Clary Fray is not anywhere near the blot on the name of print that Bella Swan is. I’ve seen a lot of critics who are otherwise pretty harsh on the series give Clary a free pass. I even understand why. In another story, in the hands of another author, I think that Clary honestly could have worked as a character. The problem is that we’ve got Clare, and Clare is surprisingly good at messing up characters and settings that could have worked in the hands of someone else.
So, without further ado, I begin my rip into:
The Elephant in the Room
Like everything else that Clare writes, the character of Clary has her origins in The Draco Trilogy. However, while Jace is obviously Draco Malfoy, just with the name changed in order that it’s not blatant plagiarism. Clary is more of a composite character, taking in elements from both of her female leads from her fanfic, and taking in some other well-known Harry Potter fanfic clichés, which, given The Cursed Child, are actually kind of funny now.
So, during The Draco Trilogy, the big female characters were obviously Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley. Like most people in Clare’s fanfic, it’s hard to actually compare them to their canon counterparts, since, well, Clare essentially chickified them. Gone were Hermione’s flaws, her bossiness, her bookworminess, and everything that essentially made her into Hermione. The girl spent most of the first book in that trilogy pining over the fact that Harry had rejected her and satellite-ing around Draco. She was useless in a fight, only noticed the obvious, but she was snarkier, and that seems to be Clare’s claim to fame.
Ginny Weasley wasn’t introduced much until the second book, where she was…pretty much the same. She was ‘fiery’ but never enough to actually call out the obnoxious behavior of Draco (or Harry) for too long, and she wasn’t as ‘clever’ as Hermione. She almost seemed there partly because Clare was waffling about what her parings were going to be. She was apparently leaning towards Harry/Hermione and Draco/Ginny more because she had a major grudge against Harry/Ginny shippers than anything else (seriously, look up the Ms. Scribe story if you want more info).
In her original work, Clare essentially mixed together Hermione and Ginny to create Clary in personality.
But she also added something else that was very common to HP fanfic at the time. Something that, when I saw the plot to the Cursed Child, made me nearly laugh myself sick.
The Mary Sue who is the daughter of Lord Voldemort.
For those who don’t know, despite the fact that the Harry Potter fandom is quite large, there are general trends in stories. Harry being sorted into Slytherin, someone else was the Boy-Who-Lived, etc. One popular one back in the day was the new girl who transfers into Hogwarts and is the daughter of Voldemort. This has mostly fallen out of favor, and is one of the reasons that so many people weren’t all that enthusiastic about the Cursed Child’s plot twist. It was something that fans had seen before far more than they wanted to admit.
Another elephant in the room is the fact that Clary and Clare’s names are identical. Now, Clare maintains that this is because she named the girl after a friend, but first of all that doesn’t help the insert bit, and second of all, you really need to think about it. Authors giving their characters their pennames were something you used to see a lot (Ask Arianna Black), and in all honestly, it just compounds the feeling that Clare hasn’t learned not to give her characters tell tale signs from fanfiction that her main character is a Sue.
So, on to the character herself.
Clary should have acted a lot like Harry Potter. She should have been a sedgeway for the reader to enter into the world of the Shadowhunters while thinking like a normal teenager, but she also should have been a breath of fresh air to that world. Since she was a Shadowhunter by birth, she would be accepted into their society, but her ideals and values would be those of the normal would, which would have caused conflicts when she saw their treatment of the Downworlders.
She was meant to be someone with a strong will, someone who fought passionately for the people who she loved, but also needed help in navigating the strange new world that she found herself in.
As such, ideally, she should have been someone who would fight with Jace frequently, not caring that he was the best Shadowhunter, perhaps someone who impacted Alec’s struggle between his own feelings and the expectations of his society, someone who helped Isabella with the issues that she faced in dealing with a society that only recently accepted women as having the ability to fight, and who challenged the idea that the Shadowhunters had a right to treat the Downworlders the way that they did, particularly once her best friend was forced into that world.
Her connection with Valentine and later Sebastian should have been a cause for confusion, and worry on her part, and honestly, as she came into her own, she should have quickly become a force to be reckoned with.
That’s not really what happened.
