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Book Review: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

By (December 12, 2016) No Comment

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman

McElderry Books, 2016

The annals of unhelpful, clueless, or outright false Amazon.com book reviews boast many dozens of dubious highlights, from a book being given one star because a copy arrived damaged to the scandal of YA books being five-starred by adoring fans weeks before release-date to the dreaded “My husband didn’t care for it.” But surely even in that doleful company, a certain pride of place goes to reviewers who look at a new book that’s buried deep, deep in an author-cult and then brazenly leave comments saying, “This is a perfect place to jump on board! Works great as a stand-alone!” In such cases, when, we can assume, an excess of youthful enthusiasm has given rise to howlingly demonstrable whoppers, prospective new readers have lost one of their first lines of defense against the horrible feeling of finding themselves stuck in a foreign land without a passport, trying to get their bearings in the 17th book of the “Fractured Multiverse” series, desperate to figure out whether Princess Anvivia is in more danger from her Wraith-possessed twin sister or her demon-possessed biological clone. Such readers trust long-time fans of a book-series to have the self-control to say “This latest book is really only for long-time fans.”

Those prospective new readers will be badly served by the super-booster fans of bestselling YA author Cassandra Clare, at least when it comes to the newest volume in her sprawling “Shadowhunters” series, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, out in a very pretty hardcover edition from the Margaret K. McElderry imprint of Simon and Schuster. The “Shadowhunter” world features a Harry Potter-style split between the realm of magic and the realm of Muggles, here called “mundanes.” The members of the titular academy, demi-humans with angel-blood in their veins and consequent mystical powers, endure harsh training and high mortality rates in order to protect the normal mundane world from a host of supernatural dangers, and as in all other ongoing YA series, they’re always looking to recruit clumsy, unimaginative teenage girls into their ranks.

The “Shadowhunter” universe now spreads over ten novels, several short story collections, a big-screen movie, and an ongoing TV series. It has thousands of devoted fans who know every tiny detail of its convoluted mythology. Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is a book strictly for those devoted fans. Newcomers will be baffled, bored, and bewildered.

But for those devoted fans, the book is a pure gift. It consists of ten stories (of varying degrees of skill, complexity, and basic coherence), written by four authors – Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman, and Cassandra Clare herself, and each story is prefaced by an original black-and-white illustration by Cassandra Jean. The stories center on the character of Simon Lewis, a former vampire who in the earlier book City of Heavenly Fire lost most of his memory and faced a fresh start in his life. That fresh start takes the form of Shadowhunter Academy, and as its title suggests, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is as much a story of the institution as it is of one fan-favorite plebe – a plebe we meet just on the eve of his departure for school:

The problem was that Simon did not know how to pack like a badass.

For a camping trip, sure; to stay at Eric’s overnight at a weekend gig, fine; or to go on a vacation in the sun with his mom and Rebecca, no problem. Simon could throw together a jumble of suntan lotion and shorts, or appropriate band T-shirts and clean underwear, at a moment’s notice. Simon was prepared for normal life.

Which was why he was so completely unprepared to pack for going to an elite training ground where demon-fighting half-angel beings known as Shadowhunters would try to shape him into a member of their own warrior race.

Saying that these stories are uneven in the skill of their execution would be almost as cruel as saying this book works as a stand-alone introduction to the “Shadowhunters” world; devoted fans might notice some unevenness but are prepared to forgive everything in exchange for the fun of spending more time with the characters they love, and newcomers to the franchise probably won’t stick around long enough to pay attention to the finer details of character and voice. Fans who’ve been reading these books since 2007’s City of Bones will love every page, every old-favorite character brought back for a guest appearance, every teasing hint of future revelations, and every pointed recounting of earlier triumphs and tragedies, like the one we find in the story “Angels Twice Descending”:

It hit him now almost as hard as it had when he first heard Jordan was dead. And not just Jordan. Raphael was dead. Isabelle’s brother Max, dead. Clary’s brother Sebastian, dead. Julie’s sister. Beatriz’s grandfather and father and brother, Julian Blackthorn’s father, Emma Carstairs’s parents – all of them dead, and those were only the ones Simon had been told about. How many other people he had cared about, or people the people he loved had cared about, had been lost to one Shadowhunter war or another? He was still a teenager – he wasn’t supposed to know this many people who had died.

And me, he thought suddenly. Don’t forget that one.

I’m one of those long-time fans of this fictional world Cassandra Clare has created, and I raced through Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy like a kid let loose in a toy shop. But I won’t be recommending it to just any mundane I meet.

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