It’s this sibling similarity that leads him to believe that Clary can be brought into the fold. It makes him believe that she’s worthy to be part of his cause.
The incest taboo between Jonathan and Clary doesn’t function in the same way as the taboo between Jace and Clary does. The reader is meant to be repulsed. But that is due more to the fact that Jonathan is a vile villain than it is to his desire to connect physically with Clary despite their shared parentage.
Blood, whether the blood of the angel that makes a Shadowhunter a Shadowhunter or the blood that ties you to your family, is important in the Mortal Instruments series. Jace and Clary’s blood has brought them together, united them, and then threatened to separate them forever. It has twisted them, turned them, and defined who they are. But now we know the truth of it, and we know where they stand. Or do we?
If you’ve been reading the Mortal Instruments for any length of time, you know that only two things are certain: Dead doesn’t necessarily mean dead, and you never know whose blood is going to wind up running through your veins.
Kendare Blake grew up in the small city of Cambridge, Minnesota. She studied finance at Ithaca College and Creative Writing at Middlesex University in London. Now she inhabits Washington State, along with her husband, Dylan, and two catsons: Tybalt and Mojo Jojo. There’s also a horsedaughter, but she’s all grown up now and lives on her own, obviously too busy to ever call or write. Kendare is the author of Sleepwalk Society, Anna Dressed in Blood, Girl of Nightmares, and the upcoming Antigoddess trilogy.
Friends: Where would we be without them? We’d be chasing people who are terrible for us, making unfortunate fashion choices, and watching terrible movies alone. We’d be standing at the edge of a decision, wondering what the hell we should do. We’d forget to laugh. Gwenda Bond expresses a sentiment we don’t hear often enough—that friendship is its own kind of love story.
Asking for a Friend
So much of life as a teenager is spent trying to find that special person. Maybe you know the one I mean. The person who always seems to get you, the one you can call at any time day or night for reassurance or bail money, the one you talk to for hours sharing your darkest secrets without ever worrying they’ll tell, the one who always, always has your back no matter what idiot thing you just did. The one you have inside jokes with, and ice cream binges, and bad movie marathons. The one whose betrayal would break your heart and smash your soul into teeny-tiny pieces with the pure shock of it.
Who doesn’t remember this yearning? And if you think I’m talking about love, well, you’d be wrong—at least in part. Sure, we all want to meet a gorgeous being who longs to make out with us and whom we long to make out with in return. But when I think back to my teen years, to the people I dated, it’s usually with half-affectionate, halfmortified laughter. We were so young, so inept and ill-suited for each other. We were actively bad at making out. The dissection of everything that happened on a date afterward with friends was usually way more fun than the date itself.
So, no, the relationship nostalgia I’m talking about is a different kind entirely, and I’d bet I’m not alone. And this need sticks with you into adulthood, perhaps evolving, but still there (and if you’re lucky, met). It’s something that can be just as important as romantic love but is rarely treated that way in stories: friendship.
But the Mortal Instruments series is an exception. The phenomenon of undervaluing friendships—or at the very least taking them for granted—can sometimes be a side effect of the understandable focus many readers have on the series’ great epic loves—Clary and Jace, Alec and Magnus, Isabelle and Simon (a girl can hope). But Cassandra Clare never forgets how important friendships are in her characters’ lives. The novels never give short shrift to the other epic love stories being told too, the ones that involve old friends, new friends, and, most important of all, best friends.
Beyond the One True Pairing
The lack of attention given to just-friendship when love is also in the air has been noted before. No less than C. S. Lewis—himself one half of a famous literary bromance with J.R.R. Tolkien—wrote in Four Loves, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.” Of course, a few paragraphs later, he also nails one of the reasons why that’s so, pointing out that there’s “nothing throaty about it, nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale.” Romantic love is more dramatic, more edge of the seat. Hearts pound, palms sweat, cheeks burn, breath quickens. Friendship has different, subtler effects. It brings other rewards, and other costs.
