Cassie: I think there is a difference in the books between the characters who are born immortal and the ones who are born human and who become immortal. The ones who have it thrust upon them think, “I don’t know how I feel about this. Everyone I love will die.” Whereas the Fairie Queen has always been immortal. Everyone she loves is immortaI.
Kelly: I guess the thing I want to bring up about love and immortality is that in the Mortal Instruments, they function in similar ways. The characters we care about don’t choose immortality any more than they choose who to fall in love with. Love and immortality are both things that happen to you, at least if you start out human. And that’s straight out of the classic young adult and children’s fiction tradition. Think of Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. Jesse and his family don’t choose immortality, and at the point where Winnie is old enough to make a decision for herself, the opportunity for choice is gone. Or a story like Ray Bradbury’s “The Homecoming,” in which our viewpoint character is a mortal boy born to a family of immortals. He can’t choose either. I can think of a few characters in young adult fiction who pursue immortality, like Bella in the Twilight series, but even Bella, in that final moment, doesn’t actively choose immortality. Edward, out of necessity, chooses it for her. Young adult fiction is all about agency: the protagonists coming into the world and taking on active roles. And yet when it comes to immortality, it’s extremely rare to see protagonists take it for themselves. It’s usually either forced on them, or else it turns out to have been their birthright all along.
Holly: I wonder if immortality is often thrust upon characters (or found to be their birthright) because there is nothing particularly surprising about choosing to live forever. That’s something we’d all be mightily tempted by, and I would guess it would be the rare individual who wouldn’t give in to that temptation.
Kelly: I have one more thought. Isn’t it every author’s dream to have characters (and books) that live forever? Holly: Well, authors are notoriously of the devil’s party, whether they know it or not. Wasn’t that what what’shis-face said about Milton? That printmaker dude. Blake!
Kelly: If the devil was an agent, everybody would want to sign up with him. Holly: Relatedly, I do think that we as readers are often in sympathy with Downworlders and maybe feel more kin to them than the Shadowhunters. Downworlders seem to have lives lived less to extremes. They don’t have a great and holy purpose in the way that Shadowhunters do. They seem to have big parties and stay up late and watch television. Well, possibly that’s mostly Magnus.
Kelly: That does sound like most teenagers and also most writers that I know. Or maybe just most people. Maybe it’s rarer to find someone who, like a Shadowhunter, has a sense that their life may be short but knows what they want (and need) to do with it.
Holly: That’s a kind of certainty that it seems to me that many of us envy. But immortality makes certainty of purpose impossible. Immortals live so many lives that no one purpose will stretch to fit all of them. And though we’ve discussed some of the drawbacks of immortality, those of us left with but a single lifetime stretching before us must admit that no disadvantage could discourage us from wanting to live forever. And since we can’t have that, at least we can comfort ourselves knowing that of all the things Shadowhunters fight, they are no more able to defeat death than Gilgamesh…or us.
Thus ended our conversation, as we all sat silent in contemplation of exactly which investments would be our best bet for long-term financial security if Holly was wrong and we all became vampires.
Kelly Link is the award-winning author of three collections, most recently Pretty Monsters (Viking). With Gavin J. Grant, she coedited the anthology Steampunk! (Candlewick) as well as the forthcoming Monstrous Affections. Together they run Small Beer Press and put out the zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. Her website is www.kellylink.net.
Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include the Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), the Modern Faerie Tale series, the Good Neighbors graphic novel trilogy (with Ted Naifeh), the Curse Workers series, and her new vampire novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. She has been a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award. She currently lives in New England with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret door.
Sarah Rees Brennan
As you will see below, Sarah Rees Brennan has a very active imagination, which happens to writers sometimes. She also has some very, er, unique opinions on what’s going on in my books. But her heart is absolutely in the right place.
What Does That Deviant Wench Think She’s Doing? Or, Shadowhunters Gone Wild
The Dirty Side of Demon Hunting
“So, technically, even though Jace isn’t actually related to you, you have kissed your brother.”
