Hi guys! Sorry for the loooong absence- I’ve been REALLY busy rewriting the second draft of my new YA novel, Trollheart (working title,) and it’s shaping up well! But it does mean I haven’t been reading a lot lately because I’ve been deep into my own universe. As soon as I finish the rewriting I’ll let you guys know with another Writer’s Update. In the meantime, let’s get some new reviews up- to kick things off, here’s my review of Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare, the second in her Dark Artifices trilogy. Hope you enjoy it- warning, it does contain spoilers!
Would you trade your soul mate for your soul?
A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.
Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?
Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.
When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how much I love Cassandra Clare’s work- so much so that her characters, Magnus Bane and Anna Lightwood, have been Literary Heroes of the Month. It seems like every week I’m reviewing something by her- I enjoyed a lot of ‘Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy‘ and gavean 8/10 review to this book’s predecessor, ‘Lady Midnight‘, and a glowing review to Books 1-2 of her ‘Infernal Devices’ series. But I just can’t do the same for this book. For a start, in this book, Mark Blackthorn’s Faerie lover, Kieran, gets lied to, manipulated and betrayed by both Mark and the Blackthorn family. (SPOILER) He has no recollection of his previous -albeit severe- wrongdoings with Mark, and so as a result is hopelessly still in love with him, making him vulnerable. Mark sees this and uses Kieran for his own ends, so that the Blackthorn family can survive the brutal consequences of (SPOILER) the corrupt warlock Malcom Fade’s fall from grace. When not being irritating and vague, Mark is manipulative and mean, and he doesn’t really see the consequences of his actions, or get truly reprimanded for them. This made me feel really uncomfortable, and alienated me as a reader. Mark uses Kieran physically, whilst also flirting with and even kissing Cristina and Emma, who both seemed ‘wishy-washy’ in this novel- Emma too fixated on Julian and Cristina too confused by Mark and Diego’s betrayals and machinations. Mark ends up becoming magically bound to Cristina, too, which I resented as it did not seem necessary- it was just complication upon complication.
If it’s not obvious, I really did not gel with Cristina’s character- I wasn’t quite sure what the point of her character was– and would have liked to have seen a strong gay relationship at LOS’s heart- not one with trauma and loss for its foundations, with those shaky foundations being constantly undermined and destabilized by Kieran’s loyalty to Faerie, and Mark’s selfishness and seesawing affections. The only thing keeping them going seemed to be sexual chemistry, which was sad, because in ‘Lady Midnight’ they seemed to have something more meaningful. It would have been nice to have seen a depiction of how important it is to give conscious sexual consent, especially as at some points it came across (to me) like Kieran was used basically as a make out toy for Mark. It felt sad that they never had the consent discussion, or that Mark didn’t seem to think it was necessary.
Mark’s unswerving family loyalty arguably makes him blind to the chaos he causes in the Faerie world, and the hurt he inflicts on Kieran, who was once his comfort, solace and love during a difficult, dangerous time. The sexual confusion between the three of of them (Kieran, Mark, Cristina) felt heavy-handed and I hate how (SPOILER) it wasn’t resolved by the end of the novel and instead left open and vague. All this actually did was needlessly prolong poor Kieran’s pain and confuse everyone around them (including themselves, and me.)
Personally, I quite liked it when Kieran rejected Mark’s advances because he seemed to be finally realizing that Mark had acted (in my opinion) like a scheming, selfish git for most of the novel. Yay, more power to Kieran! You tell him, Kieran!
What was most confusing, however was that (SPOILER) Kieran has a bit of a ‘will they won’t they’ thing with Cristina– um, that dance scene- which was a bit WTF, because he loves Mark so much it damn well broke my heart. (*Sobs*) He seemed to be flirting with Cristina only to make Mark jealous, and jealousy is such a toxic, bitter emotion. Besides, I wasn’t sure Mark was that worthy of such actions- if it was me, I’d free myself of the game playing and the toxicity and leave him with his beloved family and tell him to take a hike into the Unseelie realm.
Poor, poor Kieran. Justice for Kieran, dammit! My dislike of Mark in LOS may seem a little surprising, given how I shipped Mark and Kieran so hard in the first book. But now I just want to slap Mark for his selfish actions. I also thought the Blackthorn family- especially Julian- came off as too introspective, too self-absorbed and even annoying at times. They kept popping up like mushrooms- it was difficult to keep track of them all. I know that sounds harsh, but I couldn’t get to grips with them or find them even likeable- not after what they put Kieran through. Yes, Kieran has done reprehensible things, but he still has feelings, and at least with Mark he tried to atone for his mistakes. Kieran was achingly vulnerable here, and it was used against him. Mark just saw Kieran’s that as an excuse to manipulate him to ensure his loyalty, and the Blackthorns just went along with it. Lastly, the descriptions of the Faerie realm seemed woefully ‘paintbox pretty’ and cliche- I felt as though I’d read it all before. Not to mention the fact that, as with the first book, there are just TOO MANY characters- did I really care about the stuck-up, scheming students from the Scholomance? Uh, no. Did I care about the Clave, or different Shadowhunter Institutes? Nope. Clare also kept pulling in characters from the Mortal Instruments and the Dark Artifices series, which was distracting. On the other hand, though, there was not enough Magnus and Alec, and not enough original descriptions. The plot dragged a lot, the fight scenes felt like they’d been done before, and I missed the urban cool of the New York setting in the ‘Mortal Instruments.’
I liked Kit and Ty’s burgeoning relationship, however, and the portrayal of Ty’s autism, but that was about it. In short, other people may love this book but I had serious issues with it and its depiction of characters such as Kieran. I felt as though (LGB) relationships were being made complex just for the sake of it, and Julian and Emma’ relationship struck me as dull, and something I’d read before in Mortal Instruments, especially with Jace and Clary. In fact, quite a lot of it felt as though it’d been ‘done before.’ I personally would have liked to have read less love triangle drama, which has become a real cliche in YA lit, and more of the tight, elegant plot twists Clare is often so adept at. My personal bug bear is the ‘sad lonely young gay person in a sad, lonely gay relationship’ trope- it’s become such a stereotype, repeated so often in books, TV and films, where LGBT people either end up miserable and/or die, and/or go mad, and/or kill themselves. The kill rate is pretty damn big. Because of this, a lot of people arguably don’t seem to realize that LGBT relationships can be healthy, loving, and yes, even FUN. (*Scandalous gasp.*) Sadly this doesn’t seem to be reflected in LOS as everything is so damn angst-ridden. It feels like a missed opportunity- especially as Mark and Kieran had such electric chemistry in ‘Lady Midnight.’
Make no mistake, my intention with this review is not to offend Cassandra Clare- who is still one of my favourite authors- or fans of LOS, and I still have the greatest respect for how she depicts LGBT characters and represents diversity in her writing- Magnus and Alec’s wonderfully humane relationship arc is a testament to that. But this book felt off for me, and that reflects in this review, which is ultimately my personal opinion. I expected more from this book, and sadly it did not deliver. Apologies to all the Clare fans, but because of these reasons, I just can’t give it a higher rating.
Overall rating: 2 out of 10
This book in four words: Justice. For. Kieran. Now.
Favourite Character: Kieran