Review: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

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Rating: ★½

Today’s review is a little different: I’m reviewing a whole series, The Mortal Instruments, instead of a single book, as you probably have already noticed.

This review contain spoilers for all the books.

I read TMI’s first book, City of Bones, almost five years ago in Portuguese and I remember liking it a lot. YA novels were starting to become popular here in Brazil back then (thanks to Twilight, of course), but most of them had way too much romance for me, a long time adult high-fantasy fan & an aromantic teen (though I didn’t know I was aromantic yet – I just knew I couldn’t deal or care about books where romance was too important). I think that’s why I liked CoB; even though it did have romance, it wasn’t the focus and I could easily ignore it. Things changed in City of Ashes and City of Glass thanks to the whole I’m-your-sibling drama, but the story still held my interest. I love angels – or winged humanoid creatures in general – and I was curious, so I kept reading and was somehow entertained by everything. Alec and Magnus were my first queer characters ever too, so there’s that.

But not even my 15 year old self could liked City of Fallen Angels. The book was so awful I ended up selling almost all my Cassandra Clare books after finishing it and then I proceeded to forget I had ever read anything by her. I think only my copy of the Brazilian edition of City of Bones remains hidden in my shelves somewhere.

But years passed and now that Lady Midnight is out in the wold, I decided to give the series another chance. Plus, I heard that Clare said Raphael, her latino character, was asexual and aromantic, so that also piqued my interest.

And well… Rereading TMI wasn’t a pleasant experience. You know how people say that it’s a good idea to never reread books you liked when you were younger? These people are right. Reading the first TMI trilogy again, I couldn’t for the life of me understand how I liked them in the first place. Not only because they are bad in technical level – the writing is annoying at times, the characters are weak, etc – but because some things are, well, creepy.

Simon, for example. The first time I read TMI I didn’t care for Simon. I didn’t find him funny or like him. To be honest, I just wished he would go away because I’ve always hated love triangles and the whole Simon-Clary-Jace thing was getting on my nerves, but rereading the books now I realize that he’s total a Nice Guy. He is upset when Clary gets close to Jace (or really, when they talk), he blames her for ~breaking his heart~ when he confesses his feelings for her and she doesn’t feel the same (he literally says “my mom knew you would break my heart” I’m being 100% serious here), he says he was sure she would eventually realize she had feelings for him too (just because he was in love with her???), he tries to make Jace promise he would convince her he (Jace) doesn’t feel anything for her anymore (so she would forget Jace too, one imagines) and overall treats Clary more like an object than a person. It’s infuriating.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand being upset that the person you are in love with doesn’t love you back the way you want them to, but there is a difference between being upset and hurt and actively blaming them for not loving you, and Simon crossed that line, no doubt about that.

Things change completely in the second trilogy, because guess what, Simon is not in love with her anymore, so she gets to be a person to him. Really.

Not that Jace is much better. I liked Jace in the first book, back when I read City of Bones for the first time. I even named my cat Jace (he is now called Bibi, since I started hating Jace in book 2 even in my first read. Thanks, old self) and I think he could have been a good character if Clare hadn’t decided to make everything about him be, well, about his relationship with Clary. Jace isn’t really a character. He is a bottomless pit of angst, because that’s what the author thought would make Jace/Clary interesting, with him being the tortured, self-hating hero and Clary being the one who puts him together. Not one thing about Jace is about Jace, if you at him for more than two seconds.

And well, he still doesn’t respect Clary’s decisions. The most glaring example of this happens in the third book, when Clary wants to go to Idris to talk to Ragnor Fell about a cure for her mother, and he lies to her about when they are going so she misses the Portal and ends up not going because he already decided it isn’t safe for her to go. Clary goes by herself anyway and he then 1) gets mad at her 2) insults her and 3) angsts about how awful he is because of that. Really.

This isn’t romantic. This is insulting. Reading City of Glass was actually uncomfortable this time, because, of course, nothing was ever addressed, and everything was about how much the characters could angst about their relationships.

And that’s my main problem with TMI: everything is about the relationships, even when the books are trying their hardest to convince you that no, it isn’t, that there is a plot about the world needing to be saved in there somewhere. The characters only exist in relation to the relationships they are in (there are no characters that aren’t in a relationship in this series – if there are, they end up dead), the narrative only focus on how the plot events affect these relationships and by the end of the last book even the villain, Sebastian, drops all his plans of world domination to stay with his sister in a dead world. In the end, everything boils down to the twisted relationship between Sebastian and Clary.

