persona

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare

I have mentioned this many times: I am of a curious nature. This curiosity is both a blessing and a curse, in that I have found many strange gems due to my whims (Zazen, Julian Gracq whose last name is always auto-corrected in search engines to Crack, Arthur Rimbaud . . .) But in order to find those gems, one has to wade through thick waters in a deluge of suck. You can't imagine the temptations I face when my job has me unpacking every new shipment and seeing all the new, shiny books. I am especially wooed by the inclusion of artwork within a book - thus, checking out Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare. Yes, I hated City of Bones and wanted to strangle every single character for their apparent lack of sense. But when curious, wade through the waters of suck you must.

When last my book adventures took me into the land of Shadowhunters, I decided that the writing was so rudimentary, I didn't need to read all the other books. I looked up the plot summaries on Wikipedia, which was pretty much akin to reading Clare's work. Only less time spent. In that time, I learned that many of the characters are as opposed to staying dead as Jean Grey, everyone hops around in the love-relationship boogaloo that exists only to make up for the lack of plot in these books, and there was something about a certain character almost being forced to come out to his parents through the use of magic that left a rather bitter taste in the back of my throat. But hey, Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy is told through the perspective of the least damning character of the lot, Simon Lewis.

How bad could it be? (I am giving you an example of how blatant Clare's use of foreshadowing is!)

One would expect that you would need context for jumping into a collection of novellas that follows six books and three prequels. You'd be surprised how little knowledge you need to slug through all 600-some odd pages. Here is the basis of what you need to know: Simon died at one point and lost all of his memories in being brought back. Now he wants to be a Shadowhunter. So he goes to Shadowhunter school, because that is a thing in this universe and apparently not taken as a joke.

Simon, however, is human and unlike the prestigious Shadowhunters who have been born of Shadowhunters, has to work extra hard to prove himself. If the novellas actually focused on him learning how to be a competent leader or his training. No, you want to see Simon whine for 600 pages about how he can't get famed Shadowhunter Isabelle Lightwood to love him for who he is, as this Simon with no memories as to why they even started dating in the first place.

This is a problematic question that pops up all too late within this collection: as a blank slate, Simon has the possibility to be absolutely anything he wants. He can live his life as a human, or a "mundane" as the Shadowhunters put it which isn't taken from Harry Potter at all. I believe that Clare is uncomfortable with the idea of all these open possibilities, because she pushes Simon down a path that has already been tread: returning to the world of Shadowhunters because this is the path that will get him back to Isabelle. Who he loves for . . . whatever reason. She's the only available female?

This is a general problem with Clare's writing, when it comes to characters. In the immortal words of Gertrude Stein, "There's no there there." There's absolutely no impact, no emotional connection, to be made with any of these characters. Most of them are just set-pieces, the worst being the ones that exist solely to make this collection seem diverse. It's a slap in the face to have characters like Marisol and Sunil, the promise of characters from different backgrounds other than white, only to see them receive little to no focus. Helen, one of the few characters I started to like slightly, was introduced solely to get Simon and Isabelle back together and then was ushered off-screen to marry her girlfriend. And due to the fact that we receive no character interaction between Helen and her wife, it feels like this exists only for the author to pat herself on the back. Or check off a box on a list.

Perhaps the worst is in the form of Alec and Magnus, who I didn't care for when I first met them in City of Bones and . . . didn't care for again. Nothing exists within the text to show that these two love each other. It's just kind of a given. In fact, Magnus has better character interactions with everyone who isn't Alec. Once the two are together, they have all these boring talks about how they'll stick together through everything, which is meaningless if I don't see them sticking together through everything. And they get a baby, because isn't that just so cute? It makes me want to puke, to see a relationship trivialized like this. It really does. This isn't acceptance. This is the opposite of it.

I have a really difficult time believing that Alec, who is 18, would want to take care of a baby that has magically shown up at the Shadowhunter academy. I know what I wanted to do when I was 18. Not take care of a baby. In fact, I was so egregiously bent on self-satisfaction that I didn't want to have the responsibility of anyone in my hands. Let's forget the fact that the baby on the doorstep is a horrific plot device meant only to trivialize an already trivialized relationship. Let's say that Alec did, in fact, want to keep the baby. Now show him coming to the startling revelation that taking care of a child is actually a rather daunting task. Instead, the baby instantly loves Alec and magically becomes the best baby ever while in his arms. And so Alec and Magnus throw a party with the baby there. And they travel to Bali with the baby. Do you know what you can't do when you have a baby (or rather these things become far more complicated than they may have originally seemed)? Have parties. Travel to Bali. Do you know what you do when you have a baby? TAKE CARE OF IT.

