In my last post concerning books that had a considerable impact on my life, I discussed a volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, a book series from my childhood. In this second installment, however, I’m looking at a literary work that made an entrance into my life rather recently: The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. I actually only began reading these books in the summer of 2013 – the movie adaptation of the first book, City of Bones, was coming out that August and I wanted to have the book read before I went to see the film. “What in the world, Alex,” you might be thinking. “How on earth could these books have so much meaning to you if you only read them seven months ago?!”
Funny story about that, actually. But first, some background (possible spoilers ahead; you have been warned):
The six books of The Mortal Instruments follow the story of Clary Fray, a sixteen-year-old girl living in Brooklyn with her mother. Her world is turned upside down, when she witnesses a trio of black-clad teenagers slay what is later revealed to be a demon. These characters turn out to be Shadowhunters, also known as nephilim, a race of half-angel half-human beings who protect the world from demons and other such disagreeable creatures. Clary is revealed to be a Shadowhunter herself, whose memory and angelic sight had been suppressed. And thus, our main character is flung into an entirely new world overnight, fighting and forging friendships with the trio of nephilim she first saw, and even developing a very complicated romance with one of them – the snarky and stubborn (and extremely endearing) Jace Wayland.
When I say an entirely new world, I mean entirely new. The hidden world existing alongside the “mundane” world has everything an urban fantasy fan could ever want in a single book series: not only demons galore, but another series of factions known as “downworlders” – vampires, werewolves, faeries, and warlocks. The Shadowhunters are essentially the peacekeepers of this hidden world, neutralizing demons and rogue downworlders before they can do any harm to humans. While all Shadowhunters are stronger than full-blooded humans and are extensively trained in combat and other such arts, they’re at somewhat of a disadvantage initially; they don’t possess any of the inherent magical strengths that downworlders have. What they do have, however, is a type of angelic magic that can only be used by drawing special runes on the body. These symbols can do nearly anything, from enhancing strength and mental ability to healing wounds and taking away fear. This feature of the books was what actually got me interested in it in the first place; while researching the books at a friend’s request, I came across some artwork of these runes and was instantly intrigued. You may have guessed, from looking back at my other posts, that stories, writing, and words in general are kind of my thing; and here, in this urban fantasy world, is a group of warriors who are essentially strengthening themselves with words! This feature of the story is the ultimate power trip to me as a writer, because it shows the power that words and written ideas really have; words can strengthen, sharpen the mind, heal, stir emotion, and cause real and tangible change in a person. Maybe one day, the words that I craft together will have a “runelike” effect on someone.
This talk of power brings me to the main reason I love The Mortal Instruments and why I often imagine being part of that story world: in the world of Shadowhunters, everyone can be capable of fighting for good, and fighting can actually make a difference. In the mundane non-literary world, I feel (for lack of a better word) insignificant. This feeling is made even more frustrating because I have a very keen eye for seeing negativity and injustice in the world, most of which I know I’m helpless to do anything about on my own. Occasionally, though, something that I deem worth fighting for comes along and turns out to be something that I can have a direct hand in changing – that would be great, if it weren’t for the resigned attitudes I’m then bombarded with. I’m told to “pick my battles”, or to “not do anything drastic” or, perhaps worst of all, to “accept the idea that I’m probably going to lose.” How can I be sure that what I’m fighting for is worthwhile? And even if I was sure, I’d probably just lose anyway, right? I answer these questions with another question: do Shadowhunters ever stop to wonder if their battle with the demons is worthwhile or doubt their strength to achieve victory? While wearing epic-looking black clothing, wielding deadly weapons, and using angelic magic is all well and good, why I really want to be a Shadowhunter is to have the ability and the resolve to fight battles that I know to be important ones.
Do you have any book universes that you’d like to live in, or characters from them that you’d like to emulate? Let me know in the comments – and to stay tuned for the next installment in my literary series, feel free to follow my blog!