In Clary’s hands, the stele is truly mightier than the sword.
Sarah Cross is the author of the modern fairy-tale novel Kill Me Softly, the superhero novel Dull Boy, and the Wolverine comic “The Adamantium Diaries.” She’s inspired by all kinds of art and illustration and curates a fairy tale–art blog called Fairy Tale Mood (fairytalemood.tumblr.com). You can visit her online at www.sarahcross.com.
Any warrior worth his salt isn’t too keen on having the secrets of his weapons revealed, but I find this essay by Diana to be an illuminating analysis of what makes Jace the Jace we know, love, and occasionally want to strangle.
Sharper Than a Seraph Blade
The Shadowhunters of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series have a variety of weapons at their disposal, and most possess particular favorites. Isabelle Lightwood is fond of her golden electrum whip, Luke Garroway (when not wolfy) is very attached to the kindjal blade Valentine gave him to off himself with, and Clary Fray probably gets the most mileage out of her Angel-given gift of rune making—that is, when she can manage to hang on to her stele. (Honestly, she drops that thing more often than Stephanie Plum forgets her gun.)
But Jace WaylandMorgenstern Herondale Lightwood— who, thanks to his angel blood, is one of the most powerful of all Shadowhunters, and who has more names for seraph blades than can be found in your average baby-naming book—has one weapon that trumps them all.
Seraph blades and daggers and steles are all well and good (and for Jace, they’re very good indeed), but the weapon he turns to time and time again throughout the Mortal Instruments series is his wit. When things look particularly dire, that’s when his jokes get particularly harsh. Late in City of Fallen Angels, Simon even points it out explicitly:
This was Jace being brave, Simon thought, brave and snarky because he thought Lilith was going to kill him, and that was the way he wanted to go, unafraid and on his feet. Like a warrior. The way Shadowhunters did. His death song would always be this—jokes and snideness and pretend arrogance, and that look in his eyes that said, I’m better than you. Simon just hadn’t realized it before.
Poor Simon. Given the many times the mundie vampire Daylighter has been the brunt of Jace’s masculine swagger, it’s little wonder it took him four books to realize the truth behind Jace’s weapon of choice. Luckily, Jace knows exactly what his biting wit, mocking laugh, and arrogant amusement can accomplish, even from the very beginning of the series.
In City of Bones, when Clary and Jace first return to her apartment, they are confronted by a Forsaken minion of Valentine’s—a big one, with an even bigger axe. When the formerly human creature attacks, narrowly missing Jace’s head with his aforementioned axe, what does Jace do? Does he sigh in relief ? Does he attack the dude from a distance? No; he laughs.
“The laugh seemed to enrage the creature,” who then proceeds to drop his weapon—you know, as you do if you’re a possessed evil minion who is being made fun of by a teenager—and raises his fists to the heavily armed Jace, who immediately dispatches him with a quick slice of his seraph blade.
You know, as you do if you’re a badass Shadowhunting teenager who knows that laughing at your exceptionally large, exceptionally enraged opponent is the best way to get him to do something dumb.
And the fun for Jace is just starting. Later, in the battle in Dorothea’s apartment, he taunts the Greater Demon Abbadon in a similar way. As the demon soberly intones about his particular prowess over other demons and hellish domain, Jace feigns disdain. “I’m not so sure about this wind and howling darkness business…smells more like landfill to me. You sure you’re not from Staten Island?”
Jace apparently knows that one of the best ways to attack the bad guys is to wound their pride. Abbadon does not appreciate his precious Abyss being compared to an outer borough, and leaps at Jace, who stands at the ready (are you noticing a pattern here?) with a couple of seraph blades.
Time and again, Jace returns to his signature move: Make fun of the villains, keep them off balance, provoke them into a blind rage during which he can coolly get the upper hand. He deploys his razor-sharp wit against angry demons, hapless rivals (Simon, when still vying for Clary’s affections, was a common target), and even, on occasion, against Clary herself.
Even in Raphael’s vampire lair, as Jace, Clary, and the beratted Simon are being set upon by a whole flock of bloodsuckers, Jace takes time out of his busy seraph-swinging schedule to ridicule Clary’s Hollywood grasp of fighting (she thinks they should stand back to back) and mockingly call Raphael “inconsiderate” for daring to move while Jace was trying to stab him in the heart. His commitment to joking, even in a time of crisis, tends to infuriate his enemies. And, naturally, his list of opponents occasionally includes Clary, as his strong attraction to the little mundie deeply disturbs him (even before he finds out she might be his sister).
