November 30, 2023

Before you judge me for reading the first book in a sappy YA fantasy series, I can explain. When I was 13, I ran one of those book fandom Instagram accounts (which I hope speaks for itself.) When I got to high school I stopped reading for fun. I missed reading, so my 17-year-old self picked up “Lady Midnight,” an extension of The Mortal Instruments series and all written by Cassandra Clare.

Finally, at 20 years old, I’m in a place in my life where I can read for fun again, and this book was expensive, so I figured what the heck, let’s give it a read.

First of all, you have to take this book for what it is. An old family friend of mine once described guilty pleasure books as a “Brain Twinkie” and that’s exactly what “Lady Midnight” is like. It proclaims itself to be the first in a trilogy called The Dark Artifices. It’s 700 pages of teenagers solving riddles, going on quests, and fighting monsters. For anyone who loved YA novels as a kid, this means a hit of pure nostalgia.

Monsters are not the only things that Emma Carstairs, the 17-year-old protagonist, has to fight off. It becomes clear in the first few pages that she has fallen in love with Julian Blackthorn, her parabatai, which is a combination of best friend and battle partner. In Shadowhunter culture, you basically get friendship married to your parabatai and it’s strictly forbidden to fall in love with them.

This conflict rests comfortably in the background of the plot for the duration of the book. Emma’s parents were murdered when she was 12 in a strange and horrific way, and although their murderer was presumed to be the now-dead Sebastian Morgenstern, antagonist of The Mortal Instruments series, she never believed that to be true. In “Lady Midnight” Emma is now 17, and bodies are turning up that have been killed in the same strange way her parents were killed.

Emma, trademarked by her all-consuming desire for revenge, figured this couldn’t be a coincidence, and of course, it wasn’t. Emma, Julian, and Julian’s army of siblings were given the quest of finding the real killer of the growing list of victims. This quest had a strict deadline of two weeks. If they failed, Julian’s half-faerie brother Mark would be returned to the Wild Hunt, and they would never see him again.

Overall, the plot of “Lady Midnight” was surprisingly complex and entertaining. The quest these kids undertake turns out to be incredibly complicated. Clare clearly took her time with this one, because she incorporated countless twists and turns flawlessly into this story.

The characters, on the other hand, leave something to be desired. They can all be broken down to their respective gimmicks that helps the readers to keep their names straight: Emma is impulsive and snarky, Julian is a painter, Dru is “boy crazy,” and so on. The characters are not developed much further beyond these basic traits unless we get to see them through another character’s eyes who has fallen in love with them.

The way Clare describes teenage love is completely over-the-top. The amount of passion lovebirds in “Lady Midnight” have (who, for the purpose of spoilers, will remain nameless) is unmatched by anything I’ve ever read. Or should I say, anything except every single other relationship in The Mortal Instruments series. In a Clare book, the teens are completely consumed by their feelings for each other, and all they want is to be as close as possible. These characters seem like they’ll never be satisfied until their own skeleton has fully merged together with the bones of their teenage lover. It’s that bad.

And the thing is, it wouldn’t be nearly as bad if every relationship Clare wrote wasn’t exactly the same. Whether it be Jace and Clary, Simon and Isabelle or Magnus and Alec, there is almost no difference in how she describes the love that her characters have for each other. Take any love scene between two characters and give it to a different couple, and there would be no difference.

That didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this book, though. I breezed through this 800-page monster in about four days, and it was a welcome escape from the world of adulthood that is slowly creeping up on me. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this book will be the best book you’ve ever read, because it won’t be. It’s a good book, and it’s especially good for what it’s trying to be: a fantasy-romance-adventure book directly targeted towards teenage girls. And you know what? I still genuinely enjoyed it. Sue me.

1 thought on “Lady Midnight’s Surprising Complexity Intrigues Readers

  1. Faith, I think you’ll enjoy the rest of this series (if you have time to read it!). This is by far my favorite series that Clare has done, and the rest of the books help to expand upon some of the issues that you noted with the first book. I’m glad to see that there’s still others out there reading her work! She’s one of my favorite YA authors.

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