The Pressure of Expectations: A Review of “Queen of Air and Darkness” by Cassandra Clare


Official Summary: What if damnation is the price of true love?

Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks.

Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined. Caught in a race against time, Emma and Julian must save the world of Shadowhunters before the deadly power of the parabatai curse destroys them and everyone they love.

My Thoughts: By the Angel, I wanted to love this book so bad.

Sorry for starting this review with cringe, but my disappointment has turned my brain to mush.

Out of all the 2019 releases, this book was one of my most anticipated. I’ve been a Cassandra Clare fan for five years, so I’m always happy for more Shadowhunter Chronicles content. However, it has only been the last two books of The Dark Artifices that I truly anticipated. Most of The Mortal Instruments books were already out when I first got into her work, and all of The Infernal Devices were released. The Dark Artifices, however, I’ve been around for since the beginning.

At first, I didn’t anticipate the series that much. I knew I’d like it, but I thought it would fall into the TMI camp. I like TMI, but I love TID. I thought the dynamic would be the same between TDA and The Last Hours. But Lady Midnight surprised me with how much I loved it. I practically salivated with anticipation over Lord of Shadows.

The latter I devoured in two days, fully cementing the series as my new favorite of Clare’s. With two five-star installments in the series, I just knew I was going to adore Queen of Air and Darkness.

Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, I really like QOAAD. I just don’t love it the way I do its predecessors. It’s almost like its purpose was to fulfill that prophecy I once held. I just don’t love it the way I love the TID finale— the way I hope to love the TLH finale.

In a way, I’m more crushed that I merely like this book, rather than love it. But where did Clare go wrong?

There are two things about this series that quickly made me regard it as a favorite: its darkness and its characters. QOAAD is as deliciously dark as the rest of the series, in some ways even more so. At every turn, there’s a morally gray solution that you just know the characters are going to take. And yet, it’s those same characters that let me down.

I still love these characters as much as I always have, especially Julian “Commandaddy” Blackthorn. The problem is there’s almost no character development in this novel. Most of the characters’ development is only in regards to their relationships. Once your characters cease to develop as Character A and Character B and only develop as Characters A and B, you’ve failed.

Out of the main cast, the only character who has any sort of individual development is Julian. Even this, unfortunately, is minimal. Kit and Ty, side characters in this series, have the most development out of anyone. I can only assume that’s because they’re too young for sexytimes.

Still, I enjoyed seeing the directions Clare takes their characters. Kit becomes more comfortable in his life as a Shadowhunter. Ty explores his grief and learns his lesson the hard way. I can’t wait to see them again in The Wicked Powers.

Well, I suppose Kit and Ty aren’t the only characters who had significant development in this book. Diana grows more confident, eventually coming out as a transwoman. Even though her relationship with Gwyn is a focus, Diana changes by leaps and bounds of her own accord. Dru also has some character development, slowly fighting the tides of her grief. She too grows more confident, realizing she has an important place not just in her family but in the Shadowhunter world.

It’s incredibly difficult to root for relationships, when none of the characters involved are developing. I’d already grown to love Blackstairs, and love Emma and Julian from their development in previous books. As much as I wish they’d had more individual growth in QOAAD, their relationship is still easy to love.

It is Cristina, Mark, and Kieran that unfortunately fall victim the most to lack of character development. All of their perspectives are about their feelings for each other. We don’t learn anything new about who these characters are and how they’ve changed since the events of Lord of Shadows. Mark may be the only exception, as he has some significant interaction with his family. But Cristina only ponders her strange attraction to both faerie boys and Kieran hardly has any perspectives at all.

Actually, let me revise that statement. We learn several new things about Kieran. The problem is, these are clearly thrown in to get the reader to root for him and don’t line up with prior canon. Since when is Kieran kind? Since when is he a leader? We know the Unseelie King regarded him as a threat and that’s why Kieran was sent to the Wild Hunt, but that doesn’t automatically mean he was the better ruler all along.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Clare simply doesn’t know how to write an effective redemption arc. The closest she’s come in the past is Will Herondale in The Infernal Devices, and even that is flawed. Allow me to put it this way: just as memory loss doesn’t equal character development, neither does a magic pool that gives you empathy. In fact, I’d argue the latter hinders your redemption arc. Why should I root for a character who doesn’t feel empathy without magical intervention? In fact, wasn’t that part of the lesson of Julian’s arc? Why should I regard it as acceptable for Kieran, but not Julian?

Moreover, too much of Kieran’s supposed redemption and growth is shown to us, rather than told. The same can be said of Kierarktina. How does the author of nearly twenty books forget one of the most basic rules of writing? It feels like she’s more desperate to make her “hot faerie threesome” happen than actually figuring out how to make it work.

As a known hater of Kieran, I will acknowledge that some of this may be due to bias. But I can’t blame all of this on my personal dislike of the character. I knew Clare was going to make this relationship happen, come hell or high water. I went into this book with as open a mind as I could. This relationship simply doesn’t work and feels more like the actualization of a fetish (and abuse apologia) than something organic to the story.

