No matter how hard he might be working to exorcise Valentine’s twisted teachings, to Jace, emotions and connection are still a weakness, and humor is the way he tries to keep his distance from the things out there—demon or otherwise—that might hurt him.
An argument with Simon and his new roommate, the werewolf Kyle/Jordan, has Jace back in fighting form: “So basically you’re threatening to turn me into something you can sprinkle on popcorn if I don’t do what you say?” Exasperated, Kyle asks Simon if Jace “always talk[s] like this.” The answer, to Simon’s chagrin, is yes.
Later, as the demon Lilith’s possession takes hold, Jace loses even this facade of sarcasm. Clary thinks “it was hard to see him like this, all his usual burning energy gone, like witchlight suffocating under a covering of ash.” You can always tell when things are going poorly for Jace, when he’s in the thrall of a master manipulator like Valentine or, more literally, when he’s the pawn of enchantments like those cast by Lilith or Sebastian. When that happens, he’s just not funny anymore.
In City of Bones, he has to lose faith in his father before he can join in on Luke’s mocking appraisal of Valentine’s plans. In City of Fallen Angels, it isn’t until Clary breaks Lilith’s hold on him by cutting apart his rune that Jace starts making jokes again, turning the full force of his humor weapon on Lilith herself: “You and your name-dropping,” he mocks. “It’s like I’m with the Band with biblical figures.” (“This is Jace being brave,” Simon thinks when he witnesses it.)
Lilith, however, is not amused. Seriously (pun intended), what is it with these demons? None of them has a sense of humor—that is, until Sebastian and Jace are bound. In City of Lost Souls, Sebastian and Jace go on a wild crime spree through Europe’s most fashionable cities, living it up like a pair of hot yet evil frat boys on the spring break from Hell. Sebastian is no longer Valentine’s humorless, sociopathic son. Whether it’s their magical bond or just by way of spending time with a wit like Jace, Sebastian has somehow developed quite the knack for cracking jokes. The two of them even banter in front of Clary in order to put her at ease when she first shows up in their interdimensional penthouse apartment.
Clary is baffled by the Jace she meets. This time, his possession is of a different nature. He’s not the despondent, heavily controlled automaton she cut into on Lilith’s rooftop. In fact, it’s hard for her to keep in mind that he’s really possessed at all. Thanks to Lilith’s enchantments, he is bound physically to Sebastian, his former enemy, and is also mentally subservient to Sebastian’s will…but he’s happy about it. He loves his new life as the sidekick of a psychopath, and, unlike the other time he was possessed, it’s difficult to determine if he’s faking it, because the central tenets of his character—arrogance, humor, and a passion for Clary Fray—are completely intact. “How could he be Jace and not-Jace all at once?” Clary wonders.
Every time Jace makes a sexy joke or brags about his physical prowess in that arrogant tone she’s grown to love, Clary’s confidence in her mission to rescue him from Sebastian is shaken. Maybe this is the Jace he was always meant to be: happy, funny, madly in love, pure in thought and purpose. After all, she’s spent four books learning that Jace is least himself when he’s not funny, that the jokes stop when Jace is under the thumb of a villain. But the Jace wandering about the streets of Europe and taking her to enchanted nightclubs is a real hoot.
Then, at last, comes that marvelous Silver Chair–esque moment, when the enchantment is temporarily broken and Jace urges Clary to believe that this, this is the real him and the other Jace is a mirage, no matter how “happy” (and jokey) he seems. But Clary remains uncertain. After all, she remembers the last time he was possessed, back in Fallen Angels. “You didn’t smile or laugh or joke,” she says, because she knows that’s what Jace does. He smiles. He laughs. He jokes. And so does Enchanted Jace 2.0. But the Jace who comes to her with the pugio wound marring the red Possession rune on his chest, this supposedly sane, free-thinking Jace…well, he’s deadly serious. What’s a girl supposed to think?
