Clary leads a normal, sheltered life, until all of a sudden her mother is kidnapped and she starts seeing people and things that nobody else can. She soon discovers her Shadowhunter ancestry and joins the fight against the rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who wants to cleanse the world of Downworlders…
Welcome back to Shadowhunter Week, the week in which I honour my best friend’s birthday by reviewing her favourite series, the young-adult urban fantasy novels by Cassandra Clare. Today I’ll have a quick look at The Mortal Instruments, consisting of the six novels City of Bones (2007), City of Ashes (2008), City of Glass (2009), City of Fallen Angels (2011), City of Lost Souls (2012) and City of Heavenly Fire (2014). Careful: there’s a lot of review, and spoilers are almost unavoidable, but I’ll keep it to a minimum – and if you haven’t already, check out my review of The Infernal Devices as well!
Another layer to our world
The Mortal Instruments is the original series that started it all, establishing the existence of Shadowhunters who have descended from angels to protect the world by keeping demons and other evil ‘Downworld’ forces in check. Unlike The Infernal Devices, this series is set in contemporary New York and nicely loaded with popular culture references. Especially at the beginning of the series, Clary and her best friend Simon are really just typical teenagers enjoying whatever it is that teenagers enjoy. But soon, Clary finds out that she has been lied to her whole life; that her mother used to be a Shadowhunter, her mother’s best friend Luke, who has been like a father for her, is a werewolf, and this fascinating, handsome Jace she has been seeing around is in fact descended from angels as well. In order to find her mother and defeat Valentine, Clary has to grow up fairly quickly and is met with both loyalty and distrust by the other Shadowhunters. And of course it doesn’t stop with Valentine, because evil will turn up either way – and so it isn’t surprising that after Valentine’s defeat, someone else takes over, someone with far worse intentions…
Diversity inside and outside the Institute
With The Infernal Devices I’ve criticised that Downworld hasn’t been explored as much as it could have been, and I’m happy to say that The Mortal Instruments completely makes up for this. Here much more than in Victorian London, the worlds of the Shadowhunters and the Downworlders mix, which makes for a wide range of characters to be developed, most of which are at odds with either themselves, each other, or both. Especially with the Downworlders, then, we see familiar faces again, the most glittering of which is obviously the constantly overdressed and extremely powerful Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of Brooklyn. At the Shadowhunter Institute, we have the Lightwood family: the beautiful and fierce Isabelle and her shy, often grumpy brother Alec, and the arrogant and often insensitive Jace who has been orphaned as a child. The list of characters goes on and on, which makes it quite refreshing to read because you get to explore each of them equally – but my preferences were definitely with the Downworlders who seemed much more believable at times than the righteous nephilim.
All the drama!
Something that this series definitely has in common with The Infernal Devices are the intriguing villains that try to work against our dear protagonists at every turn. Valentine is a powerful opponent: high intelligence and fanatic delusions mix well in this character, who is able to both win you over and repel you with your charisma. I felt strongly conflicted about him, which is a good thing; he’s the kind of character you truly love to hate. And his successor, whom I can’t say anything about because of spoilers, even trumps him when it comes to having an evil nature. All in all, these two main villains, and all the smaller side-villains, make a fascinating plot. Of course next to villain-induced drama, you also have all the love issues that teenagers typically have, which depending on your preferences can either enhance or hinder the story, but they’re definitely interwoven with it well.
Or, to say it with the words of Magnus Bane: “I see that even as the world plunges into darkness and peril, you two stand around discussing your love lives. Teenagers.”
But… maybe a bit too much
One definite problem that I have with this series, and that severely impacted my reading experiences, was that it was a bit too much, a bit too long. Now, I love reading book series in general if they’re well-written and overall well-conceived, but with The Mortal Instruments, I felt like it had overstayed its welcome after the first three novels. While I’m glad that I finished the series because exciting things happen and especially the last novel is a captivating experience, I’m not sure I would have done so if I hadn’t had Shadowhunter Week to work towards, so I’m very conflicted about it overall. You need very strong, interesting characters to pull off letting them stay on for six novels, and I didn’t think Clary and her friends were really up for it. In the end, the characters that I truly read the novels for were Magnus and Alec and their adorable relationship (that just broke my heart at times), the villains, of course, and a few Downworlders. So I liked the overall concept, but I think it might have worked better with different characters, as a different series. Another discrepancy here is the point at which The Infernal Devices started to be written as well. Obviously the series is meant to be read in this order (first The Mortal Instruments, then The Infernal Devices), but for someone who has read it chronologically, the sheer abundance of not-so-subtle references to the plot and characters of The Infernal Devices began to truly put me off. Also in terms of writing, I felt that The Infernal Devices was much stronger than The Mortal Instruments, which is puzzling but might explain my feeling that some of the novels were really difficult to get through, while others were so interesting that I gobbled them up in a short amount of time.
So what’s it going to be?
As I’ve said before, I ended up being quite conflicted about this series in the end, but overall I really don’t regret reading it, as the premise is quite interesting and you can do a lot with that; it makes you see everything a little differently for a while, and I suppose that’s what urban fantasy is all about, isn’t it? With six novels, it is quite a big commitment to start the series, at least if you have the need to finish things like I do, but in the end, they’re nice, easy reads that make it easy to just escape from everything else for a while. But what you definitely shouldn’t do is judge the novels as stand-alones – this is a series that really works as a series rather than on an individual basis, and I’ve read a few reviews have been unable to recognise that fact, leading to an overall unfair evaluation.