8 Aug 2019

Review: the Queen of Air and Darkness

The Queen of Air and Darkness is a great book that just goes on for too long. Cassandra Clare’s third book in the series is over 200,000 words—and a fourth book, a short story, is coming. Can the plot really support going over half a million words?

The Queen of Air and Darkness is undeniably a stunning work of fiction: the vast array of characters, relationships, conflict and magic is enough to keep this poor reader awake till the dark hours of the night. To cover all this ground in a review feels onerous; I can only summarise the key points, and reflect on my personal impressions. I assume the reader has already read the previous two books in the series, as well as the Mortal Instruments books. You are going to have a tough time reading this book otherwise.

Characterisation takes up most of the immense word count; this is partly a good thing, and partly a bad thing. Emma and Julian are great characters, of course, and we’ve come to know them well—the devoted and protective Julian, so beautiful yet so tortured; and fierce Emma, trusty Cortana at her side. There are many, many other characters in this book, however. Some, such as Jace and Clary—or my favourites, Alec and Magnus—are well-loved favourites from the Mortal Instruments. In fact, let me be honest: Alec and Magnus broke my heart, in all the best ways.

The remaining character cast is not as important to the narrative, but still take up too much “screentime”, so to speak. The number of pages dedicated to Drusilla and Jaime/Diego; to Rayan and Divya; Kit and Ty; and yes, even to the Mark–Kieran–Cristina nexus, is out of proportion. It slows down the plot, and weakens the story. Emma and Julian are the real protagonists in this tale.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Mark, Kieran and Cristina’s relationship immensely. It’s rare to get a bisexual love triangle in a fantasy book! Even so, I feel Cassy drew out their subplot way too much. Every romance story needs to have a reason for why two (or three) people can’t be together—and the biggest problem with any romance story is when those reasons become contrived. These three were like a seesaw: always up, always down. At some point you have to wonder: “Why don’t they just get together already?”

The plot is certainly interesting: Cassie has woven twists and turns between the angst-driven relationships, and her skill as a plot writer is, by this point, undeniable. The problem, really, is that there’s just too much—the story loses focus and starts to confuse the reader. The real antagonist is not Annabelle Blackthorn, as the title alludes to; it’s actually Horace Dearborn and his Cohort. Nor was it Annabelle in the first book (Malcolm Fade gets that honour).

I’ll try not to spoil this too much, but in part two of the book, Emma and Julian head to an alternate dimension known as Thule. I think this was probably a mistake for the story. This section seems separate from the rest of the book—aside from a few plot points, the entirety of this section could have been removed without affecting the main story too much. There’s some good characterisation, but the re-introduction (and subsequent death) of Sebastian Morgenstern is just anti-climatic.

The subplot between Kit, Ty and Drusilla is underdeveloped, because it does too little to affect the resolution of the story. Cassy could have given this rather important subplot much greater significance, with a bit of imagination: Livvy could have done something important in the final battle.

I would also like to comment on a few things that personally drew my eye. Cassy understands politics incredibly well—I almost wonder if she majored in political science or history at college. She’s certainly read the history books: the Cohort’s rise to power mirrors the Nazis, from the false flag attacks; the political theatre; and the Hitlerjugend. I also enjoyed the political realism displayed by the Seelie and Unseelie rulers; I think Machiavelli and Bismarck would approve.

Despite my criticisms of this book—really, it needed a better developmental edit—I still enjoyed the book tremendously. Emma and Julian are a great love story; Alec and Magnus are wonderful; likewise the Blackthorn family, which is one of the best examples of family I’ve read. The plot twists and turns, sometimes in horrible, unpredictable directions.

I will be reading the next book—a short story anthology named “Ghosts of the Shadow Market”—which will, at least, be shorter.

Rating: 4/5

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