Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks … and before the murderer targets them. — [X]
How is it Friday already?! I don’t think I have the time to write a proper review for Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown today, so I’m going to switch up my schedule and talk about Lady Midnight instead. (Zen Cho will be raved about next week, promise!)
As you may or may not know, my love for Clare’s world has much to do with my love for a certain Magnus Bane. The more he appeared in the books, the more I was willing to read them and embrace the other characters. Slowly, I started to fall for all of them. However, this new series is set in Los Angeles, far away from Magnus and his crew, and I wasn’t sure if I’d care very much for these new characters who have little or no connection to the Downworlders of New York. Turns out, Clare’s strengths lie in the two things I look for in all the books I love–writing characters and writing magic–and I started to feel things for these strangers too.
God, this obsession isn’t letting go.
Lady Midnight reads like a murder mystery–always a good thing in fantasy IMHO, see also, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan–and picks up the story a few years after the events of the last book in The Mortal Instruments and Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. (There is enough exposition and explanation that I don’t think it’s necessary to read all nine billion of Clare’s books, though long-time fans will have fun with cameo appearances from characters like Hyacinth, a faerie from The Infernal Devices, and Tessa and Jem and Jem’s cat*.) The pacing isn’t much like a murder mystery’s, but given that we are still being introduced to new characters and that this book is, above all, a fantasy, I felt the stops and starts worked quite well. In terms of plot, I don’t want to give anything away. I will say this, though: it was really fun to guess at the culprit and be right. Rarely happens to me.
Now about the world-building! For people who haven’t read any of Clare’s books, her fantasy world is populated by three major factions:
- Mundanes: Non-magical. Typically ignorant of magic, unless they have the Sight.
- Downworlders: Non-human or part-human. Either infected by demonic disease like werewolves or vampires, or born of demons, like warlocks (half-human and half-demon) and faeries (half-angel and half-demon**).
- Shadowhunters: Superhuman beings who are sworn to protect people from demons and demonic activity. Apart from being super-strong, they are also super-self-righteous. Sometimes, they forget that Downworlders are part of the people they are sworn to protect. Although, some other times, this means interfering in Downworld business.
Post-City of Heavenly Fire, relations between Shadowhunters and most Downworlder factions are … not bad? Okay? Meh? But the bond between Shadowhunters and faeries? The worst! Terrible! I am not sure this new series will end happily at all! Not only are all the fey folk punished for the deeds of a few, Shadowhunters who are part-faerie are also discriminated against. This causes a rift, not only between the factions, but within the factions as well, and within families too. And no family pays a higher price for this cold war than the Blackthorns, two of whom are part-fey, one exiled by Shadowhunters, one abandoned by Shadowhunters. Things get complicated when Mark is returned to his family, but is bitter about his abandonment and starts to embrace his faerie side more and more. Thing is, it’s not just about picking a side. It’s also about playing into stereotypes. Fey folk in these books are said to be cunning and cruel, unable or unwilling to show true love or kindness. Shadowhunters, funnily enough, are seen as similarly hateful by the fey folk. And then there’s Mark and Helen, stuck between these ugly half-truths, wondering who they really are.
I really could go on and on about this book and the fantasy politics, but I feel like this post is already too long. Overall, Lady Midnight is definitely impressive in terms of the minutiae of world-building and if you’re interesting in reading about faeries and mortals within the lens of systemic discrimination, this is a good starting point, I feel.
One last thing, I would like to mention here: unrelated to the month’s theme, but important none-the-less, this is the first Shadowhunter novel that actually deals with things like trauma and mental disability. I don’t think it’s done badly, though I have trouble trusting my thoughts on these issues–and rightly so, I am privileged in this respect–but Corinne Duyvis of Disability in Kidlit said she’d read it and talk about the representation of autism in her review of this book, so I will link that review here if/when it goes up: [LINK TO COME]
*What? Church has character!
**It’s not actually revealed in the books.