU LIKE SUPERNATURAL ROMAAAANCE?’ But the thing is, and maybe it took me too long in my life to realize it, I don’t think I do like supernatural romance. I like supernatural stuff well enough, and my cold and bitter heart can enjoy the occasional romance, but if you combine the two, it leaves me cold. Who knew?
In any case, if you shelve the ‘supernatural romance’ part, these two series, about an angel-blooded section of humans called Shadowhunters, who are sworn and dedicated to protecting the unsuspecting human race from demons, are entertaining enough, though not particularly requiring of thought. Spoilers to follow…
Mortal Instruments (the ones that all start with ‘City of’ something) is about modern-day New York City, and about ‘mundane’ Clary Fray’s introduction into the gritty and bloody Shadowhunter world when her mother is kidnapped by a power-hungry, purity-of-blood obsessed dude that everyone presumed was dead like fifteen years ago. It just goes to show, when you have a secret magical government, you are not all that up on fact-checking or record-keeping. Clary joins forces with uber-handsome wayward teen Jace Wayland and his friends Alec and Isabelle Lightwood, who all live at the New York branch of the Institute, which is where the area Shadowhunter kids go to learn about slicing demons and drawing magic runes upon their persons. As you do. This series is five books in and is reasonably complex, so it’d be difficult to summarize it easily, but it has a lot of secret brothers, mistaken identities, resurrected angels and demons, and a lot of unresolved teenage sexual tension.
Infernal Devices (the ones that all start with ‘Clockwork’ something) is frankly the better of the two, set in steampunk-y Victorian London, where they don’t have cell phones but they still have a lot of angst. That one is all about Tessa Gray, a mundane (OR IS SHE?) American who comes to London in search of her brother, but ends up kidnapped by two crazy ladies who teach her how to use the shapeshifting powers she never knew she had to Change into other people, up until the point where relatively handsome Shadowhunter Will Herondale comes, accidentally rescues her, and whisks her off to the London Institute, where they meet up with intelligent and capable institute head Charlotte, her scatterbrained inventor husband Henry, the soulful musician and unfortunate accidental drug addict Jem, and total nutball Jessamine. Tessa and her friends manage to track down her brother Nathan, who as it turns out is working for the Magister that ordered Tessa’s kidnap and wants to use her powers for a small but important part in what is a really intricate plot to take over the world with a clockwork army that can’t be defeated with angel-blooded runed weapons (the way demons can). I’m not going to lie to you, even though this is something of a prequel to the other series, I liked it much better. Largely because I found the plot to be tighter (given that City of Bones more or less sets up the concept of this Shadowhunter world, that helps, I suppose) and the less expansive cast to be much more interesting (easy to focus on select storylines when you aren’t trying to serve the needs of roughly eighty characters).
But let’s get down to brass tacks: supernatural romance, am I right? There are a lot of circumstances keeping a lot of people apart, but not all of them are interesting.
Good reasons to have your young romance be tragic and unfulfilled:
– Because you believe a demon’s curse will kill anyone that falls in love with you (Will and Tessa)
– Because you’re dying of an addiction to a terrible demon drug that’s also the only thing keeping you alive, so you don’t want to commit too much to a relationship with someone (Jem and Tessa – awww yeah, it’s a love triangle)
– Because you’re worried about your parents’ judgement about your being A) gay and B) dating a warlock (I guess that’s bad?) (Alec and Magnus)
– Because you’re brother and sister (Jace and Clary)
Boring reasons to have your young romance be tragic and unfulfilled:
– Because you are emo, angsty, and refuse to actually communicate (Jace and Clary).
In the ID series, Will and Jem are both in love with Tessa. Will keeps her at a distance because he thinks he’s cursed and that will seal her fate if she loves him in return. So she ends up getting engaged to Jem, who is Will’s closest friend and parabatai (which essentially is a bond closer than that of anything familiar), so Will can’t do a single thing about it without hurting the two people he loves most, even after he finds out he is not actually cursed at all. The triangle is actually very well done, angst-ridden without being overblown, and resolved in an interesting way that even I won’t spoil for you.
In contrast, we have the crap romance between Jace and Clary. The most interesting thing in the MI books happens at the end of the first book: Jace and Clary have been dancing around an awkward flirtation with one another, only to find out that the crazed power-hungry not-dead guy that kidnapped Clary’s mother is her father. And also Jace’s father. So then they spend the next two books being angsty and dating vampires and lesbians respectively, until they find out that they are in fact not brother and sister, but even then, they only kind of barely date, because Jace is too freaking emo to actually talk about any of his problems, and before they can really resolve this, he gets put under a spell by Clary’s real brother, who later almost tries to rape her.
Also, there’re, like, two wars. The first one is between Clary’s dad Valentine and the Shadowhunters, as the former wants to resurrect an angel so he can have the power to remove the supernatural powers from all Shadowhunters and kill all Downworlders (warlocks, werewolves, fairies, vampires, etc., who coexist semi-peacefully with the Shadowhunters so long as they comply to Shadowhunter law. I told you, it was reasonably complex). The second one is between Valentine’s son Jonathan/Sebastian*, who wants to create his own race of Dark Shadowhunters with demon blood (and thusly demonic strength and presumably demonic lack of morals), and all of the semi-sane Shadowhunters who think this is a Bad Idea.
*Jonathan is the real son of Valentine Morganstern, although Jonathan briefly adopted the identity of someone named Sebastian to infiltrate the Shadowhunters, and then kind of steals the name for himself, as he doesn’t want to share. There’s a lot of name confusion going on; the person he’s sharing the name with is Jace, who thinks he’s Jonathan Wayland, although it turns out he’s Jonathan Morgenstern, although it really turns out he’s Jonathan Herondale, except because his real parents are super dead (not fake dead like Valentine), he ends up going by Jace Lightwood. I KNOW. I can’t even tell you how annoying this got after awhile.
I think I’d feel more kindly towards the Jace/Clary romance if I didn’t find Jace to be such a wholly uninteresting character. He’s your typical bad boy using sarcasm and smartass remarks to hide the fact that he is oh so sad and broken. And of course he is LOVELY, as you would expect. If this series came with a drinking game, you’d have to do a shot every time the word ‘blood’ was used, or the word ‘gold’ was used (particularly with respect to Jace’s hair/eyes/skin), and you’d be trashed in minutes. He’s beautiful, and therefore we must be forgiving of the fact that he’s kind of a butt (ed. note: my mother suggested I not swear so much).
In conclusion, if you can call it that, it’s very difficult to concisely cover eight books in two (related) series. I’d highly recommend the Infernal Devices trilogy (Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess), and tell you to leave all of the other nonsense behind. I won’t go so far as to say it sacrifices story for the sake of romance, as there is a lot of story. But a good portion of the plot hinges on the romance and their True Love, which I was not at all invested in, so I just sort of waited for it to be over or at least for it to move onto the sections about anyone else. Truly, the kind of reaction you want to your two protagonists.