Jun 3 2011 9:30am

Robbing the Romance Cradle: Why Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Isn’t Your Typical YA Series

Lily Collins and Jamie Bower Campbell will play Clary and JaceI’m not Team Edward or Team Jacob, but I have a really hard time deciding between Teams Jem, Will, Jace, Alec, Simon, and now Kyle. Or heck, why not Team Isabelle or Clary?

I was never really a fan of YA lit. Or Teen lit, as we call it in our library, or whatever designation you choose to give it. I’m not a huge fan of teens in real life, so why would I want to spend any time reading about the 13-19 set? Little by little, though, suggestions started coming in for books that were REALLY GOOD despite the character age group. When someone suggested City of Bones, it was impossible to resist. It had everything I normally love in a book with the great worldbuilding, supernatural elements, secret societies, non-humans, super humans and, of course, action and, of course, love. Was I really going to let a little thing like teenagerism stand in the way? Of course not. But even though I expected to like it given what I’d heard, I had no idea I would find it consuming. These were books, at least in the case of City of Ashes and City of Glass, that I literally could not put down. I finished both of them over the course of a weekend.

(Editor’s Note: And as the film adaptation of The Mortal Instruments currently in the works proves, Robin’s far from the only adult hooked on this series. As with The Hunger Games movie, casting alone for The Mortal Instruments has already generated a lot of buzz (the two leads, it was recently announced will be Lily Collins of The Blind Side and Jamie Campbell Bower of the Twilight saga and television’s Camelot).

The Mortal Instruments Series, Book 1: City of Bones by Cassandra ClareWhat makes them so compelling? For me, it is mostly about the characters. Yes, the very same characters that I dreaded reading about. Of course they do things, teenager things, that make me crazy, but it isn’t nearly as bad as I was anticipating. In fact, you could almost say that the characters act a little bit older than their years.

The characters are all definitely layered beyond their years. I expected this in Clockwork Angel, the entry book to her historical series The Infernal Devices. Children grew up faster in Victorian England and carried a lot more responsibility, right? But even in The Mortal Instruments series, set in modern times, the cast can be very grown up at times. There are good guys and bad girls (and vice versa) but even villains aren’t two dimensional. Hell, even the cat has secrets! Oh, and if you love the angst (and I do, oh yes I do) you’ll get more than you ever thought you could handle from these characters.

The Mortal Instruments Series, Book 2: City of Ashes by Cassandra ClareThere is the central story of Clary and Jace. That romance may drive you to adult beverages before the series is over. But the relationships are complex between the entire cast and develop throughout the series. They change over time, and some of them never really go where you expect—which is a lot like relationships in real life. And as much as this is true in the Mortal Instruments series, it seems like the Infernal Devices series takes everything one giant notch up. The relationships are more complex, the angst is deeper, the stakes are higher and the entire book is darker.

It’s impossible to choose my favorite characters, or even my favorite storyline. Or, hell, even my favorite book. The re-read factor is high among all five of the books currently out. The audio versions are great as well. If you’re not into the supernatural at all, these might not be your cup of tea. If you’re looking for blazing hot paranormal sex, these definitely aren’t for you. But if you’re looking for entertaining stories, with great characters finding their way in and out of complex situations, you should give these a try. Just beware: once you’re in, you’ll probably never want to leave.


Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, full on Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices addict. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or on the new blog Collection Reflection

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I've considered picking up the first book in this series for a while now--thanks for the extra push! I'm always searching for great characters, and Victorian England is a favorite setting of mine.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
Robin, I had this in my paws thanks to your recommendation awhile ago, but didn't get to it. This has just pushed it to the top of the queue, so thank you.
3. Ally
I absolutely agree with this article. Even though I'm a 'tween', I normally read either crime dramas or Victorian novels. But by chance I got a YA novel recommended to me and since then I've read almost nothing else. The genre is totally not what I stereotyped it as. And TMI / ID are the best of the crop. Cassandra Clare has an intuitive and intimate style of writing, and her character development really makes the reader feel for the characters. The plot is well paced albeit a little predictable. But most of all, these books are utterly compelling. I went through all 5 published books in 4 days and it just left me hungry for the next installment. I would recommend these books to anyone and everyone.
Carrie Strickler
4. DyslexicSquirrel
I really wasn't expecting to like this series. At all. I picked up the first one because a friend of mine was reading it and I was in a bit of a book-rut. I finished City of Bones in a day and a half. The second book, City of Ashes, took me a little longer, but only because life and my job intruded. There was so much angst in that book I almost felt chocked by it and the relationship between Jace and Clary made me grab a glass of wine more than once, but I felt cheated whenever I had to put it down.

I still need to read the third and fourth book, but I'm looking forward to it. And I am not a YA reader at all. I hated teenagers when I was a teenager and my loathing has only grown over the years. Needless to say, I have no desire to read about them. But I, more than once, forgot that Jace, Clary, Simon, Alec and Isabel were teens and that speaks wonders to the talents of Cassandra Clare.
Megan Frampton
5. MFrampton
Okay, between my last comment and now, I have ordered the book from Amazon. Couldn't wait for the library to get it to me. Impatience, thy name is book reader!
Tara B
6. box5angel
I think I'll put City of Bones on my to be read list, because I wasn't so sure at first about them. Thanks, Robin! :)
Tara B
7. box5angel
The only thing is that now when I read the book I will have Lily Collins and Jamie Bower Campbell in my head when I read them (and no you didn't spoil anything Robin, I did read that Lily C was cast in a mag article). :) I usually like to have my own image of what the characters look like when I read the book. But I guess that happens when you come into the series too late. lol
Robin Bradford
8. RobinBradford
@Box5angel I'm not convinced on the Jamie Bower Campbell casting, even though I loved Camelot. When I saw Alex Pettyfer, my first thought was "Jace!" To me, that's who he looks like. But, he didn't get the role, so what can you do. Still, I can't unlink them in my head.