See, Jace never learned how to flirt properly, because he was raised by a murderous sociopath.
As it turns out, however, humans are a great deal smarter than Valentine taught Jace to give them credit for, and as the series progresses, he finds he can’t as easily disarm and enrage the villains when they aren’t simpleminded minions or demons (or, like Clary, deeply sensitive to his barbs). In Renwick’s at the cli**x of City of Bones, his attempts to utilize humor against his father get him nowhere, since Valentine is way too smart to fall for Jace’s tricks. Valentine is utterly without a sense of humor (so it must be nature, not nurture, that gives Jace his wit), and Luke and Jace’s attempts to mock him are answered with dull, dead-serious regurgitations of Valentine’s purity platform.
However, the attempt does provide the reader with a clue into Jace’s internal state of mind. The more Jace distances himself from his father in that scene, the more his natural humor comes back to him. When Clary first finds him, he is under the sway of his father, and all of the teasing, all of the joking, all of the Jace has gone out of him. He’s Jonathan Wayland: serious, earnest, in thrall to Valentine. But as he begins to doubt his father, the humor and sarcasm comes back, as much an offensive move (as useless as it is) as a defensive armor to protect him from the pain of realizing that his long-lost father is, well, not as great a guy as Jace had thought.
And the hits just keep on coming for Jace as the trilogy continues. Though he may have a way with wounding demons and minions through a few well-placed verbal barbs, when it comes to those with a little more brainpower and battle training—people like adoptive mothers, Clave Inquisitors, and his erstwhile papa—his attempts at using humor as an offensive technique don’t have the same panache. Throughout most of City of Ashes, Jace doesn’t triumph due to his sharp tongue; he actually suffers.
“Usually he could get his way with Maryse by making her laugh,” Jace thinks when his adoptive mother begins to interrogate him about Valentine. “He was one of the only people in the world who could make her laugh.” And yet relying on jokes and sarcasm backfires this time, and his relationship with the only mother he’s ever known teeters on the brink.
Later, he tries to match wits with the Queen of the Fair Folk, who is admittedly amused by his comparatively pathetic efforts (and, you know, by the fact that Jace is way hot, and faeries like that kind of thing), but she makes sure he knows precisely who is the spider and who is the fly in her world. Though Jace mocks her with his now-thatyou’ve-had-your-fun glares of doom—as Clary sees them— the immortal Faerie Queen can give much, much better than she gets from some teenager, even if he is a Nephilim warrior. Jace escapes from that little encounter only after being forced to make out with his “sister” in front of her boyfriend, his family, and the entire faerie court.
And he fares worst of all when he gets snarky with the Inquisitor, who calls his attempts at humor “revolting” and socks him in a magical cage, believing he’s taunting her as one of Valentine’s men.
The more subdued humor in this second installment of the series can be attributed to Jace’s growing insecurity. He deploys his trademark wit mainly as a defensive move; he’s trying to hide just how much Maryse hurts him when she doesn’t trust him or just how scared he is of the Inquisitor’s threats. He’s no longer sure of his place in the world. In City of Bones, Jace is a Shadowhunter, the beloved (if orphaned) son of the late, great Michael Wayland (great in Jace’s mind, at least; Clary thinks the guy’s kind of a jerk), living happily among the close-knit Lightwood clan, dealing with his attraction to a cute redhead who, appearances aside, is so not really a mundie. By City of Ashes, the Clave is interrogating and imprisoning him, Maryse Lightwood has thrown him out of the house, people everywhere are calling him Jonathan Morgenstern, his dad’s a psychopath, and—oh yeah, the cute redhead is his sister.
There are a few things that even sarcasm can’t protect you from.
But when Clary carves the Fearless rune on him at the end of the novel, his sense of humor returns. Is fear of demons the most useful thing she excises from Jace at that moment? Maybe. But what if it’s fear of everything else that’s been messing with his head? With the Fearless rune on, he is able to kiss Clary, to joke with Luke, and to face a phalanx of demons with a swagger in his step. With the Fearless rune on, he mocks his father and acts like the Shadowhunter people have been telling him he isn’t worthy to call himself for the entire book. Jace and the Shadowhunters, along with Luke and his werewolves, face impossible odds thanks to Valentine’s mass demon summoning, but Jace is back in prime form, yukking it up even as the ichor flies. At last, the complications of Clave politics and family drama and incestuous relationships are out of the way and he’s back on familiar ground. Jace = badass Shadowhunter and demons = dead meat.