Unfortunately, things get totally out of hand when deadly serious Jace starts talking about, well, death, and confused Clary decides the best person to help her out with the situation is her evil brother. Oops. Lesson learned, folks: Sometimes your hilarious boyfriend would rather be unhappy and unpossessed than otherwise. (In fact, when she goes to apologize to him at the end of the book, I initially figured it would be for squealing to Sebastian, not because she later, completely justifiably, stabbed him with a sword soaked in heavenly fire. Because, let’s be honest here, which part of that deserves an apology? Obviously the part where Clary is a total tattletale.)
But while demonic bondings apparently can bestow a sense of humor on the likes of Jonathan “Sebastian” Morgenstern, we’re all quite lucky that heavenly fire doesn’t burn it out of the likes of Jace Wayland Morgenstern Herondale Lightwood. In fact, when Jace first wakes up, after all the burning and such, he almost immediately reverts to form, asking to see Clary (“‘It really is you,’ Isabelle said, her voice amused”), and, of course, cracking jokes about his dream life as a topless underwear model.
“God,” says Clary, when he tries the same schtick on her, “I forgot how annoying the un-possessed you is.”
Except she doesn’t really mean it. Because in truth, she loved the sarcastic, arrogant, annoyingly funny Jace—loved him so much she almost let him stay bound to Sebastian rather than risk having him revert to the humorless drone she’d had the misfortune of dating when he was under Lilith’s possession in City of Fallen Angels. The most insidious thing about the Sebastian-controlled Jace was how much like Jace he remained. Enough like Jace that he was afraid Alec and Isabelle wouldn’t believe he was cured when they came to visit him in the hospital. Enough like Jace that even Clary had her doubts about what was best for the man she loved.
Which means it’s probably good for the Shadowhunters that Sebastian wanted to keep Enchanted!Jace as his own personal pet-slash-BFF. Had Jace not run off with Sebastian to make Mortal Cups and party with vampires, had he stayed in the care of the Lightwoods like some kind of runestricken sleeper agent, it’s possible that Sebastian’s terrible plan ultimately would have been effective. No one would suspect a happy-go-lucky, Clary-loving, joke-slinging, adorably arrogant Jace Lightwood of being a minion of evil.
Now there’s a scary thought. After all, Jace did warn Clary that, under Sebastian’s influence, he might “burn down the world…and laugh while he’s doing it.”
How very Jace, to make even the end of the world into a joke.
Diana Peterfreund is the author of eight books for adults and teens, including the Secret Society Girl series, the “killer unicorn” novels Rampant and Ascendant, and For Darkness Shows the Stars, a post-apocalyptic reimagining of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. She once spent a week in a haunted Irish castle with Cassie, so she knows exactly where Jace got his dangerous wit. You can find out more about Diana at www.dianapeterfreund.com.
Ah, the Clave. Nothing like an intimidating, inflexible institution of adults who expect nothing less than unwavering, unquestioning loyalty to brighten your day. This authority is problematic in the extreme, yet so many Nephilim adhere to it! What gives?
One of the aspects I’ve tried to preserve in the series is the moral ambiguity of the Clave. They’re supposedly the good guys, but they sure don’t act like it. In many ways, the Clave begat the Circle, just by being who they were, as Robin points out below.
But ultimately, this essay is about growing up. It’s about questioning authority, thinking critically, and coming into one’s own ability (and willingness!) to make choices and take responsibility for them—an important stage of development for our Shadowhunter heroes and for us mere mundanes alike.
When Laws Are Made to Be Broken
“We Shadowhunters live by a code, and that code isn’t flexible.” —Jace Wayland, City of Bones
Imagine that your best friend came to you one day, brimming with excitement because she’d met these superawesome new friends who suggested she come live with them, follow a bunch of arcane and unquestionable laws, and cut ties with all her old friends because they’re incapable of understanding her new super-awesome life. If you’re a child of the ’80s like me, reared on a steady diet of Jonestown horror stories and trashy novels about brainwashed teens, you would immediately recognize the situation for what it was: Your best friend has joined a cult.
If you’re not a child of the ’80s but not completely oblivious, you’d still clue in pretty quick: definitely a cult.
Simon Lewis is far from oblivious.
