REVIEW: ‘Queen of Air and Darkness’ brings nothing new to the ‘Shadowhunter’ series

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The cover of "Queen of Air and Darkness." (Courtesy image by SimonAndSchuster.com)

Cassandra Clare has been writing novels about Shadowhunters since I was 10. Her debut novel “City of Bones” sparked the wildly popular Mortal Instruments series, which was adapted into a movie by the same title, and later a TV show, “Shadowhunters.”

Clare’s latest novel, “Queen of Air and Darkness” finishes up the third series in the Shadowhunter Chronicles, the Dark Artifices, but doesn’t accomplish anything spectacular. Instead, it feels formulaic and written to please fans instead of doing justice to the characters and the story.

This is not to say that “Queen of Air and Darkness” isn’t good, because it is. It’s well written, humorous and Clare has a knack for more getting readers to be emotionally invested in her characters. Additionally, fan-favorites Jace, Clary, Jem and Tessa, among others, make appearances.

“Queen of Air and Darkness” follows Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs after the death of Julian’s sister, Livia. The two embark on a journey to save their family, save themselves from a growing radical faction called the Cohort, and make their forbidden love work without getting killed in the process.

Clare follows a variety of other characters as well, making this book clock in at a hefty 912 pages. Unfortunately, Clare struggled with pacing in this novel. The narrative perspective was constantly shifting, making it difficult to get a handle on what was actually happening. It’s like Clare has forgotten who her main characters are, and feels a desire to please fans by letting them see everything that everyone does.

My favorite part of the book came near the end when the story focuses on Emma and Julian for a long, uninterrupted stretch. I felt secure in the action for the first time in the novel rather than feeling unstable.

Additionally, Clare’s political messages were heavy handed. I’m all in favor of being political in fiction, but Clare’s Cohort felt like a knockoff of far-right groups, rather than standing on their own within Shadowhunter society. While sometimes these political messages worked well, there were other points when I was rolling my eyes at how blunt Clare was being.

Furthermore, “Queen of Air and Darkness” aligns with recent trends in young adult fiction when it comes to sex. Intimate scenes in this novel were far more explicit than past inclusions of intimacy have been in Clare’s work. As her original readers age, does Clare feel the need to write these scenes for them?

This also raises a question about the classification of the book, as it seems to be blurring the line between young adult and just adult. I’ve thought this for much of the Dark Artifices trilogy, but it really hit home in this novel. Clare has multiple forthcoming novels in her Shadowhunter franchise in the coming years. It will be interesting to see how this portrayal of sex plays out.

My final frustration came with the end of this novel. Clare rarely lets her characters have a happy ending, instead writing twists to end her books and leaving open plot points. Clearly, this is so Clare can continue writing Shadowhunter novels, but these novels all feel the same. I’m ready for this franchise to come to an end, but it won’t anytime soon.

Clare did a decent job of wrapping up the Dark Artifices trilogy, but “Queen of Air and Darkness” has flaws that may be hard to look past for anyone who is not a devoted fan of Clare’s works.

Reading “Queen of Air and Darkness” helped me realize I’m almost burnt out on Shadowhunter books. After a six-book series and two three-book series, I’m ready for something new from Clare that breaks her formula and inspires new readers to pick up her work.

Macy Davis is the culture editor for the Collegian and a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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Macy Davis
I'm Macy Davis a former Collegian culture editor and a 2019 graduate in English. When I was not reading and writing (both for class and for fun), I was also a member of the nationally ranked K-State speech team.