Cassandra Clare’s Brilliance & Beautiful Boys

I’m going to put this out there. I love Cassandra Clare. Her books have excited me in a way I haven’t felt since Harry Potter, and that, my friends, is an accomplishment.

I could go on and on about the books, and I will at some length in a few moments, but I want to deliver some praise towards Clare herself. For a writer, she is good. For a young adult writer, she is great. Her prose is beautiful, she does some excellent characterization, really creates empathy between the reader and the characters, and I quite enjoy the various plots and subplots that always hint  to more stories ahead (regardless of whether or not she intends to write them). And, please don’t let me forget the fabulous world-building she’s done. It truly is quite remarkable, both in the modern-day Mortal Instruments and the Victorian Era Infernal Devices.

That being said, there is one thing that can really make me….sad. I suspect it has something to do with editorial pressure/the desire to sell to the YA audience, and that is copious romance.

I like romance. I even like cheesy romance. But there are times in both series when the romance almost leaves the plot line a forgotten thread in the reader’s mind. She creates flawed characters, gives them their own battles and arcs, but the boys (who the two main female characters find themselves falling for) are inevitably gorgeous in some way or another, and Clare doesn’t let you forget it. Having the shape of someone’s shoulder blades beneath his tight black shirt described for the umpteenth time is really just wasted space and, I’m afraid, can come across as filler. This makes me sad, as a reader and as an author. However, following the love debacle that is Twilight, editors (and writers) in the YA genre know that romance gets you hooked and sunk before you even realize you’re in the water. Dammit.

Spoilers Follow.

In Mortal Instruments, Clare had intended six books as three separate trilogies that, for some reason, just ended up being a sextet. There is a clear and obvious break between #3 and #4, but the threads between them are strong enough to continue in a believable single line. Clary, a girl of 15, is a Shadowhunter who doesn’t know it. She is suddenly thrust into the world of Shadowhunters in modern-day New York with the kidnapping of her mother. Shadowhunters, it turns out, are a race of half-human half-angels who protect the world from demons, and Clary’s mother has been keeping this secret from her in hopes of protecting her from the oft-short life of pain and danger shadowhunters live. In the meantime, her comedic-relief best friend Simon gets caught up in the whole mess of Clary being trained and trying to find her mother, ending up a vampire for his troubles. And Clary, predictably, falls in love with the beautiful-but-flawed Jace. While the book’s main plot revolves around the return of Clary’s father Valentine (think, Lucius Malfoy — pale blonde hair, air of superiority, evil, etc.) who wants to destroy the Shadowhunter world — and all the Shadowhunters, save his loyal followers — with it, in the name of purifying the Shadowhunter race (sound familiar, anyone?).

This is the plot that runs through the first three books, that gives it forward momentum. So does Jace’s and Clary’s undeniable soul-mateish attraction that is doomed because they’re siblings except……THEY’RE NOT! (book 2) Hurray! So now they can properly make out without having to feel like they’re in a George R.R. Martin novel. Commence the descriptions of shoulders and golden hair and golden eyes and Clary being all awkward and bony except then she’s not and Simon the vampire is completely friend-zoned until he falls in love with both a Shadowhunter and a werewolf, both of which are more than capable of kicking his ass. So you see, it’s not just the main character’s romance, it’s everyone else’s romance — her mother and father, her mother and mother’s best friend, Jace’s “brother” (not blood, but might as well be) and a glamorous warlock who enjoys pretty boys, as well as the people who raised Jace (they’re getting a divorce..maybe…I’m rather unclear on that) and it’s all just a big love mess. But you keep reading because you love the characters and the prose is compelling and there IS an actual plot. Clare is quite apt at keeping you rather surprised, and I appreciate and enjoy that. I think it’s important in a series, just as important as evoking strong enough responses in your readers to make them laugh, cry, get angry, throw a fit, and ultimately come back.

With as much as I enjoyed Mortal Instruments, I have enjoyed the Victorian-Era Infernal Devices even more. Yes, there is more romance with more beautiful-but-flawed boys, but there is an entirely new — and interesting — plot line that pulls the main character Tessa into the center of it. Whereas Clary was important but not the central-most ingredient to the plot, Tessa is right smack dab in the middle of it. Tessa, as with Clary, has no idea who she really is in the beginning, but unlike Clary, she doesn’t find out. She has the power to change into any person as long as she has something that is associated with their person (yep, even dead people). The plot here is that a man, quite intent on marrying Tessa for some unknown reason, is developing a clockwork army of automatons to destroy the Shadowhunters. His plan is incomplete without Tessa, and though I haven’t read the third book yet, I know she’s kidnapped. So somewhere, the s**t is gonna go down. And soon. And Tessa’s messy love triangle is…..messy. I’m intrigued how it will be resolved though I theorize that the boy she’s engaged to will die so she marry the boy she actually loves…who loves the boy she’s engaged to like a brother….mhm. Thanks, Clare.

What makes me so excited about Infernal Devices is Clare’s command of literature really shines through. I’m not a Victorian literature/poetry person, but reading these books makes me want to be. Characters are constantly referencing situations and quotes from books whose titles sit on my shelf unread, and each chapter begins with a sliver of poetry that seems, to my uneducated brain, nearly perfect for each chapter. I shall have to go back and re-evaluate once I finish my Victorian Poetry course in the Fall. I think, given a little more time and practice, Clare and her use of language and literature will become a great writer.

I just have one request:

Please, Ms. Clare, please let one of the boys be average for once.

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One thought on “Cassandra Clare’s Brilliance & Beautiful Boys

  1. Based off of her pre-publication fanfiction, the beautiful boys every five minutes is her, but she still writes very enjoyable stories. I still have to read the last book in the Mortal Instruments series and I’m avoiding the movie for now (my brother’s girlfriend is a huge fan of the books and really did not like the movie). We’ll see how it goes.

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