Brooks on Books: Cassandra Clare’s writing captures hearts (and tears)

Juliet Brooks ('13)/Eastside Editor-in-Chief

Christina Perri once wrote a frightening semi-ballad about collecting jars of hearts. This song, in addition to being morbid, is also biographical: Perri was writing about Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series.* How do I know this, you ask? I know this because I have read all of Clare’s books, and there is absolutely no one in the world who has broken more hearts (except possibly Charles Dickens, or Channing Tatum). Clare’s set of fantasy series, collectively known as The Shadowhunter Chronicles, intertwine the mortal world with a shadow world beyond: The only thing keeping humankind from certain death is a group of warriors, called Shadowhunters, whose politics are a terror of their own—and that’s excluding the truly awful scarring of every sort (physical, mental, emotional) that these protectors deal with.

In addition to breaking the hearts of literally every single one of her characters through some psychological, physical, or experiential trauma, Clare has broken the hearts of the vast majority of her readers. She dangles exactly the type of character that readers can’t help falling for: Mysterious men, with an untapped well of pain. Boys wearing a mask, but waiting for someone to crack that mask. Girls whose loyalties force them into dangerous situations. Soft women who are fighters at heart. Her characters use wit and hide behind their strengths, traits that make them irresistible to readers. Every single one of her characters has some chip on his or her shoulder, and with astonishing mastery, Clare manipulates the reader into loving every single one of them. Even beyond the heartbreak, Clare creates a plot that keeps the reader hanging on until the end. Objectives become obstacles, everyone follows his or her own agenda, and absolutely nobody is who they actually say they are. Ever.

In all seriousness, if a character purports to be an average individual of a given species with absolutely nothing to hide, he or she is actually an evil mastermind, or selling something. Which is the same thing.

Now, you’re probably wondering where the heartbreak comes in. I mentioned earlier that objectives become obstacles. I wasn’t exaggerating. Clare never gives anyone what he or she wants—and if she does, it comes with a sting. This is actually a paraphrased quote about a character that she wrote into one of her books (the quote is about the Faerie Queen in City of Ashes), and I use it because it describes Clare so aptly.

When she posts unidentified snippets from unreleased books onto her tumblr account, her entire fan base (myself included) goes absolutely wild. We suffer from pent-up emotions that have no outlet. Fans frequently ask her what she does with all of the tears she collects (this is a thing), and it has been such a topic that she’s even been asked this question in interviews.

I’m not going to attempt to fully analyze what makes her characters so real. It’s probably the heartbreak. Clare has said herself that she puts her characters in challenging situations because character comes out in how someone handles a difficult decision.

I am going to recommend that you pick up one of her books. It doesn’t matter which series you start with. The Infernal Devices is set in the 1870s, and The Mortal Instruments is set in 2007, but both feature incredibly real casts of characters that make her books delightful, and painful.

I love that Clare quotes poetry and references other books in her novels. Her characters are, for the most part, well-read, and I love the relevant works that she connects back to her characters’ situations. It’s a very clever way of showing that art imitates life, which imitates art.

Yes, Clare’s books are fantasy—a genre that tends to get downplayed. But her characters stick with me in a way that a lot of fiction characters have failed to do. Clare intertwines plot with people, and uses each as a device for the other.

To put Clare’s writing into perspective, I have included a hyperlink to a song on YouTube created by one of her fans, based on The Mortal Instruments. I really love the song, and I think it captures the tone of the books.

(I personally love this girl’s commentary, but for those of you who just want to hear the song, it starts at 1:28).

City of Bones, a movie adaptation based on her first book, comes out in August. I suggest that you read the novel before then.

 

*Disclaimer: I actually have no clue who Perri wrote that song about.