I’ll be the first to admit, I did not enjoy The Mortal Instruments book series. I read the first three books out of a completion complex my Type A personality refused to let up on, but it was a real slog for me to get through.
Still, when the Shadowhunters series was announced, I was surprisingly excited. As a fan of both fantasy and angsty teen soaps, Shadowhunters seemed like the perfect guilty pleasure to accompany my The Vampire Diaries palette. Even though I found Cassandra Clare’s writing to be mediocre and her execution of plot to be downright creepy (yay, incest!), I had always admired the Shadowhunter world she created, and lamented the fact that I felt the books’ story arch didn’t live up to the potential of its world building foundation.
As a television show though, this fascinating world and interesting premise would have a chance to shine amongst a more mature audience who instead of taking the material so seriously, could enjoy it for the gratuitous guilty pleasure it is. With a team of talented and experienced television writers at the helm, the Shadowhunters show has the potential to grow into something that’s much more universal than Cassandra Clare’s standard tween audience.
Similar to other young adult series turned television hits like The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, and Pretty Little Liars, who veered away from the book’s storylines to create their own alternate world based on the characters, the Shadowhunters writers could have a really great supernatural show to work with if they are given the freedom to make the series their own. And they’re already off to a great start! Here’s three reasons why two episodes in, Shadowhunters is already so much better than The Mortal Instruments series:
The ‘Shadowhunters’ world is more logical
I know, I know, the thing I most praised and appreciated about The Mortal Instruments books was Cassandra Clare’s worldbuilding, but even still, I happen to think that as a television show, Shadowhunters has done an even better job in making the world feel real while also filling in potential plot holes.
It always seemed bizarre to me just how little contact Jace and the Lightwoods had with the rest of the Shadowhunter world while being confined to the New York Institute, but in the Shadowhunters series, we actually get to see the Institute filled with other Shadowhunters going about their business. Is it a little bizarre that no one else in the place seems to take any interest in Clary and the mundane friend she’s dragged along into their Shadowhunter oasis? Sure. But in terms of worldbuilding, I’ll take that over the alternative because in a city with such a huge Downworlder population as New York, it makes sense that there would be more than just three teenagers and their creepy tutor hanging out at the Institute.
Speaking of kids, it’s also super refreshing to see how the television show has aged them all up. While Clary started off as fifteen in City of Bones, in Shadowhunters, Clary is a much more appropriate eighteen, while Jace and the Lightwoods look like they might be even older. At eighteen, Clary is able to have a sense of gravitas to her that you just can’t give to the flighty fifteen year old the books made her out to seem, and it also makes the idea of the Shadowhunters sending out Jace and the Lightwoods to do their demon-fighting dirty work all the more palatable.
Clary is actually tolerable
Speaking of Clary, despite everyone she encounters in The Mortal Instruments treating her like a very special unicorn filled with rainbow magic, to a lot of readers, her blandness was downright infuriating. But while I have to say that I found Clary from the books to be a little whiny and supremely annoying, Kat McNamara’s portrayal actually makes her seem downright sweet. As an actress, Kat has a natural charisma that is immediately endearing, and makes much of her behavior towards Simon that seemed manipulative in the books, come off as lovingly oblivious instead.
There’s also some key changes plot wise that were made to remove some of Clary’s more irritating YA heroine tropes while more fully fleshing out her character at the same time. When we’re first introduced to Clary, we find out she’s just gotten into art school, so not only do we know that she’s a person with dreams, we immediately know that she’s a talented, tenacious person with goals. Our girl’s going places! She has a lot to live for, and that immediately raises the stakes because she’s got a lot to lose, too.
Clary’s relationships with other women — the pet peeve that angered a lot of readers — are also hugely improved in these two episodes alone. Instead of bickering with her hella cool mom over her bed time, we get to see them bonding over a family heirloom. We also get glimpses of Clary’s other relationships with women — her edgy, older-sister-type Dot, and Clary’s music-loving, age-appropriate friend Maureen (who was relegated to the role of “Simon’s groupie” within the books.) Most importantly, her relationship with Isabelle isn’t immediately defined by the same antagonistic, internal slut-shaming that goes on in the books. Imagine that! We get to watch Clary have healthy, affirming relationships with women that aren’t based on jealousy.
Additionally, even Clary and Jace’s dreaded insta-love feels more real in the television show once a single book is given the space of multiple episodes. Is their instant attraction still kind of annoying? Yeah, sure. But without Clary’s blubbering internal monologue, it feels more grounded and relatable as what it is: an attraction manipulated by hormones, not necessarily true love. Seeing the two charming leads interact with each other, it suddenly seems perfectly natural to assume that two super good-looking kids would be drawn to each other once the adrenaline starts pumping.
By far my favorite change in taking The Mortal Instruments from book to screen has been the television show’s decision to lean in to its diversity to create a more realistic New York City. Luke is played by the crazy-sexy Isaiah Mustafa, aka The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. Simon and Isabelle are both portrayed by Latino actors Alberto Rosende and Emeraude Toubia — a fact they get to have fun with when Isabelle teasingly flirts with Simon in Spanish during the second episode.
To be honest, I do think that Cassandra Clare was trying to be mindful of diversity when she wrote The Mortal Instruments, but a lot of her stereotypical portrayals fell flat or were unintentionally offensive. Shadowhunters is already a step ahead, and when even its relatively short-lived yet important characters like Maureen and Dot are portrayed by people of color, I’m excited to see what will happen next.