Aside from the lack of individual character development and canonization of one of my least favorite ships, I had a couple other issues. One of these is the use of a trope I’ve never liked. I hate when different versions of the same characters meet. I don’t know why, it just feels really hokey. This books makes extensive use of that trope, devoting a large portion of the book to it. I love the idea of different realities and universes, and I love when characters visit them. I just really hate when they interact with alternate version of themselves or people they know. It really affects my ability to take a story seriously.

That said, I still liked aspects of this part of the book. It’s one of the few times the story allows for character development in our main characters. I probably would’ve loved it if it didn’t feel like TDA Bizarro World.

The last issue I had with this book is the lack of consequences. In prior finales, Clare has killed characters off or permanently changed them in a negative way. This finale doesn’t really have that. I thought there would be consequences for what Emma and Julian do during the final battle. Awesome as it is, I couldn’t see a path where they came out unscathed.

Naturally, they do. That doesn’t mean they’re unchanged, just that the changes are not bad. I also understand why they don’t suffer any consequences. Clare comes up with a very believable explanation that I’m more than willing to accept. It’s not even that I want them to suffer consequences. It’s just that that’s reality.

The only consequences in this series aren’t major. Well, they are, but they don’t have a major effect on the characters. They are learning to adapt easily, and it helps them sort out their priorities. If not that, then the reader knows the situation will be rectified in The Wicked Powers. After the major consequence that ends Lord of Shadows, it feels wrong that everyone should come away almost perfectly intact.

However, even with all the problems I have, I still really enjoyed this book. The plot is exciting, leading the characters across worlds. Despite the lack of character development, the plot is still largely character-driven. It’s thrilling to see Julian use his cunning to solve problems, to see Emma fight for what’s right. I love following Kit and Ty to the Shadow Market, and traipsing through Faerie with Mark and Cristina. It’s moving to witness the burgeoning resistance in Idris with Diana, and to suffer for a cause with Diego. This plot kept me reading non-stop, finishing the book in three days.

Well, it was the plot and Clare’s writing. I don’t know what it is about her writing style, but it’s addictive. I could spend days just sitting and reading her books. Obviously, QOAAD is no exception. Her metaphors are exquisite, her dialogue realistic and palpable. Of course, it’s no surprise that the mind who created this amazing world is also capable of gorgeous prose.

With the exception of Kierarktina, I love how each relationship develops in this book. Emma and Julian are fighting a new complication, one that helps them realize exactly why they love each other so deeply. Their battle against the parabatai curse is breathtaking. Helen and Aline, though they have tragically little page time, prove themselves to be a dynamic duo. This book shows how far they’ll go to fight for each other and what they love.

Diana and Gwyn grow even closer, developing perhaps the tenderest relationship in the series. You wouldn’t think that would be the case with the leader of the Wild Hunt involved, but it is. Their loyalty is tested by hatred and bigotry, but this only cements their bond. Kit and Ty’s relationship stays firmly within the realm of friendship, but the reader sees Kit’s crush on Ty begin to grow. He slowly loses hold of that denial, until he no longer cares. Ty’s affection is harder to see, but evident nonetheless. I appreciate Clare for keeping their relationship soft and innocent, as the boys are only about fourteen or fifteen in this novel. I can’t wait to watch them rebuild their trust and develop their relationship even more in The Wicked Powers.

Thematically, this story discusses what makes a person who they are, the influence of grief and how it can vary, and the power love has to change the world. Each is dealt with carefully and subtly. Clare never resorts to cheese to make her point. It’s about what these characters do to overcome adversity and their own inner turmoil.

Despite the lack of truly impactful consequences, I really like the ending. The way the Cohort is dealt with is very smart, a reaction to the Cold Peace enacted at the end of City of Heavenly Fire. I love the implication of punishment the results of the Cohort’s actions at the Clave meeting have. I love the election results. I love the scene on the beach and everything (well, almost everything) that happens during it.

The only thing I take issue with is the epilogue, as one character’s appearance is in direct opposition to a choice they make earlier in the novel. It also suggests we’ll be dealing with a dark version of a beloved character in The Wicked Powers, which is an arc we’ve had before (and also once again uses that trope I hate). Regardless, it’s a pretty solid conclusion that tugged on all my heartstrings.

In many ways, I feel like I went harder on this book because I liked it than I would have it I’d hated it. Sure, I probably would’ve been snarkier if I’d hated it, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as painful. Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows were always going to be difficult to follow up, but I had faith Cassandra Clare could do it. Alas, this is the first and only book in The Dark Artifices to receive less than five stars. If it hadn’t been so focused on the relationships and setting up The Wicked Powers, it easily could’ve been. But it wasn’t to be, and now this novel is the queen of nothing but wasted potential.

My Rating: 4/5

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5 thoughts on “The Pressure of Expectations: A Review of “Queen of Air and Darkness” by Cassandra Clare

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