Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Lady Midnight

Author: Cassandra Clare
Release: March 8th 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Supernatural, YA
#1 in the Dark Artifices trilogy
Sequels: Lord of Shadows (#2), The Queen of Air and Darkness (#3)


Plot:

The Shadowhunters of Los Angeles star in the first novel in Cassandra Clare’s newest series, The Dark Artifices, a sequel to the internationally bestselling Mortal Instruments series. Lady Midnight is a Shadowhunters novel.

It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

Review:

Soooo, this book, huh. This book. Clare has surprised me, which I didn't expect (then again, does anyone ever expect a surprise? Isn't that the definition of the word, that it's unexpected?). I have hated this book and I have, well maybe not exactly loved it, but really enjoyed and liked it. It was a ride on ocean waves, with me sometimes being glued to the pages of this novel and other times having to take a break because it was so insufferable.

At the end of the day, there is really no other way than to say that there are good parts and then there are bad parts. There are passages of this novel that are unbearably bland, boring, childish, silly, straight-up dumb and make you face palm and sigh loudly. On the other spectrum we have chapters that are heart-wrenching, incredibly well-written and raw. I wish Clare would find a better balance between the two of them, because this novel could have been truly great had it not been peppered with these amateur mistakes. I feel like she is trying to please a younger crowd with her immature dialogue, but instead she's just scaring away her older audience who has forgotten to take these childish remarks in stride, like I have. I am sorry, but I am no longer amused by chatter about boys and dresses. 

However, she also does a lot of things really well. Like how she portrays the friendship between Cristina and Emma, how they're not tearing each other down (as Tessa and Clary have with female supporting cast in the past), but building each other up instead. They were endlessly supportive and loving around/with each other, which I so strongly appreciated. Also, of course, the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, mentally ill people and people of color. The representation is not only strong, it is also well-written, in my opinion. Obviously, as a white privileged, heterosexual woman I may not be the best person to judge, but as far as I can tell from my rather limited point of view, Clare has done a pretty nice job here. 

Personally, I loved her The Infernal Devices trilogy and thought those characters were well developed, I still do think that, but with more reading experience, I can admit that there are still many flaws to them and their characterization. She still made those mistakes here, albeit not quite as obvious. There are not many prominent stereotypical clich├ęs standing out, except maybe having the Mexican character(s) always mutter in Spanish, but other than that, there was no moment of the heroine suddenly discovering their true heritage/destiny, no tortured bad boy, no love triangle (at least not one that played a huge role, not like the previous ones) and so on. And I really did appreciate that as well. Her characters are mostly fleshed out, they all have their own voices in the story and stand out on their own. There are still some I can't seem to make friends with, like the main character Emma, but it's simply subjective dislike that even I can't seem to fully explain to myself. Other than that, while I never completely related or sympathized with most of the cast (except maybe for Cristina and Mark, whom I both absolutely loved), I'll still say they're memorable, interesting character with depth.

The plot... here's kind of where it gets a bit uglier. Honestly, this novel is 700+ pages, but I feel like it really could have been cut down to half its size. There were so many completely unnecessary scenes that added almost nothing of true relevance to the story, yes, some of those enhanced it and added further details that were nice to know, I guess, but not totally crucial to the story. Instead, it only made the novel that much more tedious to read. There's a word in German for it that captures the essence of what I'm trying to complain about perfectly: langatmig. Lang means long and atmen is breathing, used as an adverb here. You can translate this however you want now, but I would describe it like this: Going into this book, I held my breath and expected to hold it for a second or two, but instead I was forced to hold it for far longer, longer than I was comfortable with or willing to do. With all due respect, the length really killed a lot of it for me, since the plot takes ages to really get rolling, and even when they are investigating and gathering clues there are so many dumps of doing nothing and inconsequential things that disrupt the flow of the story. 

Another thing, and this is where it gets really spoilery so I'll write it under the cut, are some more or less personal problems I had with this book concerning a specific scene. A scene that I was simply not okay with, because it was unrealistic and came completely unannounced.
 So first, I really disliked the fact that Emma and Julian had sex. Yes, it was obvious from the start that they were going to fall in love, I already knew that three or four years ago when Clare first announced this series, but I expected them to move... slower, in a way. They go from not having talked about their feelings, once, to kissing and IMMEDIATELY have sex. They don't even confess their feelings, they just... have sex. After Emma almost drowned and died, they have sex in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere on the beach, without protection, out of nowhere suddenly. It hit me like a slap in the face, and I was ... not okay with it. All the impractical stuff aside (they slept naked there? Without a blanket under or above them or anything? And I know how messy sex is without a condom. Seriously, it's not pretty and I have never had the urge to just lie down afterwards without washing up first, or something like that. And lastly, Julian was obviously a virgin, and I really, really doubt that Emma would have enjoyed it as much as is implied. Seriously. But that is minor, I guess.) Anyway, this was simply the wrong moment to have them sleep with each other, normally I am all for sex because I think it is an important part of everyday life, especially for teenagers and should not be as stigmatized as it is, so usually, I am in favor of having sex scenes to work against that stigma. Still, the timing of it was just so, so wrong. They just kissed for the first time EVER, they have never allowed themselves to admit their feelings even to themselves, and then they have sex right the fuck away. That is unhealthy. 

And then generally, the whole portrayal of Emma and Julian's relationship just really, reallyrubbed me the wrong way because something about them, about how it was written, simply felt totally off the whole time. I still can't quite put my finger around what it is exactly, but events like the one I already ranted about above certainly didn't help. Needless to say, even if there's technically nothing wrong about their relationship from a normal person's point of view (that is, a non-Shadowhunter reader like me), I still definitely do not ship them.

I think that wraps it all up. Do I think Cassandra Clare has improved in her writing? Maybe a little. Is it worth reading? I think so. If Shadowhunters really are just not your thing anymore at all, it probably isn't, but if you're curious about it, go ahead. The plot, when it does happen and starts to thicken, is pretty solid and while it's nothing too complicated or unique, it's still interesting enough. I for one am going to read the sequel.

PS: I still don't know what the Dark Artifices are.

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