—Simon Lewis in City of Glass, telling it like it is
I hope, with this saucy title, that everyone has flipped right from the table of contents to this essay. Hi, guys! Almost every other essay will be more coherent and intelligent than this one, but if you want dirty jokes, you have come to the right place. Welcome to Sarah’s School of Deviant Literary Analysis, where everyone gets to canoodle, including Magnus Bane’s magnificent self.
And since I invoked Magnus Bane’s name because I was shamelessly cribbing off a phrase he used in City of Bones (nobody canoodles in his bedroom but his magnificent self), let’s begin my list of shameless debauchees (otherwise known as Cassandra Clare’s cast of characters) with a look at Magnus: warlock, Downworlder, fashion icon. Though the angel Raziel says that Downworlders have souls, warlocks are looked down on by the Shadowhunters. They would probably be looked down on by most people: It’s a shady enough thing to have a parent from Hell and to know that you are born via a nonconsensual demonic arrangement. Magnus’ mother was violated, and his birth had far-reaching tragic consequences, resulting in the deaths of most of his human family; no wonder Magnus does not want to talk about his father. In lesser books, Magnus might be a villain: doomed and damned by descent, by his sexual preferences, by who he is.
But Magnus is one of the good guys. He is the only character to appear in all of the six Mortal Instruments and three Infernal Devices books. (I know they’re not all out yet, but trust me, he’s in ’em.) Indeed, in the Infernal Devices books, there is another demon’s child: Tessa, our adorable book-loving her**ne, is a warlock too. The presence and prominence of Magnus Bane, a bisexual, flamboyant, partAsian, part-demon character, in the Mortal Instruments novels says: You can be very different, genuinely and obviously different. You can love as you will and have whatever kind of fun you like. You can be banned from Peru because of that shocking thing you did involving a llama, and you still can be one of the kindest, most decent and dependable people in the world.
Magnus in the Infernal Devices helps one of our heroes, Will Herondale, for no reason other than that Will needs help. Magnus is shown as hurt by a lady he loves, and in the Mortal Instruments, he is shown as entering into a committed relationship with a dude he loves and who loves him back. Said dude, Alec, takes a while to love Magnus back, so almost from the start we see Magnus as pining and rejected as well as deeply snarky…we empathize with his longing just as we do with Clary and Jace’s longing for each other.
Speaking of Clary and Jace’s love for each other: It is forbidden. Nay, it is taboo. No, I mean, they think they’re brother and sister for several books, and yet they can’t quite stamp out the feelings they had for each other before this dreadful discovery. Their Facebook relationship statuses say “IT’S COMPLICATED!!!!!!”
Fortunately, Jace and Clary turn out not to be related. (I mean, if you buy Valentine’s story and don’t think to yourself: Hey, so this hot devoted-to-Valentine young lassie Celine Herondale [Jace’s mom] was in an unhappy marriage and lived next door, and Valentine was also having marital difficulties [“You never take out the trash and you always put demons in our son!”] and then Celine got pregnant and Valentine adopted her kid as his own—sure, okay, normal behavior, that Valentine, he’s a giver—and he could have popped the Herondale scar on the baby real quick so nobody asked any awkward follow-up questions in the future. That’s a personal theory. Nobody tell Jace and Clary: They might get upset. I may have already told Cassandra Clare, who said, and I quote, “You’re sick, dude,” and, “There’s something very wrong with you.” So I cannot call this theory author-approved. ) This does not change the fact that Jace and Clary believed they were in the wrong and could not help feeling what they felt anyway.
Cassandra Clare is on record as saying she was inspired by the real-life story of a couple who were going to get married and found out they were brother and sister. (Most awkward “actually don’t save the date” notes ever, am I right?) I can completely see why she was inspired. It is a horrible thing to happen to two innocent people in love, and books are all about horrible things happening to people. So you become involved with someone, you find out something terrible, you can’t entirely crush your feelings: That is a tragedy. That is nobody’s fault. Human beings are complicated.