The rest of the characters barely register on one's radar. The rest of the Shadowhunters at the academy are like cliches in high school films and then are not those cliches by the end of the book as if even the author recognized that this all sounded a little too familiar. George is a really strange character in that he's supposed to come from Scotland and have been raised on a sheep farm, and yet he has no hint of an accent and says things like "dude" and "bro." Yet we're told he has a brogue whenever he's mentioned. The relationship he has with Simon is so forced that you can see his ending coming a mile away - and even with that knowledge, the chosen end is ridiculous and made me laugh a little.

And I couldn't care less about any of the characters from the prequels. In fact one of the most arduous novellas to slog through is Nothing But Shadows, about Tessa's child James going to Shadowhunter academy. What I didn't know going into this was that there were two James and I was so confused as to who was who, I forgot what relationship James had to Tessa momentarily. And he, Matthew, Christopher, and Thomas have their personalities shoved down upon you constantly. There is absolutely no consideration to who these characters are. They just exist in a cosmic fabrication of suck. In fact, to show how intelligent James is, it is told to us that he reads Oscar Wilde and can quote said author. James is thirteen. It's 1899. He ain't reading Wilde. Don't even try to kid me on that one.

Okay. I'll accept this for one second. At no point are we shown that the prejudice Wilde faced due to his sexuality and his heritage (Irish) is in anyway connected to James' circumstances. But I'm glad that didn't happen, because I believe I would be rather irritated to read about how similar James was to Wilde. I'm just going to stare at this book with the same look of bored distaste that Wilde always exhibited in pictures.

I had a bit issue with the artwork as well. Many of the character descriptions didn't fit what was drawn and confused me even further. For example, Robert Lightwood is described as having a beard in a past story, yet in the accompanying drawing that is supposed to be he and Michael Wayland, I thought they were Alec and Simon. Everyone looked pretty much the same in the artwork. And they all wore the same expressions throughout.

Perhaps the major problem that comes up in this collection is the fact that these Shadowhunters, who are supposed to protect mankind, are also incredibly prejudiced when it comes to the subject of humanity. Does anyone else find this incredibly hypocritical? Why would you swear to protect humanity if you can't stand it? For that matter, if Simon is so critical of the clave and how they treat "downworlders" (vampires, werewolves, fair folk), why would he swear his allegiance to them?

If that isn't bad enough, the tone of this entire set of novellas is really unbalanced. It's incredibly manic one moment and then stops immediately for Serious Time. Helen asked Simon to see her because here's Isabelle and they're going on a date! But oh no, Helen can't leave because the clave is a bunch of prejudiced assholes. But hey, Simon and Isabelle get to go on a date! PICK ONE TONE AND STICK WITH IT.

I think that most of the problems came from deciding to tell these stories through Simon's perspective. If Clare wanted to tell a story about the Blackthornes, great! Just not through Simon's eyes. Or a story about Robert Lightwood - great, just not through Simon's eyes. And this is pretty much how every story rolls for me in this collection. These would be better stories without Simon's forced inclusion. Let's not even get started on how easy it is for Simon to realize that Clary must be his parabatai (a.k.a. your platonic life partner).

There is only one story where I found a hint of glistening hope. This was in Angels Twice Descending, when Simon visits his mother for what he feels is the last time. And even though she's forgotten the fact that she kicked her son out of her house, Simon still remembers it. If Clare's intention was to focus on Simon growing out of who he had once been, using the pain of having the only parent in his life treat him as if they had no relation was where she should have started. And it should have stayed in that realm. Seeing Simon trying to overcome this knowledge is far more interesting than reading about him effortlessly becoming a Shadowhunter and wooing Isabelle back into his arms by doing absolutely nothing. That's the emotional core there - knowing what his mother is capable of and realizing that she has the luxury of forgetting it.

But that's an area of pain that Clare doesn't want to explore in favor of happy endings and perfect couples who are static until the end of eternity. I'd hate to be the one to say this, but there is no such thing as a perfect couple. And they don't stay static - people grow and evolve. Sometimes away from each other. Sometimes adapting to each other. It's a completely unpredictable thing.

As I wade out of the muck, I have to tell myself that this is the fairy tale: perfection, stagnancy. They do not exist in this chaotic world, abundant in possibilities.
  • Current Music: One of a Very Few of a Kind - of Montreal
Tags: ,
Happy New Year! I wish you to accomplish all you want to, and overcome what you have to, and discover as many good books as is possible (and as little suck as is possible; no suck isn't probable in this world I'm afraid). Happy New Year again!
Haha, yes, no such luck with no suck! Thank you for the kind wishes and I hope that you find new, wonderful things in the coming year. Happy new year to you too!