genderbent jace

Repetitiveness: Clare VS Sanderson

Spoilers for:

  • [Major] All of Brandon Sanderson’s work (including his non-cosmere stuff)
  • [Major] Cassandra Clare’s work up to Lady Midnight
  • [Very Minor] PJO on world building
  • [Very Minor] Harry Potter on world building

Now if you’ve been looking at my blog recently, you’ll know that I have fallen in an absolute love with Brandon Sanderson. But I subscribe to the philosophy that if you love something then you should mercilessly make fun of all its faults. One of the faults being: Sanderson’s writing is unbelievably repetitive. And no the excuse “well it’s all in the same universe” doesn’t work. Reckoners is not in the Cosmere but it’s a pretty shameless (yet hilarious) rip-off of Mistborn. The only difference being is that Mistborn is adult and Reckoners is YA. Which, apparently, means that everything is exactly the same but main characters don’t die. Also, to a much lesser degree Rithmatist rips off elements of Stormlight Archive but it’s nowhere near as bad as Reckoners. I’m pretty sure they’re going to outlaw drinking games made out of the Cosmere because of dangerous they would be.

I also use to read Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series but decided to stop because it was too repetitive. Now that sounds incredibly hypocritical and at first I didn’t understand why the repetitiveness didn’t bother me in Sanderson’s work. And the repetitiveness was the reason I found myself not wanting to continue after Lady Midnight. I know that Clare is going to pull some reason Jules and Emma can bonk out of her ass, Emma is going to suffer little to no consequences for her actions and they day will saved by bunch of stupid teenagers. At first these franchises seem completely different and pointless to compare but I’d argue they’re more similar than you think. Both authors were started off riding the coattails of other authors (Clare with the Twilight hype and Sanderson finishing up Wheel of Time), there’s a lot of talk of religion and there’s generally a neon sign pointing to which characters are going to die. Ironically, they both have a country called “Idris” that we barely care about unless it’s being under attack (Fun Fact: City of Glass was published in March of 2009 and Warbreaker was published June of 2009, go figure). They obviously have the same flaw. They tend to tell the same story with the same characters over and over again. However I figured out two reasons why I still enjoy Sanderson’s work and have given up on Clare’s.

1. Character Arcs and Group Dynamics:

Let’s take Raoden from Elantris and Elend from Mistborn. They’re essentially the same character. They’re young royals who take a position of authority even though they’re a bit naïve. They have badass girlfriends. Their girlfriends also have something to do with their clearly evil fathers’ deaths. Raoden even had a crazy brother in a draft of Elantris and Elend actually had a crazy brother. It sounds annoying that Brandon has characters with such similar backgrounds but there are some key differences.

One interesting way Brandon avoids the reader immediately realizing how similar these characters are is when their stories begin. Raoden’s story is basically Elend’s story but only through Well of Ascension and maybe a bit of time gap between Well of Ascension and Hero of Ages. In Well of Ascension you have the former ruling god dead, Elend is trying to deal with the authority that he’s accepted in the last book, dies and then comes back with awesome powers. Ditto for Raoden. But we get to see Elend grow from this naïve bookworm just trying to piss off his father into the badass emperor. Raoden’s already got some leadership skills from growing up with the assumption that he’s going take the thrown before he got zombie-afied and develops much faster than Elend in Elantris. It’s not immediately recognizable that this is the same arc. While in Shadowhunters Clary and Tessa basically go through the same story arc. Girl who thought she was average discovers Shadowhunters and that she’s magical, but even more super special than all the other magical people. She meets jerky guy and obviously better nice guy but chooses the jerky guy because he’s tortured. She discovers stuff about the Shadowhunter world and Clave continues to be useless dicks. She’s the only one who can save the day despite having very little to no training because she was born the right way. Bangs her boyfriend right before the climax because…I have no idea what Clare loves that trope to be honest. Anyone who was even remotely rude to her dies, even if they get quickly redeemed before the end and there are a few good guys who die, but honestly their deaths don’t really matter to the MC or the audience. End of trilogy! It’s boring. I will give Clare this, she did realize that the audience didn’t need this world explained for the third fucking time in TDA which a good step forward. I’m sure that every asshole is going to die by the end of the trilogy and right before the climax Jules and Emma will equip those stupid birth control runes and have a climax of their own. However there’s still the problem that they’re still fucking Shadowhunters.

