**This post contains spoilers, but I’ll avoid any major plot twists and whodunnits.**
Lady Midnight, the first in The Dark Artifices series, came out two months ago to scattered applause. The Goodreads reviews range between adamant fangirling to outright disgust — though most on the bitter end of the spectrum seem to hate Clare as a person and not a writer for unknown reasons — leaving most readers somewhere in the middle. I personally forgot Clare was even writing another series, so imagine my surprise when I bought the book and couldn’t. put. it. down. Is it better than the entire six tome Mortal Instruments series? Yes. Is it better than The Infernal Devices starring my beloved Will Herondale? OMG, maybe. Let me tell you why.
Lady Midnight picks up five years after the ending of City of Heavenly Fire (Book 6 of The Mortal Instruments), but with mostly new characters. We’re now in sunny Los Angeles with Emma Carstairs — a relative of Jem! — as our primary protagonist.
Emma is the first thing I love about this book. She is arguably the strongest female Clare has ever written and I don’t mean the author’s usual “I don’t know my own beauty or strength until someone loves me” kind of strength or some deux machina plot device ala Jace Herondale and Clary’s super special blood. Emma is actually strong, both physically and mentally. The girl trains hard and has trained hard every day of her life since she was a kid, practically destroying her body in the process.
“What I have is trying,” said Emma, her voice tinged with bitterness. She was thinking of the tiny bones in the nest, how fragile they’d been, how easily snapped between a pair of fingers. “I can try harder than anyone else in the world. I can make revenge the only thing in my life. I can do that, because I have to. But it means it’s all I have.”
Enter Julian Blackthorn. Julian is much the same as Emma in that we’ve never seen a male lead in Clare’s works like him before. Julian is Emma’s sworn parabatai — her lifelong partner/soulmate in battle for those not familiar with the canon — and basically the head of house for the LA Shadowhunter Institute since his Uncle lost his mind and hides in the attic. He has six brothers and sisters, five of them living in the Institute under his care. There is a lot of subplot that revolves around his filial duty to his family under extreme pressure and, with so many YA protagonists orphaned or otherwise left to their own devices, it was incredibly refreshing to see a character deal with “real life.” In between fighting demons, Julian has to make sure his youngest brother gets a bedtime story and that there is breakfast on the table every morning.
All of Julian’s siblings are well written, but my favorite has to be Ty, maybe the first ever YA character diagnosed with autism. I would love to see Ty’s story expanded and I think Clare is headed in that direction. His “differences” were certainly a big part of Julian’s reluctance to contact the Clave for help throughout the book. Apparently Shadowhunters despise mental illness.
Now, there are basically two plots in the book. One is a fantastic murder mystery where Emma is in a mad search to find her parents’ killer — they were murdered when she was 12 years old just after the war in City of Heavenly Fire. I don’t want to give any tidbits on this storyline, because I really did not see the plot twist coming.
The second story revolves around Emma and Julian who are in love, but forbidden from acting on their feelings because of their parabatai connection. Yes, this is another teen love story, an absolutely heartbreaking one, but, unlike most of Clare’s romantic subplots, this one moves fast! Emma and Julian…
Spoiler coming! Don’t scroll past this gif of kittens on a Roomba if you don’t want to know!
HAVE SEX IN THE FIRST BOOK! I repeat, two YA protagonists in a forbidden love story have sex in. the. first. book. I was so shocked, I had to read all the metaphors about the ocean waves and fires and spinning stars twice because I wasn’t sure. Even then, I still felt like maybe I was reading too much into Clare’s metaphors, but all was confirmed when Julian started freaking out because he didn’t wear a condom! No worries, though, Emma has a birth control rune.
Of course, when things move that fast you know the whole house is guaranteed to come burning down on top of them. I won’t give away any particulars, but I cried twice during the buildup and breakdown of Emma and Julian and I expect many, many more tears over the course of the series. One incredibly heart wrenching event involved Emma, literally, taking a beating to protect Julian. I have to admit it was very reminiscent of the sacrifice #JAMMF made for Jenny in Outlander and I cried like a wee bairn.
I venture to say that this series could be just as good if not better than The Infernal Devices. The story was concise — written with a clear start, middle and end — but still left us with a very juice epilogue. All the characters were wonderful and I didn’t even get to mention the hot, hot, hot relationship between Mark and Kieran or the on-again-off-again thing between Cristina and Perfect Diego. I want so many more details on both of those couples.
But, first and foremost, my heart hurt so hard for Julian and Emma. I need to know if they’re going to be okay, okay?!?
The only thing I could even remotely judge Clare for is the lack of humor in Lady Midnight. When Jace and Clary did finally show up towards the end of the book for a quick cameo, I immediately remembered why I love the Hernondale banter so much. This Los Angeles crew could definitely use some sassy one-liners in the sequel.