By Jenora Vaswani
Warning: Spoilers to follow!
Released 8 March 2016 and written by bestselling American author, Cassandra Clare, it should come as no surprise that Lady Midnight was greatly anticipated by the Shadowhunter community, myself included. It was therefore a shock to see the clumsiness with which the Shadowhunter world was introduced in the initial chapters.
Matter-of-fact descriptions were jarring, breaking the narrative with information that interacted little with the action. True, world building is notoriously hard. Yet the way information is offered in Lady Midnight enhances neither the experience of the avid fan nor the novice reader first venturing into The Shadowhunter Chronicles. In the former, information already established in previous books is parroted encyclopaedically. In the latter, the reader is overwhelmed with facts tenaciously linked to the plot. Neither strengthen the novel.
The new release isn’t all bad though. In fact, it’s far from it (although I remain rather unimpressed by the opening chapters). Cassandra Clare’s characteristic humour and intellectual intertextuality shines through, complete with snarky comments about the existence of a newly-created birth control rune that are a quiet nod to complaints voiced in the City of Bones. Lady Midnight features a likeable, dynamic and diverse cast which will appear oddly familiar to readers of The Shadowhunter Chronicles, most notably The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices. Emma Carstairs flouts rules and authority defiantly in Lady Midnight, just as Isabelle Lightwood and Clary Fray do in The Mortal Instruments, going so far as to rebrand the Covenant’s motto from ‘The Law is hard, but it is the Law’ to ‘The Law is annoying, but it is also flexible’. Similarly, Emma and Julian’s forbidden love in Lady Midnight echoes that of Jace and Clary in The Mortal Instruments, and Tessa and Will in The Infernal Devices. The odd but friendly neighbourhood warlock, Malcolm, has characteristics vaguely reminiscent of Magnus’s elusive eccentricities, both of whom feature in Lady Midnight.
However, I remain unconvinced that the novel’s cameo appearances of certain beloved characters from previous books are entirely necessary. Magnus Bane’s warlock abilities may be rather central to the plot and Malcolm’s betrayal is a quiet nod to Hodge’s betrayal in The Mortal Instruments. Yet, comparatively, the brief mentions of Jem Carstairs in relation to Church are relatively obsolete. Indeed, Clare does bring Jem in towards the end where he provides vital information regarding the madness that will result if two parabatai (paired warriors sworn to protect each other) fall in love. Nonetheless, the extent to which Clare successfully integrates Jem into the plot is highly questionable. Similarly, while Church, the cat who comes and goes as he pleases, is adorable, he does seem slightly forced into the novel.
More problematically, Kit, a brand new character, is given a full introduction in the prologue that makes the reader fall in love with him, but it’s not until halfway through that he briefly reappears. The fact that Clare features him at the beginning and the end of the novel makes him seem both unnecessary and an inelegant solution for creating loose ends that can be developed in subsequent novels.
The novel deals with several intriguing themes, including the parallel between sexuality and race, and the societal exclusion that can result. As with Clare’s earlier novels, tensions between Nephilim and Downworlders, the Fey in particular, are prominent in Lady Midnight — stand-ins for the racial prejudice still present today.
Interestingly, Clare also explores what it’s like to love someone with autism and work around their difficulties without assuming a lack of proficiency or intelligence within the individual. She develops ways in which communication can be affected, and how hypersensitivity, routines and repetitive movements can come into play, especially in stressful situations, through an illustrative portrayal of Tiberius ‘Ty’ Blackthorn, a beloved member of the family. Autism is never mentioned by name. Instead, Clare uses descriptions rather than labels, allowing the reader to grasp the reality of the situation themselves.
Trauma is also developed through Mark Blackthorn where emotional scars can outweigh those of the body, even as they remain invisible to the eye. More generally, Clare touches upon the lack of acceptance of children who are ‘different’ in the wider Shadowhunter community, describing mental health issues and learning difficulties including depression and dyslexia in passing. While the list-like brevity detracts from the strength of her point, Clare successfully leaves the reader questioning the stigma that still remains within modern society, especially among older generations.
Lady Midnight might not be Cassandra Clare’s best work, but fans of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices will still likely find it an interesting read. We’ll see how the rest of The Dark Artifices turn out.
Lord of Shadows, the second book in Cassandra Clare’s series, The Dark Artifices, is due to be released April 2017, and a third book, The Queen of Air and Darkness, will complete the series.
Images: Quinn Wilson, Simon and Schuster