First, a disclaimer. My brother has never been a reader. Ever. For the first 25 years of his life I’m pretty sure he never opened a book unless forced to by a teacher…. and even then, if there was an option to watch the movie, he took it. He couldn’t understand why anyone would CHOOSE to WILLINGLY read a book. For fun. Especially when you could choose to… NOT read a book. But then a few summers ago he was on a rained out camping trip and faced with the boredom that comes with sitting in the Canadian wilderness in the rain with literally nothing else to do…. he picked up the only book that someone had packed for the week, and he read it. Unfortunately, that book was…. Twilight. Yes, yes, I know. But it was book with more than 50 pages. And chapters. Without pictures. And then he got home, and we caught him secretly reading the second book. And then the third and fourth. Because he wanted to know what happened, and couldn’t wait for the movies to come out. He was officially hooked; and while he didn’t really jump into a literary triumph, he was enjoying reading and as long as he kept it up, I could get behind it. Since then he has continued with the reading, but is somewhat intimidated by anything that he thinks is too scary (which means “lots of pages with small words”). He will read the books that his wife’s tenth grade students recommend. He will get really excited about books like these and will be anxious for me to read them too so that we can discuss them. And while I might want to be spending my time reading other things, I will read almost anything if it encourages him to keep picking up books.
Which brings us to The Mortal Instruments. The books that he told me I “just HAVE to read”. So I did. Ugh.
The first book in the series is “City of Bones” which sets the scene for Casssandra Clare’s take on the vampire/werewolf/etc world. Our reluctant teenage heroine Clary finds herself thrust into the middle of a supernatural world that she didn’t know even existed. She and her BFF Simon (who is secretly in love with her –naturally) are introduced to the Shadowhunters – the peacekeeper demon hunters of this world, so to speak. Of course, nothing says “I’m trying to be the next Twilight” like a teenage love triangle, so it is no surprise when the Shadowhunter that Clary keeps running into is the incredibly attractive and dangerous Jace. This first book does a lot of explaining this world, all the different ‘species’ of other-worldly characters (in addition to the Shadowhunters, vampires and werewolves, we also have warlocks, fairies, demons, angels, the Forsaken, etc), and all their various history. While I get the idea of a rich and complex world, it just felt to me like the author was trying too hard to make these books smart. Lots of detail doesn’t equal smart. The teenage romance between Clary and Jace keeps growing in intensity until we get the big plot twist that tells us they are siblings, both children of the evil Shadowhunter Valentine. And this is where I started to roll my eyes with alarming frequency.
The second book, “City of Ashes”, the drama continues with Jace and Clary fighting their feelings for each other while trying to defeat Valentine. I was struck by the fact that the author was throwing in these big plot twists without really thinking them through. Every scene with Jace and Clary was filled with sexual tension that they eventually decide they can’t fight anymore. Really? So you’re telling me that this relationship is just going to glamourize incest? Are young adult readers really going to buy that? Please give them more credit. And lo and behold, it is revealed that they aren’t siblings after all. Shocking. True love triumphs again.
Throughout all four books (these two, plus “City of Glass” and “City of Fallen Angels”), it’s the same things over and over again. Big dramatic plot twist! And then a few chapters (or books) later, ‘oh never mind- just kidding’. It’s as if the author has no idea where this series is going, and is just making it up as she goes. Four books in, and Jace has already had four different last names because of his convoluted family history and the big reveal of who his father is (!)… no wait, THIS is his real father (!)… just kidding, THIS is really his for real, real father (!). And so on and so forth. I use Jace as an example, but this ‘literary device’ is used in every aspect of the books, in all the plotlines, and with almost all the characters (‘this is Clary’s brother… no THIS is Clary’s brother…”, “this character is dead… no he’s not… ok, now he is… but is he really?”, etc, etc). No one is who they seem at first and it ruins the surprise when you know that there will ALWAYS be a surprise.
This series is trying really really hard to be the next big phenomenon. It’s glaringly obvious, and it detracts from the plot and the characters. That being said, I read the first couple on vacation, and if you’re looking to not strain your brain too much while drinking a pina colada on a Mexican beach, maybe give them a shot. They helped pass the time when my flight was delayed and I was stuck in an airport all night. I will be forever grateful. And because my brother will insist on it, I will definitely be reading the next book when it is released. Whether I want to or not.