In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.
A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.
Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.
Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?
So, months ago I wrote a review for Clare’s The Mortal Instruments in preparation for the release of Lady Midnight, but, as it’s probably obvious now, I never wrote a review for Lady Midnight despite having read it. Why? Well, I hated it. A lot.
Spoilers for the whole book below.
To be honest, I didn’t hate the book while I was reading it. As far as Clare’s books go, Lady Midnight wasn’t as bad as City of Heavenly Fire, for example. The characters were still bland & the characterization was still forced and clumsy, the romance was still melodramatic and annoying and the narrative still treated the protagonists as if they could do no wrong, but I liked the plot – I liked how Emma was determined to find her parents’ murderers & and I even enjoyed how she went from point A to point B aka how she solved the mystery. Mark, Julian’s half-brother who is also half-faerie & spent years as a prisoner with the faeries, was my favorite character, and the one that could have been interesting. Julian and Emma were Clary and Jace gender-swapped for me.
My problem with this book begins & ends with how it treats romantic & platonic relationships. Julian and Emma’s big drama is that they are parabatai & for some reason parabatai can’t fall in love. It’s forbidden. Now, parabatai are warriors deeply linked by platonic love – that is, their friendship is so strong they are basically platonic life-partners.
It sounds like queerplatonic relationships, doesn’t it? It does. I know that just me projecting (obviously), but well, it contributes to how I feel about the book’s revelation at the ending.
In the final chapters of Lady Midnight, Emma finally finds out why parabatai can’t fall in love. It’s because the parabatai ceremony increases the power of each parabatai, making the runes they make on each other stronger, but here is the catch: if the bond between them grows too close aka becomes romantic love, the runes become so strong they basically turn both parabatai in overpowered, power hungry monsters.
That’s right. The story clearly implies that romantic love is stronger than platonic love. I wouldn’t even say it implies – it says it outright.
That made me furious. I couldn’t believe the book was really going to die on this hill as I read the final chapters. After finishing it, then, I searched for reviews, to see if someone had said anything about it, but I found nothing. Not one review mentioned how wrong it is to say that romantic love is stronger than platonic love. At least, I didn’t find any, and if I’m being honest that’s what kept from writing this review for so long. I kept thinking that I was exaggerating since no one had said anything. But then again, it’s almost impossible to find aromantic bloggers out there.
What I did find, though, was an ask Cassandra Clare answered on her tumblr. You can read it here, but basically: someone pointed out that romantic love isn’t stronger than platonic love & Clare answered saying that nowhere in the book any character says it is.
Look. That’s what made me really mad. I pride myself in my reading comprehension and the book made it clear as water that romantic love is stronger than platonic love.
Here’s part of Clare’s answer:
Neither Jem (nor anyone else) indicates that romantic love is more powerful and that’s the cause of the parabatai curse. Romantic love is not more powerful or special than familial or platonic love, it is simply different in kind. The love someone feels for their mother is not the same love they have for their wife or husband. That doesn’t make either love stronger or better.
Here’s an excerpt from Lady Midnight:
“Ideally, the ceremony increases each parabatai’s power – runes given to each other are stronger – and the closer the personal bond, the greater the power. […] It was not long after the ritual had been in use for some generations,” Jem said, lowering his voice, “that it was discovered that if the bond was too close, if it tipped into romantic love – then it would being to warp and change the kind of power that was generated by the spell. One-sided love, a crush even, all that seems to pass by the rule – but real, requited, romantic love? It had a terrible cost.”
You can’t get clearer than that. I mean, just look at this: the closer the personal bond, the greater power + if the bond was too close, if it tipped into romantic love. If the problem was the bond being too close in general, it wouldn’t make sense to forbid only romantic relationships between parabatai. It would make sense to forbid all relationships that were too close, but only romantic relationships were forbidden, which implies that only romantic relationships can reach this level of closeness. It’s obvious that yes, the book says with all letters that romantic love is stronger/more intense & that it brings people closer than platonic love.
The fact that the author tried to make it seem like none of her characters said anything arophobic only makes it worse. It’s literally in the book & anyone can read it, and yes, it is arophobic. The idea that romantic love is somehow more important than platonic love is always arophobic and it is an idea that needs to die. I feel like I talk about it all the time, but one of the roots of the dehumanization aromantic people suffer from is the idea that romantic love makes us human, that romantic love is the most powerful and meaningful kind of love. If that’s true – if romantic love is really more important, powerful, meaningful, if it really is what makes us human – that how can aromantic people be human?
One of the most common arophobic stereotypes is that aromantic people are heartless, cruel and manipulative, all that because many of us never feel romantic love. I’m not exaggerating when I say, then, that keeping this idea that romantic love is more important/meaningful/what makes us human alive is actively harmful to aromantic people and that’s exactly what Clare does in Lady Midnight.
Back in my review of The Mortal Instruments I talked about how disappointed I was by the end of the last book. What first made me pick up City of Bones was the promise of a story that was fun & that wouldn’t focus too much on romance, but by the time I was done with the series I was sick of how Clare killed only the characters who weren’t in a relationship (cof Raphael cof, which, as I’ve also already talked about in my review of TMI, is a latinx character who is also aroace by word of the author and the only one who dies in the final chapters of City of Heavenly Fire). It’s pretty obvious to me that romantic relationships are what Clare is really worried about – which wouldn’t be a problem if the series hadn’t started as urban fantasy and not paranormal romance & if the single characters/aroace character weren’t thrown away because of this.
Honestly, I can’t think of another series that is so alienating and harmful to aromantic people as the Shadowhunters series is. In Clare’s books if you are 15+ and aren’t in a romantic relationship you don’t matter and is probably going to die soon. I’m not even kidding. There is this feeling of if you are not in a romantic relationship it is not worth to tell a story with you in it all over the books, or at least that’s the idea I get.
After Lady Midnight‘s disastrous and arophobic ending & Clare’s awful answer on her tumblr, I’m completely okay with saying that I’m done with her books and with her as an author. I’d only touch another book of hers if I was being paid for it – and even then it would need to be a lot of money. 1.0 star.