Things I’ve learnt watching The Mortal Instruments

1) All supernatural creatures are British. The good guys are public school-educated, the villains come straight from a bar brawl in East London. Who cares if the entire story takes place in New York? If you have any sort of magical ability / want to play a character that has one, you better get your ass to a vocal coach ASAP. I’m sure they have special rates for werewolves.

2) All supernatural places are Hogwarts or a castle that looks like Hogwarts. I doesn’t matter if you’re in Yorkshire or Manhattan, you’ll have to put up with stone walls and lancet windows. In fact, this appears to be the only way to convince humans that you’re not kidding when you say your day job is killing demons. Bonus points if said castle is invisible to humans / disappears / teleports.

3) Leather is trendy! Turns out that the late 90s fetishist/motorcycle gang look is making a comeback. In fact, if you don’t wear head-to-toe black and an accessory with chains, you cannot be accepted in a Shadowhunter gang. They also like thigh-high boots, minidresses, hoodies and elaborate blades.

4) If your mum is Lena Headey, RUN. As if we didn’t know this already.

5) Remember when all the juicy stuff happened in fanfictions? The Mortal Instruments has got it all, from incest to gay romance (maybe) to love triangles. The characters ship other characters. Everyone seems to want to get it on with everyone else. It’s like Cassandra Clare wrote this thinking of fanfiction writers… oh, wait.

6) Plot is an accessory when you’ve got sexual tension and lots of sleek fighting scenes. I watched the movie and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I still have no idea of what happened — why does Jonathan Rhys Meyers want the cup? Because he’s nuts? And why isn’t Jamie Campbell-Bower playing a snide, despicable character in a period drama?

7) The Nice Guy Syndrome is now being legitimised in a YA movie. More on this topic another time, but I cringed when Simon (Robert Sheehan) sat on Clary’s bed whining that HE HAD ALWAYS BEEN THERE FOR HER, YET SHE WAS MAKING OUT WITH JACE. Thou whore, Clary!

8) Kevin Zegers does not age. He is 29 and looks younger than me. Vampire? Uh-uh!

9) Your neighbour is a witch and yes, she will try to murder you.

10) Remember the Biker Mice From Mars? The Mortal Instruments has the Biker Werewolves From Brooklyn (but with a British accent, obviously)! That is one cool ’90s reference.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

the divinersI read this because I had it lying around, so I didn’t have many expectations to begin with; the many great things about The Diviners hit me like a giant wave of awesomeness and gin. While as of late the combination of YA and supernatural has not given the best results, The Diviners has a completely different twist on the genre: this is a thriller with a sprinkle of supernatural. No romance, no bullshit. Plenty of weird cults and weirder murders.

Set in the 1920s New York, the story starts as party girl Evie O’Neill is shipped off to stay with her uncle Will in Manhattan, after causing too much trouble in her Ohio home town. Her misdemeanor was revealing that a guy in her social circle had knocked up and abandoned a poor girl; this was only made worse by the fact that she unmasked him by simply holding a ring of his.

Between assisting her uncle at the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, and hanging out in speakeasies with her new friends, Evie crosses paths with many curious individuals. She is definitely the protagonist, but the story is told by several voices: there is Mabel, daughter of renowned political activists; Theta, a trendy dancer who lives with her “brother” Henry; Memphis, a nice guy from the poorer side of town; Sam, a thief/smuggler/person you should avoid, despite his many charms; Jericho, uncle Will’s mysterious assistant. No character in The Diviners is bland: each of them has lots to say, a well-built background and, most of all, secrets. As the title says, several of them also have dreams, visions and premonitions.

The novel doesn’t quite pan out as one could expect: the fact that these teenagers have powers isn’t quite the centre of the narration, which makes the first half of the story a long, long wait for something that just doesn’t happen. It takes quite a while to give up on the idea the title gives – that the book is about diviners – but the wait is absolutely worth it. The main focus is solely on finding and bringing to justice the Pentacle Killer, who has been terrorizing in the city. Evie gets to follow the investigation closely when her uncle, an expert in the occult, is called by the police to consult on the case. It seems like 1800s serial killer Naughty John has come back from the dead – but is it a copycat, or is it really a ghost?

Very different characters allow to cover many different facets of the 20s; prohibition is a major player in the plot and so are WWI, eugenics and the immigrants swarming to the US at the beginning of the century. The Diviners has not been written lazily: the accuracy goes from big historical facts to language and costume. It doesn’t spare philosophy and religion: Jericho reads Nietzsche and quotes him all the time, while Memphis drifts apart from his extremely religious aunt. “Why should I pray to God? What has he done for me or my family?”, he asks himself.

The devious killer seems to have religious motifs behind his horrendous crimes; the protagonists have to uncover the secrets behind a strange Brethren and its beliefs, but they also have to wonder whether ghosts and demons really exist, if their powers are real, what evil is really about. This might be considered a very long build-up for the characters to really reach their full potential in the following books of the series. If the “diviners” plot takes off in the next instalment the style of the novels will change drastically, which might not be a good thing considering how good and unusual this one was.

