Review – Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy – Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman

Walker Books Ltd., 2016

Simon Lewis is a hero. Or so he has been informed. He can’t actually remember his heroics thanks to an encounter with a demon and a sacrifice that saved the lives of friends who are now strangers to him. But Simon has a way to get it all back. In the wake of a devastating war, the Nephilim are recruiting ordinary people to join their ranks, who will be trained at the newly re-opened Shadowhunter Academy and – should they prove worthy – will drink from the Mortal Cup to take on the strength of the Angel’s warriors. Simon wants to be a hero again. More than that, he wants to work out who he really is. He hopes that his time at the Academy will give him a chance at both those things, and maybe even understand what the hell the blazing, famous Isabelle Lightwood ever saw in him. All he has to do is survive training with a group of ferociously competitive would-be demon-killers…and then there’s the demons themselves.

This is a book for established fans of Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series only. It is a collection of short stories centred around Simon Lewis, a character from the Mortal Instruments series, though other characters from the Shadowhunter books do show up. The short stories were originally published as standalone e-books, in the same style as The Bane Chronicles, which means there’s a bit of repetition when you’re reading them all together. I wasn’t always very interested in the Academy plots but most of the stories had other layers to them, weaving in parts of Shadowhunter history, and having read all the previous books, I was delighted to see backstories filled in and favourite characters return. The story I enjoyed most was ‘Born to Endless Night’ just for the Lightwood family shenanigans, but there’s a lot to love here for Shadowhunter fans.

Review – Lady Midnight

Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices No.1) – Cassandra Clare

Simon & Schuster, 2016

Emma Carstairs was born into a world of monsters, and she has spent most of her life killing them. As a Shadowhunter, it is her duty to protect mundane society from demons, rogue vampires and werewolves, the malice of Faerie and every other danger that the rest of humanity doesn’t believe exists. It is not an easy life. Her parents were both murdered five years ago and Emma is willing to move heaven and earth to find who – or what – was responsible. When an opportunity comes her way not only to get answers, but also to help protect her best friend Julian’s family, Emma leaps at it. There is something ugly hidden at the heart of Los Angeles. And Emma is not the only one looking for revenge.

This is not so much the beginning of a series as a good jumping on point for anyone interested in Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books. She introduced her world in City of Bones, the first book in the Mortal Instruments sextet, and fleshed it out further in the prequel trilogy The Infernal Devices (opening with Clockwork Angel). There are spoilers for both previous sets of books in Lady Midnight and it will mean more if you’re familiar with the older characters – having read all the previous books, it was particularly interesting for me to see the effects of choices made in the last one – but The Dark Artifices has a fresh cast in a new location.

Emma is a dynamic protagonist and the domestic realities of her day-to-day life with the Blackthorns added welcome depth. I am a sucker for stories about sprawling families and ones that focus on the relationships between siblings, so I particularly liked that aspect Lady Midnight. The support cast contains characters who are LGBT, POC and neurodiverse, and there are several gender tropes that get firmly flipped. I am not a huge fan of ‘forbidden love’ romances, so I didn’t enjoy that part of the plot as much, but I do like all the characters involved in Lady Midnight’s romantic tangles. The Dark Artifices continues with Lord of Shadows, slated for release in April 2017.

Review – The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial (Magisterium No.1) – Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Doubleday, 2014

Some children dream of being chosen for magic school, but Callum Hunt knows better. A war between magicians killed his mother and drove his father into a life of deliberate isolation. When the magicians come for him, Call knows what he has to do: fail the test and convince them to let him go home. But that’s not so easy as he thought – and the truth about magic is not nearly as simple. The war is not over. And Call is a part of it, whether he likes that or not.

The Iron Trial is in the magic school sub-genre of children’s fantasy and so will inevitably draw parallels with J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, especially as it centres on another trio of two boys and one girl. It’s obvious this is intentional, because by employing similar tropes Black and Clare quietly invert expectations. Callum is spiky, suspicious and, unusually for the hero of an adventure novel, physically disabled. While it is deeply significant to Call’s character, his disability is not played as tragic backstory or a problem to be solved. His friends Tamara and Aaron are well-rounded and have promising story arcs of their own. The underground setting never really engaged me and I would have liked more focus on the mechanics of magic lessons, but this book offers an interesting twist on a familiar genre and its world has a lot of potential. The next installment, The Copper Gauntlet, comes out later this year.

