The Mortal Instruments in Pros and (Mostly) Cons

So, as a sequel to Monday’s post, I thought that today I’d talk about The Mortal Instruments (the first trilogy) in terms of pros and cons.


As a disclaimer, though I still don’t think I hate the trilogy—it’s just not boring or offensive enough to hate (at least, offensive within the story; the iffy ethics of how it came to be are offensive)—it did go downhill for me, as most trilogies do. (There’s a whole post about that, I think. The only exception off the top of my head: Catching Fire.)

Seeing as I started from the point of “I didn’t hate it,” I didn’t end up in a positive place. I ended up in a place that isn’t hate, but it’s kind of a hot, humid swamp island swarming with mosquitoes. And the trilogy didn’t so much go downhill as it rolled down in a garbage can off a cliff, screeching in glee at the suckers tiptoeing down in their hiking boots.

But we were talking about cons and pros. So. I’m going to include major spoilers in this post, because it’s difficult to talk about some of the issues I have with these books (and a few of the things I liked) without talking about the plot twists.

Pro: The potential of the setting paid off, at least a bitReading City of Bones, the backdrop of New York felt more like namedropping than a place. It had potential, but was underused. Clare makes more of this over the course of City of Ashes and City of Glass, and through Clary, she demonstrates a familiarity with (and love for) New York that is actually kind of charming. I do still wish she’d rooted her supernatural underworld more specifically in New York (give me details!), but it was surprisingly decent. The Shadowhunter homeland, Idris, is also vividly described, if mechanically baffling.

Con: The plot is very derivative. I mean, most plots in general aren’t original per se, and there are a lot of similarities across genre YA. But the villain is the protagonist’s father who is trying to unite three legendary objects to Rule the (Shadowhunter) World, and how convenient, the trilogy is also a trilogy. There’s a love triangle where one of the guys is the heroine’s best friend and one isn’t. You can guess where it goes from there.

Con: The author drops the ball a lot re: dramatic stakes. She hesitates to kill characters we know beyond a couple of quick exchanges; most of the casualties of war are basically just names, and thanks to healing runes and deus ex Magnus Bane, life-threatening injuries to important characters are hardly stride-breaking. Also, the adult Clave of Shadowhunters that we know of are mostly people who were on the villain’s side in the initial conflict and they choose (prior to Clary’s help) to be enslaved by the bad guy who kills anyone at will rather than collaborate with Downworlders (warlocks/werewolves/etc.)—or they generally just act like snotty jerks to the main characters who have Seen Some Shit, so there’s really no reason to care if they drop like flies.

Pro: Some of the characters are likable and/or interesting. Magnus Bane, mostly, but I generally like Simon. Also Raziel seems like a cool angel-guy in his minor book-time.

Con: Other characters seem one-dimensional or read as blatant rip-offs. Sigh, Luke. It’d be nice to like you, because I like “family isn’t just blood” storylines plenty. But you’re just Remus Lupin. Isabelle is just so one-dimensional I’d like to scream, especially since it starts to seem like Clare is using her to make Clary “not like other girls.” How about no. It’d also have been cool if Alec had a personality beyond being self-loathingly gay (sigh). And speaking of a lack of character development…

Con: No one ever trains Clary, including Clary. Clary finds out in the first book that she’s a Shadowhunter, and all the training that she gets is that Magnus allows her to read some runes. That comes in handy, but since Clary’s in the middle of a conflict, it would stand to reason that someone should train to her defend herself, much as all of her peers can do. Only no one tries to do this or get this done, Clary included. So they just look down on her and try to refuse to bring her into dangerous situations, which she runs into or gets dragged into, anyway. And they know she will run in or get dragged in, because she’s reckless and stubborn and also pivotal in the conflict. Why. 

Pro: The mythology of the series has a lot of potential to be interesting. Demons are from other worlds; Downworlders are human-demon hybrids; Shadowhunters are human-angel hybrids; angel/demon blood has particular effects.

