I’ve finally got round to finishing City of Heavenly Fire, the last book in the splendid YA paranormal romance series, The Mortal Instruments. Cassandra Clare writes with considerable flair, but her characterisation is exceptionally strong–you really do care for the people she’s created. She creates a convincing and detailed world that moves between various modes of fantasy: there’s the realist depiction of urban life in New York (where the series begins) into which the magical intrudes–this might be seen as ‘urban fantasy’. This is developed to reveal the parallel worlds of this ‘mundane’ life with that of the Shadowhunters–demon hunters, offspring of fallen angels–who have lived alongside ordinary mortals for millennia, protecting them against paranormal foes. Then there are transitions through portals into the radically otherworldly landscapes of Idris (the Shadowhunter’s haven) and the demonic land of Edom. It’s exciting and engaging and often witty; the final scenes are very moving.
Paranormal romance is, I think, born out of the moment when ideas about identity become mainstream; the demon hunters, fallen angels, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and fairies of this series and other books in the genre are quite transparently used to act out ideas of identity and otherness. But YA fiction, perhaps with some pedagogic intent, also focuses very strongly on crucial moral choices; this sets up an interesting dialectic with identity thinking. I’m not exaggerating when I claim that this novel (among others in this vein) is almost existentialist in its overt rejection of essence and ideas of blood and tradition.