Another difference is the different power sets that the characters. I know Tessa doesn’t have the exact same power set as Clary or Emma. Tessa is a Warlock-Shadowhunter, Clary has a bigger amount of angel blood than your average Shadowhunter and Emma is banging her Parabati which gives you magic powers apparently. Clare couldn’t have these take place on different planets with completely different magic systems like Sanderson can. But Tessa, Clary and Emma hang out with people and it wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t all Shadowhunters who come from the same culture with the same values and same personalities. Even the same family lines, which I guess means that family members have exact same personalities. At least when Sanderson families are from the same bloodlines he makes an effort to change up the personalities. Breeze is fancy asshole with a heart a gold, Wax is a social inept cowboy with a heart of gold. Tessa barely explores her Warlock side in TID, she talks to Magnus and maybe exchanges a couple of words with Ragnor. All three MCs hang out with Shadowhunters. It’s especially obvious when you look at Tessa and Clary’s groups. Tessa hangs out with Jace-Clone-With-Half-Decent-Reason-To-Be-An-Asshole, Simon-Done-Better, Crazy-Izzy (Jessamine) and Characters-That-Would-Make-Much-More-Interesting-Protagonists (Henry, Charlotte). TDA isn’t that much better. Emma and Jules are basically the genderbent versions of Jace and Clary with minor differences and being more pissy. They hang out with Less-Insufferable-Izzy, Evil-Crazy-Magnus, Expendable-Siblings, Siblings-I-Don’t-Care-About, Siblings-Waiting-For-Their-Own-Spinoff and Love-Geometry-Fodder. It would be better if they weren’t all Shadowhunters. Clare created a bunch of really interesting cultures and species that we never really get to see in full. We don’t know what it’s like to be a normal Vampire because Simon was a Daywalker (or whatever) and he wasn’t even a vampire for long, we had Maya the werewolf but she barely got any screen time. The non-Shadowhunter character we get the most of is Magnus because he’s a fan favorite but we still don’t really know much about Warlocks. I know this series is called Shadowhunters but why did it have to be? It would have been a better series if Tessa was a full on Warlock and she was exploring that aspect of Clare’s world and she could still interact with the Shadowhunters. Hell it might even be interesting to see how other species see the Shadowhunters. We know Downworlders hate Shadowhunters but they probably have different histories with them. Maybe Werewolves were used as manual slave labor while Warlocks were used as prostitutes for people who wanted to fuck demons but didn’t want demon STDs. I don’t know! Make Emma a werewolf, she’s aggressive. Culture does a lot, Clare already has the intriguing cultures that I want to learn about. She just has to DO something with them. Brandon loves having crews and it helps that they all come from different planets with different cultures. Even if he’s reusing a character they’re also either just different enough to not be a complete clone (unlike Jace and Will) or they’re surrounded by completely different characters. Raoden’s old crew has two old cranky farts with a rivalry that ends with my heart broken, a soldier, the hot guy, the big strong man with a family and the badass girlfriend. Elend’s crew he inherited from the Kell has the badass girlfriend, the fancy asshole with the heart of gold, soldier who’s a philosopher, Average Joe accountant, religious dude, cranky old fart and love-triangle-fodder. There’s some overlap between all the series’ crews but they’re just enough that you accept it. In Shadowhunters, especially with Tessa and Clary their friend groups are basically the same.

2. World Building:

The thing that keeps Sanderson’s work from becoming dull is that he is a master world builder. So good in fact that while you’re trying to figure out how the hell each world works and exactly how amazing it is that you completely miss all the repetitiveness along with the foreshadowing and references to the Cosmere. It’s only after you give yourself to think about the overall picture that you realize how similar they are. It’s essential a parent sneakily feeding their child vegetables by hiding them in cheese. Clare doesn’t have that. Seeing how Shadowhunters is the same exact world in every series, you never feel the confusion in any of the spinoff series. Once you’ve read a couple of the books you have a feel for the bland world.