And if you give in to your mutual ( mutual is important, kids) desires and act on them, that’s okay, even if in the last analysis you decide pursuing the relationship is a bad idea. Clary and Jace never decide to date even though they’re related because holy complications, Batman. They do, however, make out wildly twice. Admittedly, once when Jace is in a fit of self-loathing, and one time the Queen of the Faeries makes them do it.
Faerie Queen: Faerie Queen says kiss. Basically, being Queen of the Faeries is 70 percent voyeurism, 30 percent crafting giant flowers to wear on my head.
Jace and clary: We’re related. Faerie Queen: I know! I love me some Flowers in the Attic shizz.
Just because they enjoyed it doesn’t mean you didn’t violate them, Faerie Queen! And they’re not bad people for enjoying it, or for feeling the way they do. The reader sympathizes with them.
Speaking of reader sympathy, I once read a review of one of Cassandra Clare’s books online that said that her talent would trick you into believing Magnus and Alec’s relationship was beautiful instead of wrong. I found that sad, of course, because it is sad that in this day and age there are people, genuinely good and well-meaning people, who think that (a) love is wrong and (b) what consenting adults get up to is any of their business. I found it inspiring too, though—if even people who think like that found the relationship beautiful, perhaps it dropped a seed of tolerance and love there. And for those who didn’t start from the place of “This is wrong, terrible and wrong!” but who started from a place of being undecided or ignorant or oblivious…well, maybe Magnus and Alec’s relationship made them aware and accepting. In the words of noted philosopher Lily Allen, “Look inside your tiny mind/and look a bit harder.” These books encourage everyone to do that, simply by presenting a world that has all kinds of people in it. Presenting such a world is a risk, of course: Many readers, like the reviewer mentioned above, find a diverse world perverse in some way. But that diversity is also something that makes the world of the books richer, the books themselves better, and the minds of those reading them broader.
Which might just be a long way of me saying, “Rock on with your bad selves, you deviants.” And speaking of deviants…
Not many gorgeous young heroes of YA novels share a kiss with warlock dudes, unless their wanting to share a kiss with dudes is the entire premise of the novel. Will Herondale of the Infernal Devices got snogged by Magnus Bane and then wandered off in a slightly drugged-up haze. It was not the most scandalous thing that had ever happened to Will. It was not even the most scandalous thing that happened to Will that day.
Jace Wayland-Morgenstern-Herondale-Lightwood (Jace has three daddies, okay, and they’re all varying degrees of evil) is like Will in that this is a dude who’s probably straight but open to new experiences. It’s not all running around nak*d with antlers on his head and adopting the alias Hotschaft von Hugenstein: Jace also offers to kiss Alec to address the question of Alec’s attraction to him, and does make out with Aline Penhallow on request to ascertain her orientation. I wonder how that conversation went.
aline: Yo, Wayland-Herondale-Morgenstern-Lightwood! That’s a mouthful.
Jace: That’s what all the ladies tell me.
aline: Good straight-to-the-filthtastic point! I hear you’re foxier than the Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Jace: And the rumors are true!
aline: I don’t see it myself.
Jace: Maybe if I turned to the side? I’ve been told my profile is allu—
aline: No. I’ve also been told you’re quite the Casanova.
Jace: Well, not to brag, but I’ve nova’d a few casas in my time.
aline: Excellent. So you feel you could arouse a lady, if a lady was capable of being aroused by a dude.
Jace: Oh. Ohhhh. Oh I understand, I have an adopted brother who’s…
aline: Do something more useful with your mouth than talking, I feel like I’m getting gayer by the second.
Jace: Challenge accepted!…
aline: Thanks, man. You have confirmed for me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am super, super gay. I cannot describe to you how intensely I am not attracted to you.
Jace: …Thanks. But objectively, I’m totally an eight, right?
aline: Later, dude.
Jace: Seven and a half ?
aline: Awkward when your sister walked in. Well, could’ve been worse, it could have been a girlfriend of yours.
Jace: Ahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahah ahahahahahaha!
aline: …I’m going to leave you to laugh hollowly and psychotically on your own.