It’s been a long time since I worked a book, or series, the way I’m working this one.
I hate to admit it’s YA fiction that’s got me, but Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter world is irresistible. I started with The Infernal Instruments series. It’s three books about Tessa, half Shadowhunter half warlock, and her two great loves Jem and Will. It takes place in Victorian England which cures my historical romance obsession.
Then The Mortal Instruments series, in which the first book was so awful I had to choke it down (I think it must be Clare’s first) but through which the writer’s craft (and editor) got better. This one follows teenagers Clary, Simon, Jace, Alec, and Isabelle.
There isn’t the chapter trickery of Twilight — remember that? — where something really intriguing happens at the end of the chapter to keep you reading. There are plenty of good stopping points.
The books aren’t short, the Kindle versions are over 400 pages each and the hard copies (in which I read the Clockwork series) are like bricks.
The characters aren’t that deep. Jace is always brooding and tortured, Clary always irrational, Simon usually whiny. The parents are all short-sighted, self-centered, and less talented than the teens.
The stock mythology of vampires and werewolves is rather unoriginal. But there’s enough new mythology to be intriguing. Simon turns into a vampire but drinks a Shadowhunter’s blood and becomes Daylighter, or one who can go out in the sunlight. That’s cool.
Alec and Isabelle are Shadowhunters, they’re the highest rank and yet they both fall in love with Downworlders — non-Shadowhunters like warlocks and vampires. While it’s not new to have a cross-breed romance, it is interesting to see how their prejudices and expectations are challenged.
The writing isn’t stellar. Like all writers, Clare has her go-to phrases that appear again and again. Some of the description is cliche and some of it is tedious. But by the third book in the Mortal Instruments and throughout the Clockwork series, she’s on par with most commercial fiction.
Despite all of these shortcomings, when I finished City of Ashes and my Kindle said, “Buy the next one?” I said, “Well, yeah. Duh.” And the next. And the next.
Mostly I’m interested in the two things: 1) the mythology: specifically of vampires since I have a vampire novel in progress, too; and 2) the sex.
A word about the vampire mythology: it’s pretty stock. Regular rules like already-dead creatures who are satisfied with animal blood but love human blood, cold skinned, no heartbeat, night dwellers, living on the fringe of society.
But there’s also some new religion stuff, about saying the word God and bearing curses and that kind of thing that changes the old vampire myths into Clare’s own version.
And, now, about the sex: I love teenager sexual attraction. The confusion of hormones and emotion. The surprise of discovering how to express physical desire. I love the hunger that teenagers have because the experience is so new. I love the fear that tempers their passion.
I’ve written my own stories, recalling the intensity of desire on the night before I went to college in Before Daylight and remembering the way the high school love affair breaks apart through Brian and Kacie in A Moment When the World is Silent.
It’s an era I can never get back to. One I miss without regret and remember without sadness.
There’s a single-mindedness to teenager love that cannot exist in the multiple-dimensional world of adults. It’s a fun place to visit via books like Clare’s. It’s also frustrating, as the characters come close — really close — but rarely ever actually complete the act.
So maybe that’s the drive to finish one book after the next, the simple question of when is all that desiring and groping and wanting and heavy breathing going to be satisfied? Teenager sexual tension will drive a novel better than compelling characters, intricate plot lines, inventive mythology, and story structure. Or at least get a reader addicted. This reader anyway.