Clary Fray is honestly little more than a viewpoint for Clare to talk about how amazing, hot, and cool Jace is. She’s thoughtless, cares nothing for her friends, and merrily jumps onto the Shadowhunter racism bandwagon as soon as she possibly can, cheerfully gives up any dreams or goals that she might have, and generally just existed so that the plot could move through her rather than being a character in and of herself.
She’s not the main character
One of the major problems with Clary is simple: she’s just not the main character. Oh, she’s the point of view character for the most part, but the story isn’t about her. Not really. The story is about Jace. Think about it. The character who changes the action really focuses on, and who the narrative really sees as important isn’t Clary. Clary honestly doesn’t even do that much for the most part.
Oh, she’s the one who changes the runes at the end of the first trilogy, but the one who most of the narrative action is focused on is Jace. Jace is the one who Valentine focuses on. Jace is the one that Sebastian really wants to join him. Oh, Valentine wants to play happy families with Clary and Sebastian wants to have actual incest with her, but the one who everyone primarily focuses on is Jace. Jace is the character who is central to the action, and who, honestly is the one that the story wants to focus on.
Now this doesn’t mean that Clary isn’t contributing to the plot. She is, unlike certain characters that I could mention. She does impact the story. Simon impacts the story as well, but he isn’t the main character. If anything, Clary’s impact in the story is around Jace, and is focused on Jace. Clary’s actions are almost all around him and affect him.
Clary is little more than a point of view character so that the female reader can look at the actual protagonist through the eyes of someone who is at least as infatuated with him as Clare thinks that they should be.
You can even listen to a lot of fans. They’re not here for Clary. They’re mostly here for Jace, and he’s the one who the narrative is really interested in. Oh, as the series progressed, and Clare noticed who was popular and who wasn’t, the point of view branched into other characters, such as Simon, Isabella and Magnus Bane, the main action was always on or around Jace.
What’s more is that she is always focusing on Jace. From basically the first chapter on, Clary’s main focus is really on Jace. When he obnoxious, and she has no reason to be interested in him, she’s intrigued. Even though her mother is kidnapped, in all honestly, she seems a whole lot more invested in learning about Jace. She’s going on dates with him, learning about his past, and while I know that people have to do more than one thing, finding her mom seems like it would be of a little higher priority than Jace and his daddy issues.
Clare wrote this story, not to be about Clary, but to be about Jace. Clary is there to admire Jace, to be his healing angel, and to be the vehicle that allows the reader to understand him. Particularly in the first book, we have to see Jace as the snarky bad boy with the heart of gold, and thus we have to slowly get to know him, but make no mistake, he’s the one who the story is focusing on. Clary’s just the view point.
She’s an awful person
I’m not going to mince words about this, even if Clary was the main focus of this story, she would still annoy me because she’s honestly an awful person.
Now, as I said, Clary was a mix between Hermione and Ginny. Therefore, she was supposed to be fiery, but also slightly bookish and nerdy, but not too nerdy. (Honestly, I think that writers like Cassie Clare did more to contribute to the Fake Geek Girl stereotype than people would like to admit). And for all of about three pages, she gives hints that that’s what she’s going to be like, and then it falls through.
As one example, Clary is supposed to really look up to and love her single mother, and she’s supposed to be terrified and frantic when her mother is apparently stolen by Valentine. However, she’s a whole lot more interested in Jace and the Shadowhunters. Even the fact in the first book, she goes out with Jace to begin with, it’s honestly a little jarring. Like…I am aware that hormones are a thing, but it seems that when your mother is missing, it’s not really the time for romance.
But Clary tends to seek romance at inappropriate times. A lot.
Even ignoring the first book, by City of Ashes, when Clary is into the impression that Jace is her brother, she still is giving him long glances while deciding that she’s going to attempt to be in a relationship with Simon who she’s not interested in, and she knows that she isn’t interested in. Rather than being a good friend and point blank saying that it’s not going to happen, she just essentially leads him on and then angsts that she can’t make out with her brother.
In City of Glass, when Max, the eight-year-old boy who looks up to Jace for some reason that’s slightly beyond me, is killed, she’s more than willing to sit and cuddle with Jace while the corpse is still there, and legitimately be glad that she was able to have some romantic time with her sweet honey.
