Book Review · Story & Characters

Book Review – “Lady Midnight”

lady midnight cover
The Story:
[from GoodReads:]
Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them. Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?

My Take: Judging by the plethora of five and four-star reviews on GoodReads, I’m obviously in the vast minority of readers who just couldn’t immerse myself in this novel. To be fair, I did get 50% in, so I didn’t simply abandon this after the first few chapters. I gave it a chance and honestly wanted to like it; but, in the end, I felt it just wasn’t anything that hadn’t already been executed before in other Shadowhunter novels.

I’ve had a hit-and-miss relationship with Clare’s Shadowhunters novels that’s akin to my reading relationship with Jane Austen and Ian Flemming’s James Bond books: they sound like the types of books I would like; I honestly want to like them; yet after reading them (or trying to read them), I can’t find myself investing interest in them. I feel like I should like these books but, alas, I simply cannot and sometimes it’s hard to articulate why. But I’ll do my best here when it comes to Lady Midnight.

For starters, the cover is absolutely gorgeous and looks far better in person. The play of colors and the way natural light reflects off of and highlights them makes this cover look like it was somehow magically made out of water. I’m not kidding. The effect is stunning and it’s easily one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while. To be honest, I ended up loving the cover far more than the story; so at least for its artwork, this novel deserves five stars.

But I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, and Lady Midnight, I sense, is intended to appeal to a particular audience among which I, evidently, am not. However, before I explain why I sat this book down, I want to mention some of the things I genuinely enjoyed. There are three things I noticed that Cassandra Clare can do very well in any of her books I’ve read, this novel included: description, suspense, and world-building.

Description might seem like a small thing but when it’s found to be lacking or comes across as overkill, you can feel it. Authors sometimes swing one of two ways on the description pendulum: either they rely too little on sensory description so it seems like their characters exist in a black box, or they rely on too much description and it becomes sensory overload. Clare, to her credit, does neither and knows when description is needed and when enough is enough. In the same way, she doesn’t rely on visual description alone but incorporates sounds, tastes, touch, and even smells if the environment or situation calls for it.

For some reason, we tend to think that description in a book refers to only what we can visualize, but it actually involves all five senses (though usually not all at the same time). Regarding Lady Midnight, we’re treated to rich descriptions of setting, both indoors and outside among the sea and shore and various locales within and around Los Angeles, the principle setting. Even little things such as the way sunlight can tint glass, the taste of shaved ice, and the dry air of the desert are drawn attention to and, while these might seem trivial, they really do help you place the story’s events and characters in a realistic setting.

Another storytelling element I’ve come to appreciate in Clare’s novels, and Lady Midnight is no exception, is the level of suspense that carries the plot to its denouement. Much like description, suspense can be tough to pull off as an author doesn’t want to give away too much too soon but also doesn’t want to retain all of the plot breadcrumbs (so to speak), never dropping any hints along the way, and saving them for one giant info dump at the end. While some of the twists and turns in Clare’s other books I’ve been able to predict, Lady Midnight is a vast improvement.

Where I had 99% of the plot figured out before the 50% mark in City of Bones, I honestly had no idea how the central mystery in this novel was going to turn out. And that’s okay. In this case, readers, much like the characters themselves, are given clues to follow but are never told too much or too little. We’re made to care about Emma as she investigates the cryptic nature of her parents’ deaths as well as the senseless deaths of others. Each chapter ends on a proverbial high note so you’re compelled to read on. In the end, it was this that kept me reading long after I had lost interest in the characters and their respective dramas. But ultimately it was not enough.

Lastly, it’s no surprise that Clare has created an expansive world for her Shadowhunters novels, from a detailed origins story; to fascinating (as well as terrifying) creatures and denizens that/who inhabit it; to even rules that govern how these various social groups, if you will, interact. It’s clear it took a great deal of time and attention to detail to create this world, and for that Ms. Clare deserves a ton of respect and kudos. Lady Midnight can be read without knowledge of Clare’s other Shadowhunter works, and Clare does her best to catch those readers up to speed. The world she has created here feels workable and doesn’t contradict itself (which is a big no-no when it comes to world-building: breaking your own world’s rules for no good reason).

However, this is where my see-saw reading relationship with her books, including Lady Midnight, emerges. While the world-building is impressive, sometimes it’s a little too much and, thus, becomes overwhelming. By way of example, in this novel alone we learn that, along with Mundanes (i.e. “normal” people), those who possess the Sight (i.e. persons who can see sundry creatures and beings but who aren’t a creature/being themselves), and the Nephilim (i.e. the angel-like Shadowhunters) and its related world, rules, and government, there are also vampires, werewolves, warlocks, demons, and fairies, all with their own respective backgrounds, social mores, and cultures. Again, this is impressive but sometimes it feels a little too large, almost to the point of being overdone. I’m a fantasy connoisseur, so I’m no stranger to world-building; but sometimes less really can be more.

