What If: A teenage girl discovers she is part of a hidden world within our own.
On her eighteenth birthday, Clary Fray finds out her entire life is a lie when her mother is kidnapped. Clary is thrust into a world of supernatural beings – demons, warlocks, werewolves, vampires that are policed by part-angel beings called Shadowhunters. She finds out she is also a shadowhunter and she embarks to find out why her mother kept this secret from her.
I’m reviewing the Netflix version rather than the book as I had watched the television show recently but read the books a few years ago. I am not a diehard fan of the series, but I enjoyed it as a light urban fantasy read. The show is pretty fluffy too, I don’t ever believe any characters are in danger, and the whole ‘ending the world’ theme they have going on falls flat. The one thing I’ve noticed is that despite the changes between book and television show is that Clary and Jace are the most boring characters.
I understand inserting an ‘everyman’ that the audience identifies with is a common way to introduce the exciting fantasy world. Harry Potter and the Hobbit do this very well. But the main character is supposed to be the person who drives the plot, and the audience/reader identifies with, and Clary is not it. She has no distractive voice or characteristics other than drawing (which isn’t shown very well), and it feels like the plot is happening to her rather than she’s driving the plot. Everyone and everything around her are far more interesting that I always question why we are following Clary. The only character that is more boring than Clary is Jace, despite all his brooding and dark past, he’s not interesting. He’s pretty, a good fighter and likes to brood. That’s it. Nothing else. And he’s the love interest. This was a problem in the source material as well; I don’t understand why they didn’t change the characters a bit since they have no problem changing the plot of the novels.
Toeing the line between interesting side characters who do more than serving the plot but don’t overshadow the main story with their subplot is also difficult, and Shadowhunters fails on this front. I’m far too invested in Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood’s romance than I am in the plot to ‘destroy the world’ by Valentine. I’m more interested in watching Simon adjust to being a vampire than I am in Clary adjusting to being a Shadowhunter.
It’s also hard when the world overshadows the main plot as well. The world of Shadowhunters is very dense with mythical creatures yet doesn’t go into how they work much. It is something like “Oh look Warlocks!” or “Oh look Vampires!” than it does in explaining how they all live together in our world. While you don’t want to spend hours upon hours exploring every mythical part of the world, you still expect a bit of explanation or having them part of the plot and world in a meaningful way. At times, it feels like they introduce things just to sound cool. Towards the end of the first season, Clary goes into an alternative world which serves little purpose to the plot other than to laugh at the alternative lives of characters in a world with no shadowhunters.
I still enjoy Shadowhunters despite its flaws. There are times when I watch the show and roll my eyes just like I did with the books but at the heart of it, the world still feels fun with great characters even if the main character isn’t interesting and the world isn’t as fleshed out as I’d like. The books and the television show don’t take themselves too seriously and will often reference other work or how ridiculous something sounds which is probably why I never feel like anyone is ever in danger. It’s still an enjoyable time to watch the characters run around in this mythical world.