The Bane Chronicles: “I Can’t Get Enough Of Adventure …”

… and adventure cannot get enough of me.

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NOTE: This is an ARC that Simon & Schuster was giving out at ALA this year. I received it thanks to my friend who made the trip to Vegas. Natalie, I owe you a decadent breakfast at Aphrodite, hon.

Last December, when we decided to forgo a theme, I talked about The Bane ChroniclesSpecifically, about the fantastic audiobooks. This time, having completely caught up with all of the Shadowhunter Chronicles, I am here to talk about the print version.

As I mentioned in my old post, this is a series of short stories that feature a half Indonesian, half Dutch, “freewheeling bisexual” (his words, not mine) warlock named Magnus Bane. If I am not mistaken, it is one of the first of a bestselling fantasy series to have a queer, person of colour as a protagonist- which already makes it pretty damn special to me, and frankly, is what drew me to the entire universe to begin with.

If I had to give you guys a summary of this collection, I would pick this line from “The Runaway Queen”:

It was … a very bad idea.

It was a terrible idea.

It was the worst idea he had ever heard.

It was irresistible.

Basically, our fashion savvy protagonist has an affinity for bad ideas, high adventure, and beautiful people. The result is a series of interesting anecdotes and escapades.

For those who are unfamiliar to this universe created by Cassandra Clare, here’s the lowdown. There are Shadowhunters who hunt demons. And there are Downworlders who are not demons, but retain what some may perceive as “demonic” characteristics. Warlocks, for instance, are the children of rape i.e. when a demon deceives a woman (or “occasionally a man”) into conceiving an unnatural and, typically, magical child.

Though demons ought to be the real enemy for both factions of society, there is always some tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders. It is easy to understand where Downworlders are coming from since they are clearly the disenfranchised group and have been hunted and mistreated for years.

Arguably, the most interesting aspect of this series is actually seeing how Magnus deals with being alienated. As a result of being immortal he often has to see loved ones die or drift away from him, and he is often judged for not being white, or for being bisexual, or for being a warlock. To see him navigate these indignities with a lot of grace and an abundance of snark, is absolutely enjoyable. To see him want to love and be loved in return, despite being told that he was forsaken and essentially unlovable, is inspiring. And to see him make the choice to love (however hesitantly) instead of to hate, over and over again, is what makes him one of my favourite literary heroes.

Anyway, these stories by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Maureen Johnson cover a huge section of Magnus’ eventful life- starting from the 18th century all the way to the 21st century. The settings range from jazz age New York to France during the revolution, which means that not only were the locations researched but their individual histories are meticulously detailed as well. For more curious ones, there’s a great interview with Sarah Rees Brennan (by Malinda Lo) where she talks about the kind of work that went into the series:

I’m sure I didn’t get it all right. (Whereas Maureen and Cassie rocked the French Revolution, holy wow.) But I had to get it as close to right as I could, because it was so hugely important: this is history that does not get told. The vast majority of historical TV shows, movies and books are about white straight people. And I’m a white straight person, and that’s the history I’ve learned — the history that’s taught to so many people, giving us this awful, false idea of how history actually went down. There were balances to be struck — language about and concepts of sexual identity have changed. Times change, and people with them (e.g. one couple who as teenagers in 1870s England didn’t know how to recognise or discuss Magnus’s sexual fluidity, but they are aware of and comfortable enough with Magnus’s sexuality to chat about it with him by the time it’s 1903 in “The Midnight Heir”). I’m very sure I could have done better, but it was deeply important for us all to do the best we could.

It is interesting to see how these real sociocultural details work alongside the histories of the fictional Shadow world. For instance, one of my favourite short stories from the collection- “The Last Stand Of The New York Institute” (read by the incredible Jamie Bamber for the audiobook)- places the hunting of Downworlders against the backdrop of rising tensions against gay people and AIDs patients in the ‘80s. It is, for me, one of the most cleverly done stories. First, we see Magnus insulted by a random jerk for his perceived homosexuality. Then, we see him being attacked by a different jerk for being a warlock. We see him take a stand in both cases and, in the end, when placed in a position of power over those associated with his oppressors, he chooses an interesting solution*:

It occurred to Magnus how outraged Valentine would have been, to see his wife beseeching Downworlders, to think of his child in a warlock’s arms. Magnus’ thought of responding to Joceyn’s appeal with cruelty receded even further. This seemed the kind of revenge worth getting- to prove, even after Valentine’s death, how wrong Valentine had been.