2012, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Goodreads.
Found via: I had heard of Libba Bray before and the book looked cool.
Suggested to: Don’t go there if you’re a noir/thriller buff. Otherwise, please pick up this book.
Y/N? Y

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

tdhFrankie Landau-Banks is student at an elite private school; she is interested in cute boys and boring classes until she starts dating senior Matthew, the Cutest Of Them All. It is not very long until Matthew starts acting weird. Being a brilliant badass, she discovers almost immediately that he’s part of the all-male secret society her dad was also a member of. Her new mission: defeat the patriarchy and have a great time in the process. Oh, and also show her boyfriend that treating girls like cute objects is not cool.

In a time when most YA involves supernatural creatures or terrifying dystopias, it is so easy to fall in love with a book in which a normal teenager has an awesome adventure set in our world. Everything that happens is completely plausible, even the most spectacular pranks that take place in Alabaster.

Frankie has the problems of the average teenager. She is pissed off because her boyfriend ignores her, giving more attention to his best friend Alpha and The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds than he does to her. She is is pretty annoyed about “how Matthew had called her a “pretty package,” how he’d called her mind little, how he’d told her not to change—as if he had some power over her.” Does she mope about it? A little, but she then sets out to overthrow the old-fashioned values of her boarding school and turns into a criminal mastermind to prove to him that, really, he has nothing on her.

A clever and witty lady protagonist, who gives her entire school hell, while also teaching a lesson about girl power, is the best thing that could happen to anyone from 12 up. Be careful, teenagers I know: this book will be thrown your way very soon.

Side note: I was incredibly annoyed with myself when I discovered that both author and protagonist were female. They are ladies, and they are AWESOME.

2008, Disney-Hyperion. Goodreads.
Found via: Cecilia, as always.
Suggested to: Pretty much everyone needs to read this book.
Y/N? Y! FOREVER! Y Y Y!

A Natural History Of Dragons by Marie Brennan

a natural history of dragons
Victorian era-set novels might not be to everyone’s taste, but in this particular one dragons are commonplace even in the English countryside. Everybody loves dragons.One has to be a monster not to love dragons.

Protagonist and adventurer extraordinaire Isabella has been obsessed with dragons since childhood, much to the despair of her very proper upper class mother. Said frustrated mother then manages marry her off to a gentleman who has a fortune and loves dragons as much as her daughter: jackpot! He also couldn’t care less of his time’s conventions, so it doesn’t take long to convince him to go on an expedition to mysterious Vystrana, obviously with the intent to find dragons. As you can imagine, things there don’t go for the best.

The crossover between the Georgian/Victorian etiquette and the supernatural elements is a gem. Isabella’s social and cultural values belong to 1800s England, as do explorations, expeditions and scientific advancement. Dragons are introduced in such a subtle way that, despite still being incredible mysterious creatures, it seems impossible that they didn’t actually exist 200 years ago.

The Victorian morale is refrained to an almost obnoxious level for someone who has more than a superficial knowledge of the era, to the point where I found myself thinking. I get it, Isabella, you are a independent woman in a time of oppression, now let’s please move forward. The book is clearly set in a world geographically identical to ours; most places have one or many features that should be telling of what the corresponding Country in our world is. An example: Isabella’s native land, Scirland, is quite clearly England. Unfortunately, this is also the only example I can make because I just did not get most of the references. I’m pretty sure Vystrana is somewhere around the Caucasus, but that’s as far as I got. Any other connection was lost on me, which made it dreadful to determine what anyone was talking about.

Sadly, Isabella is not much more than a silly young girl, despite “misbehaving” and not adhering to the’ social norms of her time (and clearly wanting to be considered a badass because of that). The other protagonists are barely outlines of a character in a me-me-me-me narration, so it’s the story’s job to make the book come alive and become rather enjoyable even considering its flaws. The narration unfolds as more of a historical novel than a fantasy one, dragons being an excuse rather than a central feature. A Natural History Of Dragons is good fun and it goes by quite quickly – not exclusively a positive, since as a whole the books ends up feeling a bit too light. There are a lot of good prompts, but most of them don’t get more than a couple of paragraphs.

Now onto my sheer stupidity turned agonizing reader pain. The main reason I got so frustrated with A Natural History Of Dragons is probably my fault, really. It didn’t hit me until I was twenty pages away from the end (and still not very far into Isabella’s life) that this is going to be a series. I think some ideas can only go so far and if the series doesn’t pick up the pace talking about more than one adventure per book, nor I nor the author will ever see the end of this. The only positive is that there will be time to polish some bits of the structure and really make Marie Brennan’s brilliant concept (not new, but still awesome) really come through.

2013, Simon & Schuster. Goodreads
Found via: Hank Green suggesting books.
Suggested to: Dragon lovers who don’t know anything about the late 1800s.
Y/N? Urgh… Y, I suppose.