Con: …but this trilogy doesn’t do much with that potential. We don’t get to know much about any type of demon in particular and not too much about Downworlders. The angelic skills that Shadowhunters have and the way their not-magic works is hazy. (How are they projecting images of themselves? What can runes do or not do? Why is the leader of one vampire nest in New York the rep for all vampires in the world?) “All the stories are true” but we only really get them framed within a Christian and/or North American mainstream perspective. Given that Clary is a newcomer to this world, it’d make sense if she were more curious about all of this (that’s usually the point of the fish out of water trope), but she seems more interested in, well, Jace. Which brings us to…

Con: The Clary/Jace plot. In Bones, I felt refreshed by the fact that the built-up-as-endgame couple turned out to be siblings and thus couldn’t be together. I mean, kind of twisted since they’d already kissed and gotten into each other, but cool—here’s a way of changing the romance game that I didn’t expect, because instead of throwing obstacles at Clary/Jace, the plot straight up ruled out Clary/Jace. I thought maybe there’d finally be a story where dating the best friend (Simon) wasn’t actually doomed, or Clary might drum up a new intriguing love interest, but Clary/Simon lasted about ten seconds and Jace and Clary spent the entire rest of Ashes and Glass moping about being together or briefly being together then moping, until it turned out they weren’t related after all, because spoiler alert, Voldemort/Valentine lies about stuff!

Con: …and the way Clary and Jace act during the Clary/Jace plot. This is pretty much an irritating eye-rollfest, with a side of “why can’t these people be mature enough to let it go and not do incest.” That Jace and Clary hardly even try to think of and treat each other as siblings and instead just will-they-won’t-they while angsting comes off poorly. The last minute “lol jk not incest” seems to act to justify those actions rather than pave the way for a healthy relationship, so it still feels a little iffy, especially for this type of novel. Fanfiction is a sandbox of anything and everything and V.C. Andrews books are meant to shock with this kind of stuff, but that’s not the situation here, and someone should’ve sent Clare that memo.

Pro: Simon is the world’s most mundane vampireSimon just wants to not tell his mom he drinks blood and play D&D and be in a band and go to school. He likes that he can run fast. Simon deserves a better story, to be honest.

Con: The book switches perspectives in a way that doesn’t always feel natural, and some perspectives are weaker than others. The author restricts herself to a third-person limited that generally sticks with Clary in Bones, but expands more to others in subsequent books. The switch to Maia’s perspective at first feels fresh, but later seems forced when she is an unimportant character whose deep inner workings and opinions of the main characters are plot-irrelevant. Jace’s perspective might be necessary to see everything that happens, maybe, but being in his head feels pretty anti-climactic, given Clary’s building-up of him. (Jace comes off as pretty gullible and we get very little insight as to how he really feels/thinks, which is weird?) Simon is as close as these books get to a precious cinnamon roll (too good, too pure), so I’ll count him (and not always sticking with Clary, who later becomes irritating because of Clary/Jace) as a kind of pro.

Con: Subplots and secondary characters often dead-end. Hodge dramatically betrays them in the first book and runs off, and Jace doesn’t tell the family about the betrayal. Then Hodge turns up in the last book, says nothing particularly profound, and promptly dies. It felt like there was a plan there for the character that just…didn’t pay off? Similarly, the followers of Valentine that Luke encounters in Bones disappear, Max seems to die because Clare has no other named character she’s willing to off, Aline exists just to be caught fooling around with Jace the one time, and so on. I guess Maia maybe dates Simon in later books, but probably just as a source of conflict for Simon/Isabelle? More or less: everyone uses their characters as plot devices to some extent, but they should also feel like people who have a reason to be in the story other than causing a small plot point.

I could go on, probably, but we’re already barely getting one pro to every two cons, so perhaps let’s not. It suffices to say that I really don’t recommend The Mortal Instruments books, and I’m not going to read the rest of them! (Don’t worry, I read the summaries of books ahead. I’m certain I’m not interested.) I’ve already wasted enough time. But, on the bright side, I feel better about not hating City of Bones. 

Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll see you next week!

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