4 Oct 2016

A Review of the Lady Midnight

Hello readers! As previously stated, October will see old posts from the Magical Realm reposted. This review I published some seven months ago; I have no doubt some of you have not read it, so consider this a chance to get up to speed with more of my blog writing.

Ah, another day, another Cassandra Clare novel. Or should I say, another year, another Cassandra Clare? Sadly, the author’s writing speed is less than fantastic; which is a pity, but one ought remember the old adage here. Quality not quantity. And if we have to wait close to a year for the sequel, so be it; it makes the Lady Midnight that much sweeter.

Speaking of which, the Lady Midnight is indeed an excellent story. I don’t give out 5* star reviews for nothing, you know. If you want to know why, read on…

Some Background

I feel that before I really begin, I feel it is necessary to share some background into what exactly Lady Midnight is. Those of you familiar with the Mortal Instruments series will certainly know some of the characters—Jace and Clary, Magnus, and others all feature. But the Lady Midnight is concerned with other, hitherto more minor characters: Emma Carstairs and the Blackthorns.

Essentially, the story concerns the mystery of how Emma’s parents died, and if and how they may be related to the string of murders that have just occurred. That is the ostensible side of the story, anyway. But a great deal of the tale is devoted to Emma, and her parabatai, Julian.

The parabatai is basically a kind of bonding magic, held in the form of the parabatai rune, that allows the two parabatai to feel what the other feels; to draw stronger runes on their partners; and, in the case that they happen to fall in love—a thing very much verboten by the Clave—then they are able to wield a power more akin to warlocks.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Characters

The Lady Midnight excels in many areas, but here it shines most of all. The characters are—masterful. Simply masterful.

Emma, the chief protagonist, is portrayed down to perfection: she is a strong, intelligent, and perceptive woman. Not only is she fierce and rather likable, but Clare manages to capture her personality in her words, actions and thoughts down to a T.

Julian, her parabatai and lover, is more interesting still. He’s remarkably complex, conflicted, and compelling. At twelve years old, he effectively took responsibility for his brothers and sisters; he became, for all intents and purposes, their father.

The person who was meant to be taking care of them was, unfortunately, a lunatic. So not only did Julian have to take care of his siblings—but he also effectively ran the Institute.

To top it all off, his older brother was taken by the Hunt (which I can best describe as kind of like faerie Cossacks) and his older sister was exiled.

These experiences render Julian remarkably old for his age; he wields a maturity and foresight that would shame some adults, never mind a teenager.

What really strikes out from Julian, though—even beyond his maturity—is his love. Firstly, he loves his siblings; he loves them with an intensity that is poignant to experience, and gives the Lady Midnight a powerful family dynamic. But he also loves Emma; loves her as a parabatai, and doubly so as a romantic partner.

The combined effect of this can leave one rather breathtaken.

Beyond Emma and Julian, though, there are a number of immaculately drawn and compelling characters. Malcom Fade—a Warlock, and friends with the Blackthorns—has a curiously eccentric personality intermixed with a stranger, darker nature.

Mark Blackthorn, the exiled brother, is half-faerie and half-Shadowhunter. Both of his natures are captured expertly. He is at once the Shadowhunter: not only fierce, but caring, vulnerable and powerfully attached to his family. But he also the faerie; mysterious, wild, and strangely compelling.

I’ve already mentioned the family dynamic between Julian, Emma and the numerous other siblings within the Blackthorn family. But it’s worth making this point explicity: their family is a wonderful creation of sibling love, rivalry, and loyalty.

Aside from all this, there are a number of more miscellaneous elements I’ve picked up on.

Firstly, there are several gay and bisexual characters. There’s Mark; his lover; there’s Helen; and there’s even Kit, a character whom we meet in the beginning and the end. All of them have romantic feelings that are poignant and heartbreakingly romantic—Mark most of all.

I must, however, take issue with the number of gay and bisexual characters. Yes, I know some people will cry mutiny when I say this, but it’s true: gay people—of which I am one—are not common. Bisexual men are very rare indeed, but there are appear to be two of them in Lady Midnight, possibly more.

I love the fact that gay characters feature: but I’m worried that Cassandra Clare (or perhaps more likely Simon & Schuster) are using them as a marketing gimmick. Gay characters are at that strange border line between too controversial to be mainstream and too normal to be taken as particularly noteworthy. They’re controversial; they interest people. Which is great, but it’s not something I’d want taken advantage of.

Anyway, overall, the characters are a work of art.

Plot

The Lady Midnight is not a disappointing novel. The plot, while not quite perfect, is still worthy of my 5*.

The main reason why is to do with its varied and unexpected turns. You can never quite see where it’ll go; it’s as unpredictable as a snake, and just as dangerous. Every piece of action is fast and energetic—and slower scenes are suffused with expectation.

The plot is also paced well. There are no moments when the action begins to overwhelm, and nor does the tale ever drag to a juddering halt. Things progress smoothly.

If there’s anything that falls a little short, it’s really to do with the scope of the book. The Lady Midnight has a fascinating tale to tell, but I can’t help that it both lacks the scope and power of the Mortal Instruments series—and that this is because the real story is yet to come.

The Lady Midnight is to do with more than just the death of Emma’s parents. It’s to do with an ancient Shadowhunter Law; it’s really, at its heart, about Emma and Julian.

Still: considering that this is the first book, I think I can let Clare off the hook.

Worldbuilding

The Mortal Instruments was a fascinating, imaginative and compelling world; the Lady Midnight is no different.

The Shadowhunters are as interesting as ever. There’s something about their fierce, warrior-like culture intermixed with their harsh laws and religious adherence to virtues that inevitably draws the interest. And of course, their magic is fascinating—Clare’s magic-system of runes is both coherent and clearly defined, and yet still manages to surprise you.

But I find the Warlocks especially interesting. Maybe I’m just sucker for magic; for power that amazes and inspires awe.

There are also the usuals. Vampires feature, though only modestly, and so do werewolves.

The faeries are the last piece of the puzzle. The Mortal Instruments, in truth, didn’t really pay that much attention to them; they were more a detail rather than a key feature of the world. But the Lady Midnight brings out a world of faerie detail.

Their personalities are what I find especially grabbing. The faeries, as in the tales of old, are fickle and wild and dangerous; but they are also capable of love, and regret, and have a sense of what is good. If any of you reading have ever read Julie Kagawa, well; you’ll be right at home.

Writing

Cassandra Clare writes with eloquence and skill; there’s a great deal of imagery in the Lady Midnight, and it is… inspiring.

I was particularly fond of the descriptions of the desert—I had a powerful sense that Clare knew what deserts were like. More than that: I understood deserts, and I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing one.

This, however, would make Clare’s writing merely good. What makes it very good is the fact that it can bring a whole new dimensions to that which you thought you knew. The sea, for example, is a wild thing here: a place of magic, of the wild abandon of the elements, and of death.

It’s not quite brilliant. I’ve seen better. But, hey: I only require that 5* books be fantastic, not perfect. There is a difference.

Conclusion

I’ve decided it’s not worth boring you all with a long conclusion when, frankly, the message is simple. The Lady Midnight is a great book written by an obviously talented and experienced story teller. You’d be silly not to read it.

Still, it may be worth waiting. S&S have priced the ebook at £7, which seems a little high for my liking. Then again: if a bad book isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, and a good book is worth every penny, then a great book is worth its weight in gold.

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