In which P. Pufferfish gushes about a series which she previously spurned.

I was going to talk about The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, or The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher, today, since I just finished them this week, but I have a talk/discussion on Tuesday with my library book club, so I’m going to wait till then to talk about The Sellout. In the meantime, I’m going to discuss a book trilogy that I read last month, but haven’t gotten around to talking about at all because of life and other distractions.

It’s… The Mortal Instruments (the first three books), by Cassandra Clare! Yes, groan and complain all you want– I know it’s been reviewed and talked about to death by every YA book blogger and booktuber, but after spending a day going down the rabbithole of booktube videos (prior to this week, I’d only ever watched one booktube video, but four days ago, I started watching one girl’s channel and then kept going), I’ve noticed that most of the reviews are about how amazing the books were and how everybody loves the dudes and the relationships, without really giving any details/reasons as to HOW they were amazing or why the dudes and the relationships are so great.

I’m going to backtrack a little: I’m new to YA. I only started reading YA novels last year, so I’ve read a grand total of about ten, give or take a few. I do remember one of my closest friends handing me City of Bones in a Barnes and Noble when we were about eighteen and gushing about how great it was, me standing there reading the first chapter or two, and then putting it back on the shelf and asking her, “Pandemonium? Really? And there’s a gleaming chest on the cover! What the hell?” I’d recently read the first few chapters of Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz (I THINK that’s the title, anyway) a few months before that, and that book also started with the main character standing in line to get into a nightclub. I was equally unimpressed by that book, obviously, so the annoyingly familiar set-up convinced me City of Bones wasn’t worth my time. Plus, I was going through a phase where I read a lot of “finding yourself” novels like Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name (which is still one of my favorite books, btw). Clearly, this wasn’t going to cut it.

Fast-forward back to the present, and I’m stuck eating my words plain, no ketchup allowed, because lo and behold!– I devoured that gleaming chest-book, I am now a fan of The Mortal Instruments, I read Clockwork Angel and enjoyed that as well, and I just know I’m going to read my way through all the Shadowhunter-related books sooner or later. Oh, my. My friend who originally recommended the book to me has since lost her enthusiasm towards the series, and recently warned me not to read past the third book (in fact, she said I could get away with reading only the first two and not miss out on much, but I disagree with that, because who only reads 2/3 of a trilogy?!). “I read all six only for Magnus and Alec! They are the only saaving grace!” she said. My sister also refuses to read past City of Glass because she doesn’t want her “perfect ending” ruined. Unfortunately, I read the preview for City of Fallen Angels that was at the end of CoG and now I’m curious. What the hell’s up with that love triangle involving Simon, though? Just what I need– another love triangle in a YA series that already (arguably) had more than one.

That aside, I would recommend this trilogy (I’m going to refer to TMI‘s first three books as a trilogy) to fans of the supernatural and urban fantasy genres; it’s set in New York and revolves around a group of people called shadowhunters who hunt demons. Cassandra Clare’s world-building, while not extensive or anything, is developed and explained well enough that I found it totally believable for this secret, worldwide network of warriors to exist behind-the-scenes, fighting off demons and other threats using archaic weapons and runes drawn on their skin. Clary Frey, the protagonist and POV character, grew up in the “mundane” world (the ordinary human/muggle world that the rest of us are part of), but gets drawn into the politics and conflicts of the world of the shadowhunters because of her mother’s ties to it (which she isn’t aware of at the beginning of the series). In typical “book with a secret organization” style, we get to know the shadowhunters, their traditions, history, methods of operations, beliefs, narrow-mindedness, racism, etc. through her eyes. The shadowhunters, as another very important character notes, are a dying race, but as the story progresses, we realize, along with Clary, that they don’t have to be so long as they can adapt to the fast-changing times instead of stubbornly doing things the way they’ve always done. There’s definitely a generation gap thing going on with the young vs old characters (with a few exceptions); very relatable, imo, especially now that I’m older (but still young enough) and have found myself in similar situations quite frequently as of late.