Now, the focus on relationships isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, I believe that it doesn’t matter the genre, what really makes a book good are the characters and the relationships between them, but the problem is, the relationships on focus in TMI are only romantic relationships. Everything else is neglected, including the characters themselves.  Alec and Jace’s friendship? Clary and Simon’s? Isabelle and Alec’s or Isabelle and Clary’s? Clary and Jocelyn’s? Nah. These don’t matter to Clare.

And the thing is, you can’t have a good, well developed relationship if the characters aren’t good and well developed themselves. So the whole series fails because it is built on relationships involving characters that are too weak to stand by themselves. Alec, Isabelle and Raphael were by far my favorites, but even with them I have to admit that I like more the idea of them than the actual characters, that is, I like what they could have been and not what they are, because the author doesn’t do much to develop them through the series.

Alec and Magnus’s relationship falls flat to me because of that, in part; first, because I don’t care about Magnus, second because their relationship is never shown before the third book (where it is already mid-development? It’s really weird) and third, because Clare failed beautifully at dealing with the obstacles she herself built to keep Alec and Magnus apart/to create tension between them.

(No, really. These obstacles were 1) the Shadowhunter’s homophobia, which is never dealt with even though it was supposed to be a Big Deal if we take Isabelle’s reaction to Clary’s guessing Alec is gay in City of Bones in consideration, 2) Magnus’s immortality, which is the main source of tension between them in the second trilogy, but that’s written poorly and 3) the fact that Magnus is a Downwolder, which is forgotten and never brought up again for some reason?)

In the end, these books were meant to be an urban fantasy series, but ended up being a really long, angst filled love story. And well, remember how I first liked City of Bones because romance wasn’t the focus? So really, even if these romantic relationships were amazing, TMI wouldn’t have been for me.

But I didn’t dislike this series only because of the romantic relationships and the weak characters. It fails for other reasons too.

One of them is Jordan and Maia. I never thought Clare would bring Jordan – the guy who abused and turned Maia into a werewolf – back, but she does so in the second trilogy. Not only that, but Maia eventually forgives him (and they start a relationship, again) and all his actions are excused by the narrative because of his status as a recently turned werewolf at the time. Now, I think that maybe they could’ve worked together, but not in the way Clare wrote it – and she probably realized that (or the fans made her realize it, I don’t know) so puf, she killed Jordan off in City of Heavenly Fire in the most cheap way possible. And then, of course, she made Maia not be in love with him after all, which directly contradicted everything she had shown us in City of Lost Souls. Don’t get me wrong. I prefer Maia far away from Jordan, but killing him and making her not be in love with him out of nowhere was a very clumsy way of fixing things. It was bad writing.

Then there is Maureen, a newly born vampire, killing Camille, an ancient vampire and the leader of the New York clan. Nothing about it makes sense. I kept waiting for Camille to show up and, you know, not be dead, because Clare hyped her up so much and she was supposed to be so powerful, but then Maureen killed her? How? And she even died off-page?

Camille’s involvement in TMI was overall really poorly written, if you stop to think about it. Yes, she helped Lilith, but anyone could’ve done that. Camille was in TMI more thanks to her status as Magnus’s ex-lover than anything else. I’m pretty sure there is a short story about her and Magnus (or maybe she shows up in The Infernal Devices? I’ve only read Clockworkd Angel and I don’t remember if she shows up there) because here their relationship (past relationship?) felt so… extra. So here-only-to-make-Alec-angst, and then when it wasn’t more necessary, puf, gone, killed off-page by a vampire who was insignificant story-wise. Again, bad writing.

And there are so many instances of bad writing in this series. Simon’s sacrifice in the last book – losing his memories and being cut-off from the Shadow World – is almost immediately “cured”, Sebastian being incredibly inconsistent and almost cartoonish in his villainy and obsession with Clary, Clary’s powers being basically deus ex machinas… and the love at first sight thing. Oh, the love at first sight thing almost made me throw my tablet across the room.

I can understand crush at first sight or attraction at first sight. I don’t feel it because i’m acespec and arospec, but I know it is a Thing That Happens. But love? Nope, I don’t believe it. Clare does, though, and it makes her characters’ relationships incredibly cheap.

Clary and Jace, for example. It’s implied throughout the series that Jace fell in love with Clary at first sight. If I’m not mistaken, Isabelle even mentions that Jace “woke up” when she saw her, that he couldn’t stop talking about her after meeting her once. This isn’t realistic and it ruins any kind of development their relationship could have had. If he was already in love with her (and her with him, one supposes) since the beginning, why bother actually putting effort on building their relationship from scratch? Don’t bother, of course. See the problem?