In the same way, Clare’s novels (again, including Lady Midnight) feature expansive casts, but sometimes are a little too expansive. In the first 30 pages or so of this novel alone, we’re introduced to around 15 characters (give or take a few) and given detailed to semi-detailed backgrounds on each one regarding their importance to the story. It’s a lot to take in and, at times, can make me feel disconnected from the story as I struggle to try to remember them all, much less try to establish emotional ties to them. More characters pour in as the novel progresses. Granted, some of these characters are from Clare’s other Shadowhunter novels (namely the Mortal Instruments series and the Infernal Devices trilogy), so these will be familiar faces to fans. But for unfamiliar or new readers, it feels like a tidal wave of characters being tossed in without much time to really get to know them.

So what specifically caused me to put down Lady Midnight? As stated, the world-building and cast were a bit overwhelming, so much so that I found myself spending more time trying to remember what a ley line was and what importance Mark and Malcolm had to the story than delving into the actual plot. Likewise, the novel tries too hard to be “diverse” but all it really does, in my opinion, is incorporate token characters for the sake of being politically correct (as if there is some invisible points scale for seeing how many racially-diverse characters, gay characters, disabled characters, etc. you can achieve by adding them to your story even if their so-called “diversity,” essentially the only thing making them stand out, has no real bearing on the plot). I’m annoyed at books that do this because it just comes across as pandering to the PC crowd, and Lady Midnight was no exception. By way of example, one Shadowhunter character in this novel is a Hispanic female. Initially, I thought this was a cool way to introduce readers to how Shadowhunters from other parts of the world view their sundry tasks and how their unique culture plays into that. But, sadly, this character was reduced to a smart-mouthed Hispanic chick stereotype and shed no interesting light on how Shadowhunters’ home cultures impact their lives or work. It was disappointing, to say the least.

In the same way, the characters here are not unique to either Clare’s other works or YA urban fantasy in general. Many of the same tried and true themes are played out here, too, from an apocalypse-sized mystery to forbidden love. In truth, if you’ve read other Shadowhunter novels, you’ve read this story, too, and witnessed the same character dynamics. There are unbreakable friendships, taboo love, and juvenile banter and antics (as the lead characters, despite being quasi-angelic beings, are still teens and act like teens). (By way of example, one extended scene has a running commentary about vampire-made pizza. I suppose the idea of a vampire running a pizza place [where there is sure to be loads of garlic] is supposed to be funny but, for me, this went on for far too long and eventually lost its humor and became juvenile.) As a whole, Lady Midnight, which is a hefty tome, wore out its welcome and I just couldn’t finish it as I felt like I had read this type of plot and met these types of characters countless times before.

But at least this book had a cool cover.

Content: This book is more appropriate for older teens and adults due to its dark tone, violence, and sensual content.

Language – Minimal. Surprisingly, I didn’t run into much profanity at all (and any I did see fell within the PG range).

Violence – This is where things turned dark but not too gory. Emma and her fellow Shadowhunters seek to uncover who has been murdering random victims and then mutilating their bodies, leaving demon marks on them. Again, while nothing ventures too far into the visceral, combat with dark beings does occur and blood is spilled many times. Likewise, the novel’s central plot hinges on a string of murders and descriptions of what was done to the bodies becomes the topic of discussion at times but avoids gory details. Elsewhere, demons and demonic beings are present and engaged, and references are made to cults of demon worship. While not bordering on being horrific, these moments are definitely dark and evoke a sense of the evil terror these beings are meant to induce. (Also, according to other reviews, there is a scene where two characters are whipped to the point of passing out, but I never got to that scene so I can’t comment on it.) Overall, this novel retains a dark (albeit not depressing) flavor that is redolent of Clare’s other books, so while there are some light-hearted moments, the majority of the story possesses a brooding, apprehensive tone.

Sexual Content – This novel has several sensual moments that stop just shy of characters actually having sex (so there is descriptive kissing, groping, and cuddling but nothing else, at least judging from what I read). Said couplings include straight and gay/bisexual characters (such as a few lengthy scenes, by way of example, frankly describe a passionate make out session between two men). Passing references are also made to same-sex marriage and there is talk of one same-sex couple adopting a child, both of which makes this novel feel like it’s trying too hard to pander to the PC crowd. Overall, I’m surprised at the amount of sensual content Clare’s books contain especially as they’re marketed for teens (implying they’re appropriate for ages 13 and up). In my opinion, Lady Midnight is more fitting for an older audience (18+) with the above-said content issues in mind.

The Run-Down:
hmm thinking maybe meh ehh
Overall, Lady Midnight seems like it’s tailor-made for a select readership. If you’re already a fan and love the other Shadowhunters books – and you believe that if a certain story formula ain’t broke, then don’t fix it – then you’ll probably enjoy this novel, too. If you’re a fan of the other Shadowhunter novels but are seeking (in the words of Monty Python) “something completely different,” then you might be disappointed as Lady Midnight is just a rehash of the same formulas you’ve read in Clare’s other books. Lastly, if you’ve never read any of the Shadowhunter novels and you wonder if this will make sense to you, be prepared to feel out of the loop. Though non-fans can tag along, Lady Midnight feels like it’s a fans-only project, an extended work of fan service, if you will, as it’s a novel (and the first book in yet another Shadowhunters trilogy) created for fans who are looking for more of the same.

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