If you’re looking for a good YA series with bisexual, Hispanic, or autistic representation, it might be time to hop on the Dark Artifices train, as the second book was just released last Tuesday, May 23. From the author who brought us our first Jewish vampire and an immensely powerful gay warlock comes a new spin-off series from her original The Mortal Instruments world. Today I will review Lady Midnight (Book 1 of The Dark Artifices) by Cassandra Clare, particularly focusing on the minority characters Mark, Christina, and Ty.
Lady Midnight takes place a few years after the events of The Mortal Instruments, but on the other side of the country at the Los Angeles Shadowhunter Institute. Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn are the main protagonists, with Julian’s large family making up the bulk of the supporting cast. Emma and Julian are parabatai, sworn fighting partners who share a special connection almost like platonic soulmates. Or, at least, they are supposed to be platonic. Romantic love is forbidden between parabatai. As Emma and Julian reach new intimacy while investigating a series of faerie deaths, they realize their decision to become parabatai may well have been the biggest mistake of their lives.
While Lady Midnight takes place in the same world as most of Clare’s other works, it is the start of its own series, so it’s not strictly essential that you have finished The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices before starting The Dark Artifices. There are multiple cameo appearances by characters from the other books though, so you may get more enjoyment and less confusion if you are familiar with them. I recommend having at least read the first few installments of The Mortal Instruments, to get a sense of the world. You may get a little spoiled for the later books of that series by reading this one.
Lady Midnight builds on a practice that began in Clare’s earlier stories: a conscious effort to include characters from minority groups in full-fledged and meaningful roles. Each character’s backstory is more than that which makes them different; their ethnicity, sexuality, or neurodivergence is a prominent part of who they are, but they are not reduced to a caricature.
Let’s start with Mark Blackthorn, Julian’s half-fey older half-brother. Five years earlier, Mark had been taken by the faeries and joined the Wild Hunt. There, he was met with harsh treatment and even torture but he also fell in love with a faerie prince named Kieran. Upon Mark’s return to the human world, he deals with family tension, rediscovers his humanity, and also flirts with Emma’s friend Christina. They even have a direct discussion where Christina asks if Mark likes boys or girls and Mark declares that he likes both, identifying explicitly as bi. While Mark’s sexual orientation may be used as a plot point (now he can be a love interest for twice as many characters), it still was nice to see Clare put the “B” in her LGBT awareness and give visibility in a major YA franchise to an often invisible group.
Next, we have Christina Mendoza Rosales, who came from the Mexico City Shadowhunter Institute to do her traditional year of travel in L.A. Christina is one of the first major Hispanic characters in the series and Emma’s best friend. It is implied that Christina is the one who would have been a better fit as Emma’s parabatai, whereas Julian would have been Emma’s lover if things had gone differently. Christina has strong religious beliefs; her feelings toward the angels of Shadowhunter legend are more akin to the worship of her mostly Catholic countrymen than the more secular Shadowhunters. She speaks Spanish in moments of intense emotion, though is also a master of several other languages of use to those who deal with the supernatural. She has a whole backstory of family drama and political maneuvering, which follows her to L.A. in the form of her old flame, Diego.
Lastly, we have Tiberius “Ty” Blackthorn, one of the first autistic characters I have ever encountered in a book that wasn’t specifically about autism. Clare mentioned on twitter that Ty is partially inspired by her autistic step-brother, making this a minority representation near and dear to the author’s heart. Perhaps for this reason, Ty is one of the most fleshed-out and interesting secondary characters in the book. Ty is Julian’s teenage younger brother and he also has a twin sister named Livvy (and a host of other siblings). I really liked the subtlety with which Clare approached Ty’s introduction. We see first his bedroom, where the books are organized by color and little gadgets sit on his nightstand that Julian made to help keep Ty’s hands busy (basically the Shadowhunter equivalents of fidget spinners). Throughout the story, as we pick up more tidbits like the fact that Ty doesn’t like to make eye contact and he rocks back and forth when overwhelmed, we slowly come to the realization of the connection between these behaviors. Thus, our first impression is more nuanced than if he were just straight-out introduced as Julian’s autistic little brother. Clare intentionally never actually uses the word “autistic,” stating instead that Shadowhunters have no words for people like Ty because they aren’t very tolerant of such things.
While I found the initial approach commendably sensitive, Clare does lay it on a bit thick later in the book as Ty’s family constantly reassure themselves and others that “there’s nothing wrong with him, he’s just different” (paraphrasing here). I felt like Clare’s message would have come off as more powerful and sincere if she merely demonstrated it through the story rather than saying it outright over and over. To be fair, there are moments in the book where Ty truly shines. Ty’s intellect and powers of observation go a long way towards solving the mystery and he even holds his own in the final battle, proving to his protective older brother that he doesn’t need to be coddled. Ty’s relationship with his twin also adds to his character depth. Livvy loves fighting and wants them to be parabatai but Ty would rather be a scholar at the Scholomance, where elite Shadowhunters go to learn things about demons and downworlders that are beyond normal Shadowhunter dealings.
Overall, I was very impressed by Clare’s continued dedication to showcasing diversity in her novels. Could she have done better? Of course; there is always room for improvement or bolder strides. Perhaps she could have made Mark, Christina, or Ty the focus of their own story rather than just side characters. Though, who knows? One day we might get a further spin-off featuring one of them. Until then, I hope to see these characters grow in Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices #2), now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and wherever books are sold.