In City of Lost Souls, when Jace has been brainwashed by Sebastian, and she knows that he’s been brainwashed, she is still willing to get romantic with Zombie!Jace, and doesn’t seem all that upset when Jace is able to tell her that he’s actually aware during the whole thing, and it’s not him.
These are just three times that are honestly a little unsettling and discounting all the supposed brother ogling that tends to go on with her. While I’m planning on discussing Clare and her apparent incest kink later, it does need to come up.
And this does not even go into the realm of how she treats her friends and others.
Clary’s treatment of Simon and his friends, particularly in the first trilogy is awful. From the moment that Simon meets that Shadowhunters, she sits idly by while they proceed to mock, belittle and harass the boy for the simple fact that he wasn’t born like them. Not only that, but in City of Bones, she sort of finds it funny, doesn’t particularly call out Jace and co when they get him turned into a rat, and doesn’t particularly care when Jace tells him to leave. This is just her actions in the first book. The second gets even better.
While, yes, Clary owes Simon nothing, and just because he sees her as a potential girlfriend doesn’t mean that she has to return the favor, Clary, once it dawns on her that Simon has a thing for her, rather than turning him down and moving on, she just sort of plays along, uses him, and doesn’t even seem to comprehend that making out with Jace and clearly enjoying it when the Seelie Queen decides to make them kiss for…reasons…would upset him. This is not the behavior of someone towards her friend.
Finally, the fact that Clary just accepts the Shadowhunter’s ideology so quickly is honestly a little horrifying. Clary has been raised under contemporary (and most likely liberal) American ideals. There is no reason for her to be so accepting of the fantastic racism that she sees in the Shadowhunters. She’s got no reason to accept it and every reason to find it distasteful, but the moment that she’s suddenly a Shadowhunter, and better than everyone else in the world, she seems to be more than happy to just go along with everything that they say and believe.
She’s even willing to accept the fact that the man who practically was a father to her is treated like scum by these people.
In many ways, Clary is much like Bella Swan. She’s sullen, has few interests other than being like her mother, and seems rather bland, but the moment that she’s given a chance for something that resembles superiority, she appears more than willing to jump for it.
She Doesn’t Do Anything
This, to me, is probably the most damning problem with Clary. For the most part, she sits still and does nothing while someone else either kills the bad guy or sacrifices everything. In the end of the third Trilogy, she might chance the rune that has Valentine’s name in it, but in the end, Raziel is the one who actually kills him. It’s only at the very end of the second trilogy that she actually bothers to kill Sebastian, and even then, the final action is Simon’s, not hers.
Clary doesn’t sacrifice. Clary doesn’t learn. Clary doesn’t grow as a person, and in the end, she isn’t the one who does the things necessary to even be seen as the main protagonist. For the most part, she seems to be sitting there and waiting for someone to do what’s necessary.
Clary, in reality, doesn’t seem to have an arc that’s independent of Jace, or her own goals once her mother is freed. Even her desire to save her mother seems to become secondary to everything else that goes on with Jace and his problems. While her being there does start to cause things to change and shift, I can’t say that Clary herself is directly responsible for much of it. And that, for a main character, is one of the most damning things about her.
While Clary couldn’t necessarily be removed from the story, it is only her presence rather than her actions are what helps to shape the story. So, in many ways, the problem is, the story knows that she’s not the main character, but the text seems to have forgotten that.
Write the story from Jace’s point of view. Clary’s main strength is how her presence forces the Shadowhunters to be forced to come into contact with every day people, allow the focus to be about that, and the exposition of their explaining things to Clary and Simon be how the audience learns. We don’t need to hear how hot Jace is, but if the story is really about him, he needs to be the one who tells it.
Clary herself is a character who would be fine if she were written without having to extoll and focus on the real main character. She would be the strange girl that Jace meets on a routine mission, who was able to see them, and who he just can’t leave be. Someone who he rescues mostly by chance again, and then begins to challenge everything that he used to believe as absolute, and whose presence starts to set off a chain of events that no one in Jace’s team could imagine.
Urban Fantasy from a male perspective is actually uncommon, as is, honestly, YA. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to see, and perhaps, having to focus on Jace as a character rather than as a love interest, a lot of Clary and Jace’s issues might be able to be overcome.