As he tells his best friend, Clary Fray, in City of Ashes, “The Shadowhunter thing—they’re like a cult.” Clary denies it, of course, because who wants to admit they’ve been suckered into a cult? But Simon’s got evidence: “Sure they are. Shadowhunting is their whole lives. And they look down on everyone else…They’re not friends with ordinary people, they don’t go to the same places, they don’t know the same jokes, they think they’re above us.” Simon may have a somewhat bizarre definition of cults—he could be describing a particularly snobbish bunch of cheerleaders—but you’ve got to admit he has a point. Like any good cultists, Shadowhunters forswear allegiance to anything that could interfere with their loyalty to the institution. (Remember Alec explaining in City of Bones why he wishes Clary would disappear: “[She’s] making Jace act like—like he isn’t one of us. Making him break his oath to the Clave, making him break the Law.”) They share an eccentric but ironclad belief system and hew to a code of behavior that allows for no deviation. And let’s not forget their utter ignorance of basic pop culture that could only result from spending a life in cultural isolation, willfully ignoring the outside world.
Admittedly, these days the word “cult” has a mushy definition and is easily pinned on any group with a suitably wacky set of vaguely religious-seeming habits and beliefs. But the Shadowhunters’ odd fashion sense and demonology studies (a belief that doesn’t seem so wacky once demons start popping up everywhere to eat people alive) isn’t what raises Simon’s hackles. It is (or should be) the isolationist and absolutist nature of the Shadowhunters that strikes Simon as threateningly cult-like. He’s using the term as a loose stand-in for any group that dictates every major element of its members’ lives, that conflates obedience with morality, that replaces independent decision making with knee-jerk obeisance to a “higher” law, running itself like a miniature absolutist state. Call them a cult, call them a mini-dictatorship, call them a really, really intense fraternity, but there’s no question that the Shadowhunters are extremists, distrustful of outsiders, obsessed with obedience, and worshipful of the laws that govern every aspect of their behavior.
And the supposedly rebellious Clary—along with her fellow teen Shadowhunters—welcomes this life and its mandates with open arms. (Yes, she seems to have little choice in the matter, given the whole life-in-danger, chased-by-demons, need-to-save-the-world situations she keeps ending up in, but as will be discussed later, there’s always a choice. She chooses to join up.) Not that the implications occur to her, or any of the other young Shadowhunters. In fact, Clary’s repulsed by the thought of anyone voluntarily signing up for that kind of draconian existence—at least in the abstract. Upon hearing the loyalty oath of Valentine’s Circle: “I hereby render unconditional obedience to the Circle and its principles” (City of Bones), she’s totally freaked out. “It sounds creepy,” she complains. “Like a fascist organization or something.” Somehow Clary fails to connect the dots to the Clave and the obedience it demands, an obedience no less unconditional than that required by Valentine. After all: The Law is hard, but it is the Law.
Questioning the Law is not only forbidden: It’s considered a threat. Which is a strange situation for teenagers— for whom you’d expect questioning authority to be a prime directive—to find themselves in, much less willingly accept. And indeed, things don’t go well for those who can’t toe the line: It’s easy to imagine Valentine as that querulous child who asked the questions no one was supposed to ask. Why not just make more Shadowhunters? he asked his teachers innocently—an idea seen as “sacrilege.”
Why do we do what we do? Because it is the Law.
You might as well say: Because we said so.
Maybe it’s not so surprising that Valentine stopped asking questions of his elders and started asking them of his peers—then, quickly, started supplying the answers himself. Nor is it surprising that he substituted one extreme for another. Young Shadowhunters may be great with a stele and deadly with a blade, but they don’t get a lot of lessons in moderation and moral flexibility.
When it comes to rebellion, Valentine is the exception: For Shadowhunters, obedience (whether to the Clave or, for that brief period of rebellion, to the Circle) is the rule. Why would generations of teens, given more power and responsibility (not to mention more weapons) than any of their mundane peers, go along so readily with the dictates handed down by their elders? Why would the outspoken, stubborn, courageous young Shadowhunters of the Mortal Instruments series—and the readers who’d happily switch places with them—so unquestioningly buy into the Clave’s brand of absolute authority and the omnipotence of its Law?
Speaking as a former teenager, I’d like to believe there’s more to it than a hormonal attraction to fascism.