Besides pop culture references, I don’t see much of a point in this being an urban fantasy. If the TV Show did one thing right, it’s that it mixed the Shadowhunter tech with modern tech. Why? Because it’s cool and gives it a little bit more of a reason to be set in modern times with modern pop culture references. If you took out all references to modern society it wouldn’t matter what time period any of these series took place because Shadowhunters seem to rarely let their society be affected by Mundane society. Shadowshunters have a very stagnant culture and it’s taken 10 books for them to start to realize that the Internet is awesome. This is an urban fantasy series but it doesn’t seem to have any effect other than pop culture references. You don’t need to completely blend Normal and Magical worlds; JK Rowling did a pretty good job of making a world where the wizard world very rarely interacts with the real world. This was successful because Harry Potter was a world with wizards who can do basically anything and had no real need to interact with Muggles. Shadowhunters for one don’t have any magical powers so they either have to do it themselves, get Warlocks to do it or get some Mundanes. They also have to protect Mundanes, you’d think they’d be interacting more and since there’s no Mist like Percy Jackson you wonder how Mundanes don’t figure it out by now. Speaking of PJO, on the flip side Percy Jackson works mixing the two elements because it’s fun to see Greek Gods and Monsters updated. Riordan took his concept and ran with it. He uses the modern setting to get out pop culture references but there’s still mortal interaction with characters like the demigods’ mortal parents and Rachel. The only other thing Clare uses the modern setting for is to introduce the Shadowhunter series to noobs. Which is fine for a series but after three, it gets tiresome. Also she picked the most stagnant and boring species out of the bunch.

Then there’s Sanderson, which I won’t compare Shadowhunters to the entire Cosmere because that’s unfair but I will compare it to Mistborn. In less than 200 years Henry Branwell made a few inventions like the portal and sensor; Clary made some new runes. So only Branwells can advance this society for some reason. In 300 years, Scadrial got cars, electricity, image projectors and fucking airships. I get that Shadowhunters really don’t like change but seriously all of humanity rests in their hands. I would want someone to create better ways of killing demons. Apparently witchlight can double as a power source so you can use it for computers and WiFi. Use that shit to make a car that works in Idris or some better tech. Find some better way to communicate to each other! That way the next genocidal maniac that Clary creates goes around to Institutes creating the next protagonists for another spin off series, you can warn people! Instead of relying on references to TID. This is why you’re always dying off, because you refuse to advance! This’ll be a never ending cycle of Shadowhunters using glow-y swords and arrows to kill all hell’s got to offer! Maybe this is all just a conspiracy and Clave has been stopping advancement in Shadowhunter society because once they defeat all the demons they’ll lose all their purpose in life.

One of the problems with Clare’s writing is that she often gives her main leads this amazing magical power that no else uses or can ever use. In 200 years or in the entire history of the world we never hear of another Warlock-Shadowhunter other than Tessa. And there will probably never be one because that’s what makes Tessa special. In Mistborn, the magic system is organically evolving. Throughout the first trilogy you always get new metals and new information about how the magic works is revealed. By Alloy of Law yes we have all 16 metals but we now discover that Mistborns don’t exist (which is a great way to keep any character from being too OP) but now there’s Twinborns. It’s a completely different type of magic user much like Tessa but Brandon expanded on that. Imagine the different types of Warlocks and Shadowhunter combos you could get and how that would manifest. Or how this would affect Shadowhunter society as a whole. Instead of Luke just becoming full on werewolf what if there was some sort of hybrid Werewolf-Shadowhunter. It’s the same with Twinborns. There’s so many combinations and possibilities for different powers. Then in Bands of Mourning there’s people being able to artificially give people powers. It’s so organic and just makes the world feel so much bigger because of how much you have to explore. The Shadowhunter magic never really evolves. It’s the same and once the main character uses their super-mega-ultra forms they got from the Angel to defeat the current bad guy threatening all of humanity, the power up just goes away. Like, you never want to see if other people can do that mega-awesome-thing? Why? Maybe they could use it to get rid of demons!