Don’t get me wrong though, there are plenty of hilarious adventures (involving judgemental llamas and Queen Marie Antoinette) and some wonderfully disastrous dates (with vampires and humans and Shadowhunters alike) in the mix too. While these light-hearted ones reveal Magnus’ playful side, the not-so-funny ones prove Magnus’ mettle. I really appreciate the mix we are given in this anthology. I like the diversity in the people Magnus encounters, both as friends and romantic interests. I mentioned this before and I have to mention it again, the portrayal of Magnus as a character is consistent throughout despite having three different authors work on him.

Reading through the stories, I realize it is the first time I have been sold on a character being immortal. I can feel his age, I can feel his complex relationship with time, I can feel his alienation, and I can feel his joy upon belonging. I also enjoy reading him figure out whether it is a place that anchors him, or the people, or if it is a lucky mix of both. That conflict resonates strongly with me.

In the print version, each of the stories are prefaced with lovely artwork from Cassandra Jean. For example, this is the artwork for the bonus story (which is only available in the print format):

(It really kills me that Magnus saved his boyfriend’s number as “Sweet Cheeks”. It brings on a state that I like to call the “barfgiggle”.) I loved this extra story, but honestly, if you haven’t read the rest of The Mortal Instruments series this may not make you laugh out loud as it did me. Reading TBC alongside TMI is probably a good idea too. I have found certain characters to be much more interesting when seen through Magnus’ eyes- and these characters simply do not get the time they deserve to shine in the TMI series. I did find, however, that as I re-read the collection, I hear the words in my head in the voices of the extremely talented actors who did the audiobooks. Especially when non-English words are involved in the narrative. (BTW, do note that the audiobook narrators were as diverse as the characters in the stories. They were all incredible.)

So, basically, if you were new to this whole universe, I’d recommend you start with the audiobooks. If you liked The Mortal Instruments / The Infernal Devices (as I did) and you adore Cassandra Jean’s art (as I do), then the print version is worth it. Plus, it would be your opportunity to show publishers that, yes, readers are in fact interested in reading protagonists who aren’t white or straight.

All in all, it seems my love for this series has only grown over the past year. And now that both TMI and TBC are wrapped up …

… well, I guess I am eagerly awaiting a couple of non-white Shadowhunters who may/may not be queer. (God, I love it when writers take what fans ask to see and actually follow through on it. Just the best.)

Why You Should Read It:

Sometimes I imagine that every moment of my life as a turning point, and that even the smallest change in the choices I make would result in a completely different version of me. I suspect that in every AU version of myself, there are some books that I will always be destined to fall in love with and The Bane Chronicles is definitely one of them.

Why You Should Not Read It:

I worked very hard on the Why You Should section- at least give it a try?

*These kinds of details is what I feel are missing from other works of fantasy for kids and teens. We usually get perspectives from privileged/chosen one type characters, who somehow cannot convey the courage it takes to make choices like these.

6 responses to “The Bane Chronicles: “I Can’t Get Enough Of Adventure …”

  1. hello, yash!
    just wanted to let you know that i have been reading your article several times lately, just to understand it better, cause every time i did, something new turned up n.n i must admit that magnus is one of my favorite characters, but i had never seen him the way you describe him here. i mean, i never considered his historical background, the way he was raised, beyond what the first book mentioned. but the way you wrote this is just beautiful an made me rethink about the context and how hard it must have been for him to be gay and a non white person in that time and age. it would be an understatement to say that it opened my eyes to a new side of him….so….long story short….great work and thank you for writing this n.n

    • Hi! Thanks so much for such a great comment- I love hearing that my posts raised some interesting thoughts and questions in the minds of readers. I hope you get to read The Bane Chronicles soon. :)

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