When young Tessa comes from New York to Victorian London to live with her brother, she discovers that there is much more to the world than she thought there was – not only do demons and magical creatures actually exist, but she is caught right in the middle of all the chaos…
Today is my best friend’s birthday (which is why I awkwardly start this in the middle of the week, but that’s how birthdays work), and about a year ago, she’d requested/suggested Shadowhunter Week because it’s currently one of her favourite series. I’ve mentioned before that without her, things wouldn’t be running as smoothly here. (Fine, I haven’t really posted in ages, but that’s my Master’s thesis stealing my time.) She’s the one to be enthusiastic about this blog when I’m not feeling it, and she’s the one who keeps me sane throughout the day. So Shadowhunter Week is in her honour, and to say how glad I am that she’s always there being the amazing person that she is – and also to give you an idea of what you probably haven’t been able to avoid in any bookstore that you go to anyway.
So what’s Shadowhunter Week? In the coming week, I will give you short reviews of the Shadowhunter works by Cassandra Clare – the Infernal Devices series, the Mortal Instruments series, The Bane Chronicles, and the film adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Excited? I am! And now, without further ado, let’s start with The Infernal Devices. Happy birthday, love.
The Infernal Devices is a series of young-adult (urban) fantasy novels, written by Cassandra Clare in the instalments Clockwork Angel (2010), Clockwork Prince (2011) and Clockwork Princess (2013). Written as a prequel series to the Mortal Instruments series, it establishes an extensive background of a race called Shadowhunters, descendants of angels with the purpose of protecting the world by keeping demons and other evil ‘Downworld’ forces in check. There is not much overlap between the two series, although to me it felt right to read them in such a ‘chronological’ order – not least because some characters, or at least their descendants, feature in the Mortal Instruments series as well. It just adds a nice touch of recognition and speculation to the reading process.
Dark, mysterious – unpleasant
From the very start of the first novel, the setting of Victorian England is established beautifully. To Tessa, who has never seen anything but New York, this London is too grey, too dark, too wet, and generally too lonely – and she has a hard time feeling welcome. When a strange and scary series of events finally leads her to the Shadowhunter Institute, she is not quite sure what to think of it – whom to trust and who to fight. In due time, she grows both fond and distrustful of them, questioning their motives at every turn. Her primary objective, of course, is finding her brother, whom she believes imprisoned by dark forces. Not all is bad, of course; most characters are welcoming of her, and the Institute, though disorienting in its vastness and intimidating in its solemn grandeur, in time becomes some sort of home because she already knows the bitter truth: the home that she once knew is no more.
Colourful amidst darkness
The characters that she meets in- and outside the Institute are rather diverse and, all in all, quite fun, with each distinct personality contributing to the bigger picture, the ‘family’ that is established despite little to no blood relation. Charlotte, the leader of the Institute, is a strong, independent yet motherly woman who is struggling in a society that does not attribute much worth to women in general. Her husband Henry is the typical ‘weird inventor’ that every secret society somehow needs, especially in those times. The young Shadowhunters Will and Jem are an extraordinary team that shares much affection, but also keeps many secrets, and young Jessamine is as arrogant as it gets, wishing for nothing more than to be rid of her Shadowhunter ancestry. Among the Downworlders are many more fabulously colourful characters, with the most notable and interesting probably being Magnus Bane, a personal favourite of mine – and the list goes on and on. It is an intricate, complex society.
Twists and turns
Keeping in line with the genre, there is much drama, and while some of it may certainly be of a broader ‘oh no, the world may be destroyed’ scale – a rather dramatic one, if I may say so – most of it is related to the matters of the heart. Surrounded by so many exciting people can get very, well, exciting, and as young-adult fiction gladly does, it spots a complicated love triangle from afar and jumps right into it. To the uninitiated and not necessarily romantically interested reader – guilty as charged –, this can get a little difficult, and it tends to make Tessa a really exhausting and annoying protagonist as well. However, that can be easily overlooked, and while of course some of the aspects are rather predictable, the great thing about this series is that is manages to fool everyone – even I, who actually studied literature, kept gasping every few chapters because yet another twist jumped at me from behind a corner. Not only in the affairs of love, but most intriguingly in the areas of the villain and the general plot, things will never go exactly as you think they would – and even if they do overall, there will still be one little aspect that comes back to haunt you. It’s a fascinating read, and I practically gobbled down the whole series within a matter of two or three weeks.
Adorable urban fantasy
All in all, I was quite intrigued by the urban fantasy presented here; the only real shame is that while the series gives fascinating insights into Downworld life, it is not yet explored and used to its full potential except for very few moments. Still, it served as a great introduction to the world as such, and taking it outside the modern context made it feel stranger, more mysterious, and darker – and convincingly so. It is both predictable and surprising, and even I felt vexed at times when various plot twists were sprung on me. Sure, I personally could have done without the love triangle, but I suppose I’m not completely the target audience here. It’s a fun read, either way, and despite the annoying things, such as certain oh-so-funny expressions that get drastically overused (and probably cease to be funny or interesting after the third time), I believe it’s worth your time in the end.