The MI series is not without some.....controversy. If you're controversy averse, you might want to start with the Infernal Devices series (Clockwork Angel). I'm just sayin.
Robin Bradford
9. RobinBradford
@DyslexicSquirrel OH! You have to read City of Glass right now! Then, enjoy the afterglow for awhile before City of Fallen Angels. LOL. We are very similar, I see. I am not a YA fan either, except...I find myself making more and more exceptions. :-) I would say the only other series that has kept me this interested, though, is the Alex Rider series which is completely and totally different. All other YA series I either can't get into or I lose interest part way through. I started out liking the PC/Kristin Cast series, but fizzled. I started out liking the Shannon Delany series (13 to Life is book 1) but fizzled. I love Kelley Armstrong, but couldn't get into book 1 of her YA series. So for me to love these is REALLY something special. Your mileage may vary. :-)

And LOL on the wine.
Carrie Strickler
10. DyslexicSquirrel
@RobinBradford: I got a bit distracted because I only bought the first two books and after I read them I started reading the Mercy Thompson series and now I'm stuck on that. But I only bought the first three books of that series, so once I finish book three (which I am on now), I'll go get City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels (along with Just Like Heaven ha!). I didn't have any books for the longest time and now I have too many. @_@;

Forget tea- wine is the great eaquilizer.
Tara B
11. box5angel
@RobinBradford The thing is, is that I wanted to read Clockwork Angel from the Infernal Devices series but I heard it was a prequel and someone told me you had to read the Mortal Instruments series, because they were written first. I don't mind a little controversy. Can you explain what that is if it doesn't include spoilers.
Robin Bradford
12. RobinBradford
@box5angel oh no. no spoilers on the blog. But, send me an email and I'll tell ya.
Tara B
13. box5angel
@RobinBradford Now I don't know if I want to be spoiled. But I want to know. lol I think I'll go ahead and read it without knowing what the controversy is. But if I change my mind, I will email you about it. Thanks! :)
Robin Bradford
14. RobinBradford
hahaha! No, it's better that way! That way, after you read it, you'll be all WTF were they talking about? I didn't see anything controversial! Those people are crazy. :-)
Rachel Hyland
15. RachelHyland
Maybe it's just that I came into Cassandra Clare's work knowing her as a writer of largely slashy fanfic -- and also, being a huge Buffy fan and therefore resenting the, ahem, parallels -- but I must confess to struggling mightily with the Mortal Instruments series as a whole. And me, I AM a YA fan. Big time.

On the other hand, over at Geek Speak we included Ms. Clare (nee Claire) at Number 13 on our Top 13... Geek Goddesses. 'Cause among the ranks of influential fanfic writers... well, she's the only one, really.
Robin Bradford
16. RobinBradford
Oh yeah, definite Buffy parallels. Which I tend to think of as X-Men/Teen Titans/New Mutant parallels. There is nothing new under the sun, apparently. That would explain a little bit more why I like it. I like all of those things as well.

I've never read any of her fanfic. I hate fanfic. (i know this is a mostly unpopular opinion.....)
Tara B
17. box5angel
@RobinBradford That probably will be the case with me saying, what controversy. lol
Julie C
18. Jaya
I haven't been able to pick up this series. When I see the covers all I can think is, "It's Cassie Clare! I knew her when all she wrote was fanfic!" And all I read of hers was HP fanfic. Oh yeah and the hilarious Lord of the Rings fic drawn as comics. Maybe if her books ever come back to the Library I'll borrow one or something. But at least this has got me a little excited to maybe read one.
19. Areala
While I applaud her ability to get a publishing deal, I will never willing pick up a book written by Cassandra Claire because she was a bloody plagiarist when she wrote her Harry Potter stories, and she should have the same black mark on her record for doing so that Cassie Edwards does.

She threw in verbatim excerpts from Pamela Dean's "The Secret Country" series and frequently the dialogue that came out of her characters' mouths and descriptions of their actions was lifted word-for-word from Buffy, the X-Files, Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Fight Club, Veronica Mars, Babylon 5, and the works of Roger Zelazny, Gene Wolfe, Terry Pratchett and Tanith Lee to name just a few.

Want to know more? Have a look at some comparisons:

Ignore this would-be writer's hackwork and instead give your money to someone who actually paid their dues and worked through an editorial slush pile as opposed to somebody who wrote Harry Potter fanfic and managed to get a contract simply because she's got a legion of internet fans who don't care and don't know any better. Don't reward people for unacceptable behavior.
21. poisongirl2106
Thank you so much Areala. That needed to be said. Id also like to add that I was thrilled for Camelot, then I finished it and wanted to smack whoever wrote that crap! They should have left that story alone, instead of wasting everyones time and money....
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