In the end, the fear demon Agramon manages to burn that rune off Jace’s back. However, it does so not through physical superiority but rather by hinting at all the mental baggage the rune has been helping keep at bay. Agramon appears as Valentine himself, reminding Jace of their family connection, and even more, of how many characteristics they share: courage, leadership, and the arrogance that in Jace, at least, forms the core of his sarcastic armor.
And though Jace kills Agramon on Valentine’s ship, the demon does a fair amount of damage to Jace first. Fear and insecurity have him in a humorless grip throughout most of City of Glass, as Jace begins to doubt not only his identity, but also his very humanity (or nephilimity, as it were). Clary notes his depression, thinking, “Despair, anger, hate. These are demon qualities. He’s acting the way he thinks he should act.” After all, like Valentine, demons don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. If Jace is Valentine’s son, infused with the blood of demons (as Clary saw in the angel’s visions), then a sense of humor isn’t exactly his birthright.
Jace can pretend to be demon-tainted as much as he wants, can protect himself with anger and indifference instead of sarcasm and arrogance, but when the chips are down, he returns to form. When Jace is imprisoned by Sebastian later in City of Glass, bound, injured, and with no hope of rescue, he doesn’t despair. He mocks his captor: “Waiting for a special occasion to kill me? Christmas is coming.”
Sebastian replies: “You have a smart mouth. You didn’t learn that from Valentine.” You can say that again, demon boy. Sebastian, like his father (or perhaps his demon blood donors), didn’t get a humor gene. He’s also pretty smart, so he isn’t particularly susceptible to Jace’s attempts to anger him with his usual displays of mocking arrogance. “Nothing, not a flicker of emotion, passed across Sebastian’s pale face,” as Jace tries every trick in his arsenal, to no avail. Sebastian is weak, Sebastian is crazy, Sebastian is on the wrong side of history…nothing moves his “brother” until Jace stumbles on the deepest wound of all, the one that even he can’t joke about, because he feels its bite so strongly himself. If Sebastian kills Jace unarmed and tied up, Valentine will be disappointed.
In the first few books, whenever Jace is given the chance to kill Valentine, he can’t pull it off because he can’t divorce himself from his long-indoctrinated need to impress the man he knew as Michael Wayland, the man he thought of as his father. His hand trembles in Renwick’s in book one, and when he kills Agramon on the ship in book two, his first, terrible fear is that it really was Valentine all along. Valentine is Jace’s enemy; he abused Jace, “beat Jace bloody for the first ten years of his life” (as Sebastian says in City of Lost Souls), but he’s also the only father Jace ever knew. If there’s one quality that Valentine has in spades, it’s charisma. It’s how he was able to get all the members of the Circle to do such awful things for him to begin with. Jace guesses right that Sebastian, despite his sociopathy and demon blood, worships Valentine in the same way everyone else did. And what’s more, Jace understands that humor and sarcasm is not the way to convince Sebastian that he knows what he’s talking about.
In the first book, Jace’s momentary alliance with Valentine at Renwick’s is humorless; in the second, his pretended defection when Valentine shows Jace his terrible plan is similarly earnest. Valentine’s hold on Jace lives beyond his sense of humor, so deeply embedded in his psyche that he knows that the humorless, psychopathic Sebastian feels it too. So when Jace convinces Sebastian to fight him fair and square, the way Valentine would want (the argument is debatable, but hey, it works), there’s no joking required, or even warranted. His connection to Valentine is one area of his life where jokes do not suffice.
In City of Fallen Angels, Jace is resurrected and reassured of his place in the world—or, at least, that’s what he wants everyone to think. His cocky swagger and amused arrogance are on full display, but those close to him are no longer fooled. Clary, when confronted with Jace’s continued vulnerability, thinks: “Alec and Isabelle knew, from living with him and loving him, that underneath the protective armor of humor and pretended arrogance, the ragged shards of memory and childhood still tore at him. But she was the only one he said the words out loud to.”