I’m not disputing the importance of connections centered on romantic love, because that would be insane. Clary + Jace = forever. What I’m suggesting is that the connections of friendship in the series are just as real, strong, and important as the smooch-inclined ones. But it’s also not as if those types of relationships and friendship are mutually exclusive, so some further definition is in order to make clear where friendship fits into the mix.
Acknowledging areas of overlap is important partially because the overarching story of the series, in which Team Good battles Team Evil (or, at times, Team Less Good) to protect the world, is played out primarily through relationships. The Mortal Instruments is all about the ever-evolving connections between people, whether they’re human or supernatural beings. Clare explores a wide variety of relationships over the course of the series, all with their own specific depth and complexity: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, Shadowhunters in a parabatai bond, siblings (including those who turn out not to be siblings after all, whew), to tick off just a few examples. Throw the bad history between Downworlders and Shadowhunters or the natural dislike between vampires and werewolves into the mix and things get even more interesting. But since we’re talking here about one specific variety of relationship—friendship—what is it that makes a friend a friend?
The answer isn’t entirely straightforward. Without a doubt, friendship can be a facet of another type of relationship, such as a romance or a sibling bond. But it’s just as telling that it isn’t always present. We all know people whose familial relationships definitely don’t come with the kind of easy closeness and unstated trust that characterizes the best friendships. The phrase “close as sisters” may be used to describe friends, but we all know sisters who aren’t close at all. Can friendship be separated from a romance in the same way? Of course it can. Anyone who’s ever broken up with someone only to never see or speak to them again can vouch for that. For the purposes of this essay, I’m defining friendship as a specific form of closeness that may be the sole basis of a relationship—as with Clary and Simon—or may be an additional element of a relationship—as with Alec and Jace. Friendships aren’t forced into existence by bonds of blood or sexual history and chemistry. On some level, a friendship always requires a choice. And, as the Mortal Instruments clearly demonstrates, that choice can be one of the most important ones we ever make.
Notably, in City of Bones, the first relationship we’re introduced to is one that will be among the most significant of the series. When we meet Clary and Simon heading into Pandemonium, everything about the way they are with each other signals that they have a long-established friendship. The ease with which they banter and the way they so clearly know each other’s preferences (Clary informing Simon that he hates trance music) shows off their common friend shorthand. Simon immediately trusts what Clary says and goes for help when she reveals she’s seen two strange boys with knives, even if he didn’t see them. All of this lets us know that this isn’t going to be one of those books where the protagonist’s so-called best friend disappears the moment the sexier members of the “other” world make an appearance. Simon is important. And Clary and Simon’s friendship will be tested, as much as any other relationship in the series.
Just as Simon and Clary always describe each other as “best friend,” so Jace describes Alec. In addition to having grown up together and being close friends, Jace and Alec are also parabatai. They fight together, and they have each other’s backs, but the parabatai bond means more than that. Parabatai are described as being “closer than brothers,” and, of course, they are also forbidden from falling in love with each other. In a very real sense, the parabatai bond is a pledge that formalizes friendship between warriors in the same way marriage does love. Parabatai know each other in a way no one else is able to. Alec is able to fake out everyone— even Isabelle—when Jace is imprisoned by the Inquisitor in City of Ashes by pretending to sell out his friend. But if they had the same bond with him that Jace does, they’d have instantly seen through his fakery, and known that his only intention is to help Jace get free. Alec doesn’t flinch when Jace says Valentine asked him to join Team Evil; he knows, without a doubt, that Jace would never have agreed and he understands that Jace needs reassurance that Alec would never believe he would. Jace is someone who needs other people’s good opinion of him, because he’s so quick to turn on himself. Alec knows this, because he knows his best friend.
But what about when it isn’t so clear whether a pair is meant to be or meant to be just friends? The Mortal Instruments proves more than once that the boundary between platonic friend and lover often appears more porous than it is…at least to the one who wants to make it across.
