The (justly) successful Twilight series has spawned an immense swamp of imitators, of which the Mortal Instruments series is the loudest of current voices. It is the loudest, but despite some initial promise and interesting settings, the Mortal Instruments books by Cassandra Claire fail to live up to its promise.
There is a lot of promise in this series, some dramatic characters and an interesting mythology. The semi-human descendents of angels, nephilim, are called Shadowhunters, and young teenage Clary and her nerdy friend Simon encounter a kill that they should not have been able to see. These young warriors walk around unseen fighting and killing the many evil creatures that roam the worlds. Unlike Twilight the Mortal Instruments series sticks with familiar understandings of vampires and werewolves. Shadowhunters get their power from runes that they paint onto their skin, which is an interesting and useful magic system. The images-to-power idea turns into a critical idea in the plot, which is encouraging.
Most of the characters in this book are interesting and well-cast. The Shadowhunter kids are diverse, assertive, and interesting. Simon and Clary are a fun set of lifelong friends who manage some good banter. Supporting casts include the perpetually witty Magnus Bane, a flamboyantly homosexual warlock who is the city’s information and power broker. Lucian the werewolf plays a devoted but ostracized ally that brings back memories of Harry Potter’s Sirius Black.
The sole exception to the interesting character rule is the main romantic interest, Jace. He is horrid, verbally and physically aggressive to everyone, and even though we learn part of the reason why that is, it doesn’t change. Jace is the first problem with this story. Everyone loves him, because he’s hot, and good at fighting. Really? About halfway through the first book I became irritated with the boy. He wasn’t just aggressive physically, he was verbally and emotionally bullying. He lied. He cheated. He sneaked around and was untrustworthy and unlikeable in any other way than swinging a sword and being attractive.
And every character remotely the same age as Jace wants him. The warlock, the heroine, his adopted brother (yes, incest is no bar for sexual attractions in this sick supernatural world), his adopted sister…
GK Chesterton had a quote about the fiction that I still love: “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
The themes that made people like me love Twilight, almost against our wills, were underlying ideas that very much identify the author. Families love and defend one another, stick together, and grow together. Growing together they help one another overcome their limitations.
In Mortal Instruments families lie, betray, back-stab, and tear one another down. They brainwash, torture, bully, and abandon their children. They cheat on their spouses, and generally act on the moral and ethical level of pagan barbarians. Whoever has the power makes the rules. The Shadowhunters are cast-oriented, isolationist, violent, legalistic oppressors in such a way that we easily start sympathizing with vampires and werewolves compared to them.
This would work better, insofar as it works at all, if the premise to the supernatural world’s power structure wasn’t that the Shadowhunters were part angel, imitating angels works.
So… where are the angels? Nowhere to be seen. Where is God? Completely irrelevant. Shadowhunters drink, fornicate, commit homosexual acts, slander one another, lie, gossip, covet, and murder. The ‘heroes’ are the living embodiment of the 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 list of people we might be deceived into thinking are going to heaven if we weren’t warned about it. For those who think that the fact that more than sixty percent of the male teenage cast turns out to be gay is a liberating thing, please believe me that the homosexual rights movement would be better off if no one associated drug-dealing, abuse-enduring, self-debasing closet cases and flamboyant rampant promiscuous types with homosexuals everywhere. Straight or not, Simon and Clary are the only characters with any personal integrity in the opening book, and Simon’s integrity only lasts until chapter two or three of the next.
A world of superheroes with angel powers, they act more godless than any people I’ve ever encountered. The book is well-written. The movie’s special effects and acting look amazing. And I’m no prude, but settling for the dishonest, disloyal, manipulative message of these books makes me want to take a shower to feel clean after.
I would say that the underlying message of Twilight is that family and love overcome all odds, making us stronger than we ever thought we could be. I only made it halfway through the third book in this series before I put it down and could stomach no more.
I was glad when my niece picked up Twilight, where she would read about a young man who sacrifices his most urgent desires out of love and self-discipline for the ones he loves. I hope she never reads this, where an endless string of sexually damaged people sacrifice their self-respect and dignity to chase after a morally bankrupt, violent, verbally abusive man. That’s when the 15-year-old characters aren’t hanging out with drug-abusing homosexually promiscuous openly evil magic users. This series is rife with the sort of thinking that lands women in shelters and emergency rooms. Avoid at all costs.