Review – Monstrous Affections

Monstrous Affections – ed. Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

Candlewick Press, 2014

Where do you find monsters? Out beyond the borders, whirling in the sky above a battlefield. In another dimension where the sun won’t set. Walking in the woods after dark, in deep water, in a cage. Inside a face you thought you knew. Inside your head. Sometimes they come at you with tooth and claw, and you’ll fight for your life…but sometimes, you’ll welcome them in.

This collection of short stories spans a wide spectrum, from light fantasy to horror. The type of monster varies enormously too, with vampires and harpies, shapechangers and aliens, kraken and demons. Several didn’t work for me because of the odd structure and plot direction. A few I actively disliked – horror is not my thing. Most, though, took a creative approach to the concept of ‘monster’. I particularly liked the very different takes on vampires from Cassandra Clare and Joshua Lewis, and Holly Black’s marvellous ‘Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind)’. Kathleen Jennings’ ‘A Small Wild Magic’ was the only short story in graphic form, and I could easily read more about her character Marilyn. Sarah Rees Brennan’s ‘Wings of the Morning’ was every bit as adorable and incisive as I expected – though if you want to get the most out of it, you really need to read her online work The Turn of the Story, because then you’ll understand why I punched the air a couple of times out of delight. Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have also edited another anthology called Steampunk!

Review – The Bane Chronicles

The Bane Chronicles – Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan and Maureen Johnson

Walker Books, 2014

When you live forever, it is your duty to be as fabulous as possible. As a warlock, Magnus Bane is half human and half demon; he has outlived monarchies and empires, acquiring extraordinary anecdotes along the way. From a ballooning trip across Paris with Marie Antoinette to running a speakeasy in Prohibition America, to that time he started a llama stampede in Peru, he has lived many lives. These eleven stories are only a glimpse into his glittering, volatile world.

The Bane Chronicles will only make full sense to someone who has read all of Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books, beginning with book one of the Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones. The biracial, bisexual High Warlock of Brooklyn Magnus Bane is a secondary character throughout those books, if an increasingly significant one, but here he takes centre stage. Each story takes on a different time in his life, many of which connect to events from previous books and give rich backstory to other secondary characters, such as the vampire Raphael Santiago and warlock Catarina Loss.

Due to his massive experience, Magnus often comes off as a kind of time traveller, a little separate from the rest of the world – maybe that’s why I found the historical stories less convincing than the more contemporary ones. There are fascinating ideas here, and delightful references for any fan of the Shadowhunter universe. Clare has also written a steampunk prequel trilogy to the Mortal Instruments books, called the Infernal Devices, which begins with Clockwork Angel. Characters from all the books feature in The Bane Chronicles.

An Update from the Edge of the Witch’s Cauldron

July was one hell of a month. Which is not to say it was hellish, only somewhat draining. But you know, it was also a month in which Hogswatch came to Brisbane, Jane Austen became an official part of British currency, and I finally got my hands on Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken. The universe obviously knows when I need a pick-me-up. I also kind of gatecrashed a book club in order to defend the good name of Douglas Adams. That was one of the ways July was nice, actually, because though no one in the book club liked poor Douglas at all, they listened to my Alice in Wonderland comparisons very politely and offered me biscuits.

Now it is AUGUST. The year is officially more than half over. If that doesn’t alarm you, congratulations, you must be a terrifically organised person. If it does, take a deep breath and find the ‘keep calm’ meme to suit your individual needs. Either way, here are several things that will improve your month:

  • Yesterday I paid a visit to 10 Bailey Street in West End, Brisbane, where an exhibition called ‘Once Upon a Time: reinterpreting the fairytale‘ is currently on display. This is a thing I obviously had to see, and you should too, because it’s a dangerous rainbow of gorgeous, on a spectrum of adorable whimsy to dark mystery.

my head is a junglelady of the broom

paper castle

  • It is Science Fiction and Fantasy Month at Logan North Library, concluding on the 31st with a booksale, author panel and roaming stormtroopers.
  • The film version of Cassandra Clare’s demon-hunting, snark-infused YA debut City of Bones will be released in Australia on the 22nd. I love the book too much to expect a matching love for the film, but from everything I’ve seen so far it looks very promising.
  • The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012, published by Ticonderoga, should be available by September. It includes my short story ‘Oracle’s Tower’, first published in FableCroft’s To Spin a Darker Stair, and I will post full details on that as soon as I can.

In the meantime here are some photos of random magic in West End, including positive proof that there are witches in this city.

seahorse love story cauldron of the urban witch