Unrequited Never Felt So Good
Both Alec and Jace’s and Simon and Clary’s friendships start the series with a one-sided crush destined to be crushed. Believing you are in love with your best friend is an entirely understandable thing. In real life, the best romances are either built on friendship or quickly grow to include one; otherwise it’s all chemistry, no trust and camaraderie. But who hasn’t been confused thinking that this person they share so much with might be able to love them in that way too? And is there anything worse than someone forcing the issue?
Take Simon and Clary’s relationship at the beginning of City of Bones, before they meet the Shadowhunters. This earliest incarnation of their friendship almost seems thin and strained—but only because of how strong it later becomes. Yes, they are best friends with a history stretching back to childhood, with great knowledge of each other’s quirks and with great affection for one another. But there’s also a wall between them, with one side made up of Simon’s desire for their relationship to become romantic and the other by Clary’s obliviousness at first and then tolerance of that desire. Their friend shorthand is compromised by the fact that one side—Simon—often indicates or says something to the other—Clary—that she isn’t fully reading, understanding, or seeing. Until, that is, the issue of Simon’s one-sided romantic feelings for Clary is forced.
That finally comes in City of Ashes, when these two best friends step over the line and test the make-out waters following the revelation that Clary and Jace are brother and sister. It doesn’t quite go how either expects. From the confusion that Clary feels when Simon calls her his girlfriend and it rolls off his tongue so easily, to the underwhelming emotional impact of their kissing on Clary and even how fast Simon falls asleep when she goes to change into her pajamas, we know this can only end in tears. But, instead, because this is a Cassie Clare book, it ends in blood.
When the Queen of Faerie announces that Clary must stay behind because she tasted faerie food, she also offers an out. A kiss, she says, and there’s a round robin of combinations proposed—Simon steps up to kiss Clary, and she thinks about how she’s not entirely comfortable with the prospect in this situation or any other, a tacit admission that the budding effort at romance isn’t going to work. But when Jace and Clary engage in their thinking-of-anythingbut- England kiss, Simon sees the truth, even if he’s not ready to admit it yet either. Hurt, he takes off and gets himself killed. Or, rather, undead. One of the series’ most heartbreaking moments is Simon’s death scene in Clary’s arms, with her last words of “Simon, I love you” and her protective lashing out against Jace when she thinks he might try to kill Simon for good. Her tender insistence that Simon be buried in a Jewish cemetery for his rising, on being there when he claws his way from the ground—those are the moments when it becomes certain that not only will their friendship survive the crash-and-lukewarm-burn attempt at romance but it will be stronger because of it.
For Simon, the realization that this romance is doomed doesn’t happen quite so early. The first time he and Clary are reunited after his transition to being a vampire, he thinks about the threshold toward romance they’ve crossed as “fragile as a flickering candle flame,” and he also believes that it will be his fault if it breaks and that “something inside him would shatter too, something that could never be fixed.” The good thing is that he’s wrong, and by the end of the novel, he’s ready to openly acknowledge he’d rather have something real with Clary than a false love affair. He finally understands that what matters is that his and Clary’s friendship survives—and it does, and he does. By City of Fallen Angels, he’s dating Izzy and Maia at the same time, and when he and Clary end a phone conversation with simple declarations of love for each other, Simon reflects that he’d had so much trouble saying those words for so long but “[n]ow that he no longer meant them the same way, it was easy.”
In fact, the scaling of that wall between them—or, more aptly, the smashing it out of the way—is what finally makes Simon and Clary’s friendship absolutely unshakable. They understand each other deeply enough that Simon goes along with Clary taking the incredible risk of going with Jace and Sebastian in City of Lost Souls, because he knows she’ll do it anyway, and this way at least he can be there for her via faerie radio receiver. Clary and Simon’s love for each other is epic—once they get the pesky prospect of romance out of the way.