So let’s talk a bit about the characters. I personally like Clary and didn’t find her annoying, which was a huge relief, because I find so many YA heroines to be unbearably annoying. There are moments, especially in the third book, where I wanted to join some of the other characters in yelling at her for being reckless and stupid, but hey, which protagonist doesn’t do at least one stupid thing in a series? I thought her accomplishments outweighed her transgressions, so I give her a B+ as a protagonist. The main dude, Jace Wayland, aka he who everyone swoons over in reviews, is my favorite character because he is HILARIOUS. I laughed out loud at some of his lines– I honestly didn’t expect for him to be that funny, because I’m used to the lead male in a YA series being more like Edward Cullen (UGH, don’t get me started) or the dude from Fault In Our Stars. Even while brooding and being angsty, Jace’s sense of humor doesn’t really waver, and I appreciate that about him so much. Another character with some funny lines is Simon, Clary’s mundane best friend who is (*dramatic gasp*) in love with her. Unfortunately, Simon is like Mal from the Grisha Trilogy (but funnier), so his existence and actions are almost entirely dependent on Clary. Then there are the Lightwood siblings (aka the only other young shadowhunters in the New York Institute), Alec and Izzy. I adore Izzy– I love how confident and bad-ass she is. She’s beautiful and aware of it, and nothing really gets to her; she just shakes it off and keeps going, the one truly stable character in a cast of sometimes irritatingly unpredictable and angsty people. Alec, as most of us know, is one half of Malec, the famous ship that compelled my friend to read three whole books that she didn’t want to read. I find him endearing, but also kind of annoying at the same time. He’s beautiful like Izzy, but shy, insecure, cautious, gay-but-closeted– very much a product of his upbringing. He takes a long time to warm up to Clary, he talks down to Simon, and I honestly didn’t get why Magnus was so enthralled by him in the first book (although I strongly suspect it was initially a purely physical thing), but good news: there is character development in the works here! He IS only eighteen, and considering when this book came out, his fear of being outed makes a lot of sense. I grew up in the dark ages, i.e. I’m the same age as Alec, if we stick to book timelines/dates, and I remember LGBTQ acquaintances in high school behaving the same way he did. There was this sense of uncertainty when it came to how people would react, and people like me, who supported them, would show that support by treating the subject of sexuality as if it were a non-subject (yikes), and kind of not talking about it to be polite/show that we were cool with it. It’s hard enough being an awkward teen without having to deal with that shit on top of everything. But yes, Alec is one of the few characters who does change as the series continues, so I was cool with him by the time I finished CoG. Which brings us to the other half of the Malec ship, Magnus Bane. Magnus isn’t really a part of the quintet, because he is Alec’s cool older “boyfriend”/more of a consultant figure that shows up from time to time, but he’s a scene stealer and can give Jace and Izzy a run for their money when it comes to standing out in a crowded room. He’s funny, sexy, and very intelligent. He’s also an immortal warlock, and this here’s my favorite thing– it’s not just mentioned once and then brushed off, it’s actually an essential part of his character. One of my biggest problems with immortal characters, particularly immortal love interests, is that they usually behave exactly like the other, actual young adults around them, but have the label of “200 years of age” or whatever attached to them, and then it’s all illogical and doesn’t make sense. Stefan from The Vampire Diaries TV show is like this (and I am a TVD fan), and so is Edward Cullen. They’re dudes who seem to have been hanging out, not doing much, biding their time for years upon years upon years until their love interests show up– it’s as if their lives have been in stagnation all this time. Not so with Magnus! This is a guy who’s been very busy for the past couple of centuries, sort of like Lestat from Interview With The Vampire. I swear, The Vampire Chronicles have ruined me for all other series featuring immortality– nobody has been able to capture the complicated nature of it quite like Anne Rice did. I think Cassandra Clare has managed to dig past the surface, but she’s still not there yet.

In terms of plot/writing/pace, City of Bones felt like a first novel– some of the dialogue and narration was a bit awkward and/or repetitive, especially Clary’s responses to things. The pacing worked, though, despite Cassandra Clare choosing to tell rather than show us a good chunk of the book. The characters were much more likeable in City of Ashes, thanks to the developments in CoB, and there were some classic humorous scenes, but I was so bothered/turned off by the borderline not-incest-incest that I didn’t enjoy it as much (it also took up like thirty pages or something throughout, so I couldn’t just ignore it). City of Glass is probably the best of the three– the villains are great, the way the book is split up (multiple narrators, parts, etc.) worked well, and all the characters play important parts in the way events unfold. I did think the final battle was a bit rushed, but things were resolved in such a logical way that I can’t really complain about it. Overall, I would give the trilogy combined 3.75/5 stars, because I liked it a lot (going by Goodreads’s ratings system), but it did have its problems, which make me hesitate to give it a full 4 stars.