Then here’s my biggest grip with the Shadowhunters’ world: we’re never given an explanation on exactly the world works. I’m less invested in this world because I don’t feel like I can live there and then immediately die because I would not survive in any fantasy world. First is Idris: how does Idris get it’s food or clothing? Shadowhunter culture makes a big deal on how it’s shameful to not be anything but a demon hunter. But…y’gotta eat and someone has to make the sexy black leather you wear. Looking at the map there’s the lake, forest, plains and that’s all there is. Where are the farms? Are there Shadowhunter farmers? How are they treated? Or do they just rely on Warlocks to conjure it all up? Which Warlocks? Before the Accords did they just have Downworlder slaves do all this? If so then what happened after the Accords? And don’t give me that “well maybe it’ll be answered in a future book” or “it was answered in Lord of Shadows and/or Shadowhunter Academy” because it’s been 10 fucking books and a collection of short stories and Clare hasn’t given me the answers on how this society functions. I tried looking at Wiki but it was either such a throw away line that no one decided to put it or Clare hasn’t addressed it. Sanderson shows that worlds can distract from very glaring problems. I don’t expect to know exactly how the Cosmere functions because its not important at the moment, just like you don’t expect to know how Idris works in City of Bones. But after 11 books and still don’t know how anything works, I get frustrated and then I start getting annoyed at the other glaring problems. I know how the Camp Half-Blood functions. Mr. D grows strawberries, they harvest them, sell to them to the mortal world and get mortal money to pay for shit. Then golden drachmas are circulating around to buy magic stuff. Which also brings me to questions about the Institutes like: How do the Institutes have Mundane money? Is it the Clave that gets the money and then distributes it to the Institutes? How do they get the money? Do Shadowhunters really go out grocery shopping or does Idris just ship each institute supplies from wherever the fuck they get it? If so then how did they do that without the portal? How did they pay their Mundane servants back in the day? I go could go on the questions, Clare’s world just feel so small. Like nothing else is happening unless it’s relevant to the plot, while everything Sanderson creates such amazing worlds that you write…well a stupid post like this. It’s just there are so many unanswered questions that it becomes annoying.

Which is not to say that Sanderson never had this problem of not answering questions that probably should have been answered about the world. I can see myself beginning to lose my patience with getting answers to questions about the Cosmere, only to have new ones pop up. He has to walk that very fine line between leaving his audience wanting more without making them give up from frustration. While I didn’t hate it, Calamity left me with a lot more questions than answers. Yes, I know there are questions that are going to be answered later, especially around Calamity (the character) and I’m sure it’ll all make sense in about 10 years when we get Reckoners: Secret History or whatever. But there are questions that I feel should have been answered in this book and normally Brandon would but for some reason he didn’t. Like if Calamity made more Epics before he pissed off? Because if I were an Epic who went on a psychopathic rampage every time someone coughed in my direction, killed everyone I loved and random strangers and then suddenly snapped out of it; I would probably kill myself out of guilt. How exactly did other-universe David die exactly? I know it had something to do with Steelheart but how exactly? What’s it like for Firefight to come to our universe? Did Prof ever go to the other universe and say sorry to that Tia for killing her in our-universe? Could he just live there? Does Meg ever let him go there like she lets David see his dad? Why in this Earth do we have such piss-pour abilities to name shit? No, I’m not over how fucking stupid the name “Newcago” is. I’m actually glad Brandon didn’t attempt to name the two universes because they probably would have been stupid. Ultimately these questions are kind of annoying that I don’t have the answers to but I still know how this world functions. It was stated that the Epics leading their small territories in the…Fractured States (sigh) needed to have servants so they found some way to keep them alive. Yes it’s a “magic” answer but it works because you’ve got people who can come back from the dead and kill with bubbles. It doesn’t work with Shadowhunters because Shadowhunters don’t have magic and their better-than-you culture makes it hard for me to come up with any logical conclusion.

Ultimately Brandon Sanderson knows that if he can distract you enough with shiny bells and delicious cheese, he can get away with his repetitiveness that may be just slightly different. Clare seems perfectly fine with lazily not explaining a goddamn thing and just using whatever works over and over again with it being slightly different. That’s what it is. It’s lazy. Clare doesn’t seem to try. There’s no exploration it’s just a random girl who is super special and the entire universe revolves around her until the next protagonist comes along. Which makes me sad in the end. Oh well, at least I have the TV show to eventually catch up on. Despite my snarky commentary, Shadowhunters is actually gaining my respect by actually killing off characters that matter to Clary.