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September 10, 2014

Summer Reading: The Mortal Instruments and American Ghoul

by Alison DeLuca

The Mortal Instruments
I know I’m late to the party, but I spent the summer reading City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass. Days spent poolside waiting for the kids to finish their waterslides can get tedious really quickly without an interesting series, and I thought I would give Cassandra Clare’s books a try to get me through July and August.

Remember this was after the movie, universally panned by critics and viewers, had come and gone in the theaters. Everyone assumed the series, like the His Dark Materials films, would die a natural death. I saw the reviews on the books sank to 2 and 3 stars after the movies, proving one media experience bleeds to the next.

However, when I began to read I was interested in the characters right away. I’m a big adventure genre gal, and these books are crammed with chase scenes, imprisonment, attacks by demons and vampires, and death-defying stunts. Plus, apparently the movie franchise has resurrected itself, and The City of Ashes is coming our way in a few years.

All of the adventure and action would be rather dull if the characters were boring. I liked Clary right away, and I adored her friendship with Simon. She’s redheaded, artistic, and deceptively quiet. The banter between the two is fantastic:

“Is this Clarissa Fray?" The voice on the other end of the phone sounded familiar, though not immediately identifiable.
Clary twirled the phone cord nervously around her finger. "Yeees?"
"Hi, I'm one of the knife-carrying hooligans you met last night in Pandemonium? I’m afraid I made a bad impression and was hoping you'd give me a chance to make it up to-"
"SIMON!" Clary held the phone away from her ear as he cracked up laughing. "That is so not funny!"
"Sure it is. You just don't see the humor."
"Jerk." Clary sighed, leaning up against the wall. 

I liked Jace as well, although he’s a tailored anti-hero to make readers’ hearts flutter with his good looks and tattoos. But the character was original enough to capture my interest and keep it throughout the first three books of the series, even though he is a walking gumball machine of arrogant sarcasm:

“Have you fallen in love with the wrong person yet?'
Jace said, "Unfortunately, Lady of the Haven, my one true love remains myself."
..."At least," she said, "you don't have to worry about rejection, Jace Wayland."
"Not necessarily. I turn myself down occasionally, just to keep it interesting.” 

And of course Clare serves up angst and tension, enough to keep me reading all summer by the pool as I waited for the kids to reappear. I did say I read the first three books. Apparently there are three more, although I’m not sure I want to continue. For one thing, the third book wrapped it all up rather nicely, and I don’t want to buy into publishers’ beating a dead horse. Besides, the author has also published The Infernal Devices, a prequel steampunk series I want to dig into. More on them in the coming months.

I also mentioned there is a lot of adventure in the books. In fact there might be a little too much. Simon can’t go and get a cup of coffee without a demon or vamp attack, and at times I wanted to physically push Clary or Jace to their destinations without their being sidetracked by yet another rescue or ambush. All of this delays character development, and so the series is stagnant in that respect. However, I didn’t come to the Mortal Instruments for great lit but summer entertainment, and that’s what I got.

American Ghoul
If you would like a book that’s a bit more original but still offers paranormal adventure, try Walt Morton’s American Ghoul. It’s the story of Howard Pickman, the son of two ghouls who are burnt to death in their home. He escapes and flees to his grandmother’s house in New Jersey. By the way, Granny’s also a ghoul and, like Howard, she needs human flesh to survive.

Yes, this is horrific stuff, and Morton doesn’t shy away from the bloody details. He doesn’t revel in them either, and the digging up and consumption of dead bodies is told with practical, deadpan wit. I never expected to laugh over exhumation, but Morton made it funny.

The book is also a wonderful journey though another horrific landscape: that of negotiating senior high school. It’s set in the 70’s at the dawn of punk rock, and Morton offers wonderful details. I felt as though I were in the Pinebury high school with him, going to photography class and trying to find a lunchroom seat on the first day.

American Ghoul was just as addictive as Mortal Instruments, and Howard was a much more human protagonist. Even though he’s a ghoul, he’s far more relatable than arrogant, beautiful Jace.

As a final note, word on the street is Mortal Instruments started out as fan fiction. I’ve become fascinated with this genre, next month I’ll write a column about fan fics, the authors and motivation – both good and bad.

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  1. My wife really liked Mortal Instruments and read all six books. She really wants me to read them, but Jace's story with the kidnapping, who's the real parent, it sounds like too much to me. I did read Infernal Devices and really liked that.
    My wife would agree with your column.