P.S. I do not watch Shadowhunters, the show, because I tried watching one episode and couldn’t get past the bad special effects and the weird way the scenes are filmed/paced. It’s a pity, because it looks great from the gifsets I keep seeing on Tumblr. I’m also one of those annoying book purists, so it really bothers me that they made so many changes (like introducing technology to the institute WTF….).  The City of Bones movie’s pacing/line delivery is much better, but I prefer Katherine McNamara as Clary, Matthew Daddario as Alec, and Emeraude Tobia as Izzy, so it’s books and imagination only for meeee…

In which P. Pufferfish discusses Romance and the Chosen One trope in Siege and Storm

I never thought I’d say this, but I finally managed to slog through Siege and Storm (thanks, Spring Break!) after two weeks. No offense to Leigh Bardugo or anything, but the Grisha Trilogy just doesn’t have the same oomph that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom do. They’re all pretty dark books, but the casts are very different in how they handle all the darkness and the shit they’re forced to deal with. Quick summary time (spoilers abound!).

The book: Siege and Storm (book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy, by the amazing and talented Leigh Bardugo)

The genre: Fantasy, YA

What it’s about: I’m going to assume anyone who happens to be looking at this has read Shadow and Bone already, sooooo… this book started off slow for me. Alina and Mal are on the run, working the equivalent of a migrant farm labor job to pay for a bed (singular) in a room in a shady boarding house. I forgot that they’re about seventeen years old, so I kept rolling my eyes and wondering how the hell they thought they could just run away from their problems and attempt to live a peaceful life in a foreign country when Ravka’s conflicts are just going to bleed over the border sooner or later. Anyways, since it’s from Alina’s POV, there’s a lot of musing about Mal and his good lucks and his loyalty, and then the Darkling shows up and captures them again, taking them aboard a ship he’s commissioned for the voyage home. He uses Alina and Mal against each other, forcing them to do things ’cause “if not, I’ll destroy her face!” or “I’ll throw him overboard!” Typical threats like that.

I should mention that here, things get a bit more interesting, because they introduce a new character, the notorious Sturmhond, privateer and captain of the ship they’re all on. Sturmhond is all about the money, but that’s okay, ’cause he also seems to have morals and a sense of honor (of sorts). So without any further spoilers, the rest of the book involves hunting legendary creatures, war plans, behind-the-scenes battles for the Ravkan throne, the overturning of traditions and convention, fanaticism, etc. “But wait!” you say, “This totally sounds like your kind of book, P!” It does, and in a way, it still is my kind of book, but there’s the glaring issue of

The romance: There is a lot of romance in this book. It’s not in the background, like it is in Six of Crows. It’s very in-your-face, and unfortunately, it’s kind of interwoven with the plot, as in, if this romance did not exist, I don’t think events would play out the way they do. This is also the reason I took so long getting through the damn thing, ’cause Mal and Alina are so meh as a couple. They don’t have much chemistry. When I was reading Siege and Storm, I kept hoping Mal would get with Zoya and Alina would get with the Darkling, but of course the Darkling turned out to be pure evil and no longer a romantic possibility (*siiiggghhh*). It sucks, ’cause Leigh Bardugo wrote so much chemistry into the Alina-Darkling “relationship” that now everything else pales in comparison. Even her strange not-really-romance with the other male character that plays a prominent role in this book (I wonder who?) doesn’t work– I personally prefer the two of them as friends/a power duo in a professional sense, so I hope she doesn’t go down that path in the third book.

Towards the last twenty or so pages, though, I did start reevaluating my stance on the Alina/Mal romance. I wonder if the reason why I don’t ship them is because I’m so used to the Chosen One character (in this case, Alina, obv) being destined for a greater romance than just her childhood best friend. You all recognize the familiar fantasy tropes, right? Usually, it involves a male Chosen One who more often than not does show interest in one of the village girls (a laundress or something– pretty, kind, would make a good wife) and then has to leave his old life behind to go on his quest/fulfill his destiny/save the world, and along the way, he meets somebody else, somebody more “worthy” (a duchess! A princess! A sorceress!), and everyone knows he’ll end up with that person in the end because halfway through the book, he’s no longer the poor, insignificant village boy he was at the beginning. Mal is by no means an ordinary person himself (he’s extraordinarily gifted and would probably have risen pretty high in the ranks if Alina and her destiny hadn’t gotten in the way), but he’s no Grisha lord or prince. And both Alina and Mal realize this. It comes up a lot in their arguments. They spend the first half of this trilogy fighting against the roles they’re expected to play in a traditional Chosen One fantasy story arc. It would really be something if they managed it. Huh. Perhaps I can get behind this pairing after all. More on that in the review for book 3.

Overall, would I recommend this? Uh, considering that it’s the second book in a trilogy (which was off to a great start!) and ends in a cliffhanger, yes, I think you have to read it, if only to know what happens to everyone. Also, one word: NIKOLAI. Read it for him, if anything.