It’s the same thing with Luke and Jocelyn. Luke was in love with Jocelyn since ever and she wasn’t. But then she was, out of nowhere? After they get together at the end of the third book, Jocelyn says, repeatedly, that she was already in love with Luke even before she married Valentine, but she just didn’t realize. I mean, what? What is the problem with Jocelyn falling in love with Luke later? What is the problem with her love changing from platonic love to romantic love? Why every romantic relationship in this series has to be this perfect thing out of a fairy tale?

It makes things so boring and so unrealistic it’s painful. But then, every romantic relationship in this series is painful, cheesy and boring.

Lastly, there is Raphael.

Ok, I know that when it comes to Raphael I’m mostly projecting. He’s a pretty minor character that doesn’t show up that much, so it’s safe to say – like I said above – that I like the idea of him more than I like him as the character Clare wrote, but the result is the same: he’s one of my favorite characters and one of the reasons I decided to give TMI another try. Ace latinxs are super rare, so I – an ace latinx – was super interested in him.

But he dies and I have so many issues with his death I don’t even know even know where I should begin.

First, his asexuality and aromanticism are never mentioned in the books. This is something Clare said on Twitter after the last book had already been released, that is, when he was already 100% dead. So, even if we ignore his sexuality and romantic orientation, his death is very cheap, written only for shock value. Also, it’s good to remember that Raphael was, at that point, Clare’s only latinx character.

Anyway, Raphael, Jocelyn, Magnus and Luke are kidnapped in City of Heavenly Fire and he dies when he refuses to kill Magnus to prove his new loyalty to Sebastian. Raphael is the only one in the kidnapped group that isn’t in a relationship – Magnus has Alec, Jocelyn and Luke have each other – and the only one who dies. This matters because, in my opinion, he died only to show how bad/serious things were & how awful Sebastian was. Clare wasn’t willing to destroy one of her precious romantic relationships though, so the single character had to go, and everyone else escaped almost unharmed. The fact that his connection to Magnus wasn’t, as far as I know, brought up until a few scenes before his death makes things even worse. It was so… unnecessary. Yeah, Magnus saved Raphael’s life, Raphael now sacrificed himself to save Magnus’s, but I just found out about it NOW, how am I supposed to care? (Apparently there is a short story about Magnus saving Raphael, but you know, I’m talking about here, the series only.) If his death was supposed to be for anything other than to show how supposedly bad things were, said connection should have been mentioned earlier, but really, who cared about Raphael’s death? Magnus? Simon? Nope. No one, not even the reader (unless you’re like me, I suppose).

And then there is the fact that he is ace and aro. Know what irks me about it? That the aroace character was the disposable one in the whole thing, the one who died when everyone who was in a relationship survived. I wonder why Clare decided to make him aroace, what made her think that him, the latino character who didn’t survive, who was never in a relationship and who was never seen as desirable, was aroace. Because there is this thing about aroace characters: allo authors are apparently unable to make the beautiful, desirable, important characters aro/ace. I mean, can you imagine her making Jace or Will or, I don’t know, Isabelle, aro or ace? Aro/ace characters are always old, ugly or simply treated by the narrative as out of reach, as celibate. Now, I know many aros and aces never date or have sex – I’m aroace and I never dated and I honestly think I never will – but there is a difference between never dating/having sex and being portrayed as disposable/undesirable. The former is normal, the latter is offensive.

Raphael’s aromantic, asexual and latino. I’m aromantic, asexual and latinx. Raphael is literally the first character I’ve ever seen who is the three things at the same time, even if he is Mexican and I’m Brazilian, and he dies while three allo characters survive (two of which are white). So, you know, this makes me angry, because Clare didn’t even bother to make his aromanticism and asexuality canon, got her diversity points anyway and killed him off as the disposable character she made him be.

This isn’t okay. It’s also not surprising. Clare’s books are so full of romantic love being treated as the most beautiful, sacred thing ever that it’s obvious that the aroace single character would end up dead (or, since I don’t believe she wrote him knowing he was aroace, it’s obvious the single dead character would be aroace). It’s still infuriating anyway.

So, you know, fuck that. 1.5 stars to The Mortal Instruments.

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

  1. Pingback: On headcanons – or why do aro/ace headcanons bother you so much? – angry elves

  2. Pingback: We are not the same – on Raphael, Jughead and Aro/Ace representation – angry elves

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