Home > Mitch's Musings > Shadowhunters and Downworlders: A Mortal Instruments Reader

Shadowhunters and Downworlders: A Mortal Instruments Reader

Shadowhunters and Downworlders

By: Holly Black / Kendare Blake / Gwenda Bond / Sarah Rees Brennan / Rachel Caine / Sarah Cross / Kami Garcia / Michelle Hodkin / Kelly Link / Kate Milford / Diana Peterfreund / Sara Ryan / Scott Tracey / Robin Wasserman

Release Date: January 29, 2013

Rating: 2 Stars

Summary: Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, epic urban fantasy set in a richly imagined world of shadowhunters, vampires, werewolves, fairies, and more, has captured the imaginations and loyalty of hundreds of thousands of YA readers. Originally a trilogy (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass), the series has extended to six titles, plus a prequel trilogy, the Infernal Devices, and a planned sequel series, the Dark Artifices. A feature film is planned for 2013. Shadowhunters and Downworlders, edited by Clare (who provides an introduction to the book and to each piece), is a collection of YA authors writing about the series and its world.

When you think of The Mortal Instruments, do you think, wow, this is such a hard-hitting series of such high literary value that it deserves an entire book of scholarly analysis? No? Me neither, which is why most of the essays in this collection reflecting on Cassandra Clare’s books didn’t work for me. A few authors, like Sarah Rees Brennan, get it right, but the majority of these ‘contributions’ seemed to be like written from the perspective of an English lit major doing a term paper on Shakespeare, and given what I know about the quality of City of Bones and its sequels, I’m being diplomatic when I say that’s really stretching it, looking for complexity, secondary meaning, moments of brilliance that are either sheer coincidence or simply not there.

As a disclaimer, I’m not really a fan of The Mortal Instruments, having only read City of Bones which I found mediocre at best and City of Lost Souls which was a favor (although I did enjoy The Internal Devices and kudos to Holly Black from bringing those books up), but I do like to read about authors sharing their thoughts on their works. Clare does an okay job in her introduction, sharing how she got the ideas behind Shadowhunters and Downworlders, but it’s kind of telling she only shares the story behind how she got the ideas behind the book and skirts around the writing process which is actually what I’m more interested in. There’s much more to writing a book than just world building and character development, and I’m disappointed Clare doesn’t discuss the elements, say dialogue, style, prose, that separate a story from a good book. Like, why introduce Clary to the Shadowhunter world the way she did in City of Bones? Why write the dialogue the way it is? What’s with the incest? Unfortunately, I’ll never know from reading this book.

But the bulk of Shadowhunters and Downworlders isn’t Clare discussing her book, it’s other authors discussing her book – and that’s the hit and miss part I alluded to earlier. I don’t know if Clare had a set goal for the essays, but if I were her I’d have set it as each author’s personal response to reading the books. Because the ones that were personal reactions to the series are so much stronger than the ones that tried to rationalize the books as something greater than what they really are via some literary analysis mumbo jumbo … take the first essay by Kate Milford discussing the hidden nature of the Shadowhunter world; I don’t think even Clare knows what the hell Milford’s written, because she’s doing a couple of incongruous things at once, praising Clare’s cleverness taking advantage of the New York setting as she’s creating this supernatural world that coexists but is hidden from ours, talking generally about this common enough plot device, and relating her personal experiences not necessarily involving her experiences reading the book. None of it really follows or comes together that well. Has Clare done a good job with the New York setting? In places, but does the writing warrant the kind of (deep but rather generic) insight Milford’s offering? Nah.

And it just goes on, Diana Peterfreund with more of a summary of the series (thanks though!) than how Jace’s snarky attitude actually worked for her, Kami Garcia with a thesis that could apply to almost every book I’ve ever read while never actually discussing why her rule matters in The Mortal Instruments for Simon or for Jace, Rachel Caine with a research paper on tattoos that has almost nothing to do with the books, and Kendare Blake with one of the most wacked out pieces I’ve ever read about the taboo of incest. Umm … it doesn’t take a geneticist or Mendel type to figure out the taboo’s because society has a compelling reason to prevent the horribly mutated spawn that would result thanks to all those messed up recessive alleles expressing themselves in children who are the product of incest. That alone moots every single one of her arguments and left me bashing my head on my desk as Blake tries to explore all these angles of justifying the squick … yeah, no thanks.

I’m not saying none of the essays are any good though. True, I said a lot of the essays suffer from their authors overanalyzing and overrationalizing the significance of the books, but Michelle Hodkin’s feels like an exception. Do I see the significance of Simon’s Jewishness while I’m reading the books? No, but that’s why I like Hodkin’s, she makes some interesting points about the character and his beliefs, and that’s the kind of essay I would’ve liked to see more of, one that digs deeper into an aspect of the book or presents an alternative way of thinking about Clare’s writing, and I truly wish more of the authors took this approach. Couple of other shout outs, Kelly Link and Holly Black get props for writing the transcript of what could be a book club discussion about immorality, and Sarah Rees Brennan for the best essay of the bunch, one filled with not only humor and her unique take on the books but for actually putting forth some positive reasons for supporting the series.

Bottom line, I expected A Mortal Instruments Reader to discuss the books, present ideas and (possibly new) points of view, not offer generic analyses mixed with plot summaries. As editor, the responsibilities fall on Cassandra Clare to make sure of that, and I have to fault her for not doing more editing so this book isn’t just a collection of essays full of big ideas of tangential importance to her series like it’s turned out to be. So while a few essays are quite interesting, it’s a meh overall.

Tldr: Mortal Instruments fans aren’t missing anything much by skipping this book

Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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  1. February 6, 2013 at 5:03 am

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