The Mortal Instruments: A series that did not deserve a bad reputation

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Hudson Hsieh, Writer, Contributor

The Mortal Instruments: A series that did not deserve a bad reputation

Written by Hudson Hsieh

Initially 4 weeks ago when I began to re-read this series for this review, I remembered it through rose tinted glasses. The first read I did with this book series was in 2018, when I was in six grade. It was one of the first “series” I became really invested in, having just finished Harry Potter. Now after re-reading the Mortal Instrument more closely a second time for this review I felt prepared to give my thoughts on the books. Also, I’m more knowledgeable with books in general and how they are written than I was two years ago. So, I can definitely see where some readers might have problems with it. Quick disclaimer: I have a soft spot in my heart for this series from being one of the first “real” books I’ve read. Keep reading for my review!

There were three main reasons people disliked this book based on what I could find in online forums. They were the alleged plagiarism, plot inconsistencies, and Cassandra Clare’s writing style. I’ll start with the alleged plagiarism first because this is the most serious problem. This book was first written as Harry Potter fan-fiction. Which makes sense, as this book does borrow many of Harry Potter’s plot, character behavior and dialogue. Many fans also point out that it’s weirdly similar to Twilight. With the abilities/superpowers, magical creatures, and very similar locations being used. All of this sounds terrible, as plagiarism is seen as a huge no-no in writing. This, however, is not plagiarism for one reason, the characters. If you do a side by side comparison with the characters in the book with Harry potter and Twilight, you can tell they are completely enough to a point that you can’t say it’s direct plagiarism. The characters in those fantasy books appeal to younger fans, while this book really pushes the envelope of being “Adult” fantasy. The characters in this book are extremely complex, and often blur the lines between good and evil. None of the characters can serve as a role model because all of them have their own respective issues, this distinction is what makes the books so different. Also, Cassandra Clare changed the setting enough to make sure that she couldn’t be pinned with alleged plagiarism. 

The second complaint was the plot; I admit at times this book’s plot can feel pretty silly with the characters making some questionable decisions, but this was how Cassandra Clare wanted this book to be written. The convoluted plot is what sets this book apart from the usually linear, action-driven fantasy books. This is a very character-driven book, where the characters’ decisions directly drive the plot forward. They do have goals/objectives they need to reach in the end, but Cassandra Clare isn’t afraid to take her time with the books, and she really develops the settings and characters. That’s what makes me love this book series as a whole; Cassandra Clare isn’t afraid to step outside the norm and do something creative in her books. The plot serves as a breath of fresh air, and something you can come back to if you get tired of reading books jammed packed with more action than a James Bond film. 

The last main concern readers have was Cassandra Clare’s writing style and how she implemented it into a YA fantasy romance story. The writing style Cassandra Clare uses extensively throughout her books can be described as being very verbose and florid, so many newer readers who read from popular YA authors like James Dashner or Rick Riordan can find this book harder to read. Those authors primarily focus on the action and character development in their books, and don’t prioritize the finer world-building aspect of the books. But Cassandra Clare is different and likes to describe her setting or characters with an almost Lovecraftian style of writing. If you read any H.P Lovecraft’s shorts stories, then you know what I am talking about. Cassandra really tries to immerse you in the setting, and really pull you into this world that she painstakingly created. The reason most people read this book is to become lost in the shadow world. A world where every reader would love to become a part of. I think if you look at the books in a fantasy sandbox, it doesn’t fit into any sub-genre. It’s not similar to the typical fantasy books, it’s longer and more complex and it explores more mature themes. 

Cassandra Clare’s writing is also quite inconsistent, with the first few books being mediocre at best. Though in book four the action really starts to pick up and all the pieces start to fall together. I like the books for their raw and unrefined style of writing– they’re a nice break from all the normal action based books. 

Now that I’ve gone over most of the bad reviews, I’ll focus now on the good. The characters in these books are the best I’ve ever read by a long shot. The closest competitor is the Silent Patient with Theo, but I’ve already gone over why that book is a masterpiece in a previous review. For the first time, I like the majority of the characters in a book, which is saying a lot because there are many many characters. However, the thing is that each character fills an undefined role in the overarching sandbox; if you’re questioning why a character exists then maybe that part of the book wasn’t planned well.  Luckily in this book the characters are all there for a reason. With the majority of this book being dialogue you know so much about each character, up to a point where you can write a mini book about each one. Their issues, motivation, history, and personality were brilliantly written for the reader to discover. For example, my favorite character, Rapheal Santiago, is a vampire king, and is willing to do anything to hold on to power.  He is described to be a sly and also rather arrogant person, willing to do anything to be in control and become a vampire king. Despite this he is a man of his word and has respects for the people that he comes across. Although he serves little purpose in the plot, he is an important character because of how he interacts with Simon. Through Rapheal, Simon was able to learn how to become a proper vampire.

Secondly, Cassandra Clare really played to her strengths in this book series by putting in plenty of relationships. The way she is able to develop multiple relationships is amazing, and for the first time in reading any books, the romance arc doesn’t feel cringe-y or awkward at all (except in the Tales of the Shadow Hunter academy– review pending at the moment). The different dynamics between the characters really add a lot of depth into the book and you actually care about the characters who do die. The book also does not fall into the pitfall that many fantasy romances do, reusing the generic hero’s journey plot used in almost every major YA Fantasy book. Cassandra style of writing which includes a lot of adjectives to describe the characters really add weight to the relationships between certain characters. The romances feel natural, they doesn’t feel forced between the characters. But, on the other hand, the action sequences do feel extremely jaded. They really take you out of the plot and what is happening. The way that she writes her fighting sequence feels empty and just really jarring to read. 

The best part in this series is the world building, it’s so expansive and intricate that it might match the one from Red Dead redemption 2. There is just so much to read about in the shadow-world. From the old Victorian cities in the Infernal Devices, to the newer Los Angeles area in the dark artifacts, the detailed description of New York City, and finally the beautifully crafted capital Idris. Within these settings are just so much to explore, like the Hotel Dumont in New York City where the vampires live, to the Pentahallow’s manor in Idris. The way Cassandra Clare describes these settings should be considered an art form. The carefully chosen words and adjectives used to describe each location are really there to immerse you in the story. A quote from the city of Heavenly fire describes what I am saying perfectly “Idris had been green and gold and russet in the autumn, when Clary had first been there. It had a stark grandeur in the winter: the mountains rose in the distance, capped white with snow, and the trees along the side of the road that led back to Alicante from the lake were stripped bare, their leafless branches making lace-like patterns against the bright sky.”  Cassandra’s goal was for you to get lost in her books, to forget where you are currently when you were reading her books. She certainly accomplishes that goal. Also, the different magic elements in this book aren’t overdone. It’s easy to understand, so any casual readers can understand the fantastical elements to a certain degree. Unlike books like Harry Potter, in this book, the magic elements are there to complement the story– not take it over. 

In conclusion, although the main appeal of the book, the writing, plot, and action might feel jaded and unfinished, it’s the idea that when you read this book you get lost in this world full of magical creatures that makes the books so appealing to many fans. At the end of the day, I made this review to give newer readers an idea of what to expect from the mortal instrument, but please read this book at your own time, because I have to glance over a lot of details for the sake of making this article an appropriate length for you the readers. But if I’m being honest despite how much I’ve loved the characters and setting. It didn’t make up for the numerous drawbacks it had; that’s why The Mortal Instrument series is so mediocre.