The Negative Reader

Drinking Tea and Trashing Books

So, after the plagiarism issue, where to go?

Jace Wayland.

Like the plagiarism issue, it’s really hard to bring up critique of the series without bringing up this particular aspect. Mostly because a good portion of the problems with TMI is contained in the character of Jace. Likely because, when you really look at it, Jace is the main character. While the story is told from Clary’s point of view, it’s really about Jace and his struggles and fears. In reality, the story likely could have survived if Clary had been pretty much removed from the story, but Jace couldn’t be.

Also, it’s in the character of Jace that the specter of TDT tends to raise its head the most.

The Elephant in the Room

I was always pretty indifferent to the character of Draco Malfoy. For the most part, I just say him as a skinny, pointy, white haired version of Dudley Dursley. Even when I watched the movies, where Tom Felton apparently raised a fanbase, I never really got the appeal of the character. He was a spoiled brat. When I read HP fanfic and see this suave, cool Draco, my first reaction has always been to roll my eyes and look for something else. Yet, for whatever reason, a lot of women latched on to Draco as this snarky badboy with a heart of gold who just needed the love of a good woman (or man, in the case of the Drarry shippers) to redeem him.

Now, again, this is a blast of fandom past, but I can recall forms talking about how they thought that Rowling had written Draco wrong, and he should be more like Draco Trilogy Draco instead. While Clare has been trying to distance herself from it, as well as everything in the Draco Trilogy, the fact is that Clare’s Draco, helped to inspire the Draco Malfoy fandom.

Jace is Draco Malfoy from the Draco Trilogy. There’s really no way around saying this, and Clare herself isn’t really trying to hide it. Everything about him, from appearance to backstory is basically being lifted directly out of the TDT, up to and including being raised by an abusive monster who isn’t really his father.

I mentioned earlier that the story about the falcon, which I’ll address directly later, it lifted word for word from the fanfic, and in personality, the two are identical. So is another, unfortunate element as well: the fact that in Clare’s eyes, this character can do no wrong, make no mistakes, and never actually fail. It was tiresome in the fanfiction. It’s obnoxious in a work of published literature.

The Ideal

Like a lot of fiction involving bad boy characters, Jace was meant to be a tragic, hurting character who hid his pain behind a veneer of sarcasm and cynicism. Someone who, despite being incredibly empathetic, distanced himself from other people. Someone who had been taught that he couldn’t be close to people and that love and emotion were weakness, and so struggled to express his affection towards other people.

He was supposed to slowly open up to Clary, through her kindness and then be sent into a further spiral at the thought that his affections were unnatural. Even after everything had been revealed, he was supposed to struggle with who he was, and what he had done to those around him, as well as the fear that he was the monster that Valentine had raised, but who eventually redeemed himself.

It’s not a particularly original idea, but it’s tried and true, and for whatever reason, readers tend to be suckers for this kind of male character. We loved him when Lord Byron wrote him, and we love him now. In the right hands, it would have been fine.

These were not the right hands.

Clare is Too Attached to Him

One of the biggest problems with Jace is the fact that Clare adores him. While it’s not a bad thing for an author to like their characters, liking them too much means that you can’t do the things that are necessary. A good character has to struggle, not just in their past, but also in their present. And I’m not just talking about emotionally. A good character fails every so often. A good character is bested by a rival, can be insulted to their face. Their victory is made all the better because they can be defeated.

For instance, no matter what the fandom seems to think, Harry Potter would be far less interesting if Harry was some kind of prodigy who was never wrong. We empathize with struggle far more than we do with success.

We idealize success, but the moment that something happens to crack that ideal, there’s really nothing about the person or the character to draw us back to them. That’s why, even when books have extremely powerful main characters, the goal is always to have more dangerous villains.

Jace is, in many ways, protected by Clare from the things that would humanize him. He’s always got the final witty word, even when he has to change the topic to have it. Normally clever characters somehow manage to trip up around him. While it might make him fun for some people to read, it doesn’t make him a particularly strong character. He’s just saying things that that are clever and witty and mean without having to face the normal repercussions of those actions.

Not only that, but we are denied the chance to really see Jace’s poor mental state in action. During City of Ashes Clare has Jace take on a bar filled with werewolves. This could have easily shown how, while he’s not showing it to anyone and seems pretty calm and collected, the events of the first book, how quickly he betrayed everyone to Valentine, and just who his father happens to be is bothering him. Had he been beaten, it means that he’s making stupid choices, overestimating himself and even perhaps wanted to suffer. Clare, however, can’t bare that. Jace is perfect, and therefore Jace must win.

Even in the second trilogy, where Jace spends one and a quarter books brainwashed, we never see Jace suffer from it. Not really. Even brainwashed, he’s still perfect, still ‘cool’ and other than the inconvenient fact that he’s a zombie, just the same as ever. When he snaps out of it, he’s angry and upset, but he spends the final book thinking more about the fact that he is a monster than the fact that he was brainwashed.

Which leads to the core of Jace’s trouble.

He’s a Stagnant Character

The fact that Clare is so attached to the character means that his flaws cannot be acknowledged, which means, inevitably, that he will never grow past them. Jace’s arrogance, his abject stupidity, and even his frankly racist worldviews are never challenged. Even when we have a literal angel pop up, we don’t even see Jace examine that he might have been incorrect in the first few books when he professed to be an atheist. Most people who I know who are atheist would at least stop and blink if something like that happened.

This is because, like with Stephanie Meyer, Clare honestly doesn’t seem to register these traits as flaws. As far as she is concerned, this is what makes Jace into an attractive person. If he were to grow past his flaws, he would be boring. He is only attractive while he’s rude, arrogant and somewhat sociopathic, therefore, at some level, he never changes from the utter jerk that we meet in Pandemonium. For him to be attractive in Clare’s view, he can’t change.

Oh, he’ll angst about being a monster, right after he cheerfully uses one girl or betrays people, but he never seems to realize that he was wrong. Even after the big events where he betrays the people that he cares about, such as City of Bones or City of Lost Souls he never seems to really feel guilt or remorse for anything that he had done. Particularly City of Bones. It’s as if Clare somehow can’t connect the dots to realize that this behavior is not sexy, and since she writes the book and the characters in a certain way, it’s very easy to just follow along with her worldview and think that it’s ok.

Jace had the potential to grow as a character, but it could never happen, and when you take away all the wit and the charm of the character, he’s really a rather flat, one note character who harps on the same issues, ignores all of his bad behavior, and yet everyone seems to think is ok because he’s either the best killer in the group or he’s good looking.

This is, unfortunately, due to the Draco Trilogy. In fanfic, it’s a pretty common thing for the main character to be like this. There are tons of Harry Potter fanfic where Harry is suddenly smarter, wittier and just generally better than everyone else, and it can get really popular. The problem is, once you put this in published fiction, it doesn’t work so well. For once thing, half of the stories where Harry or Naruto or whatever character is suddenly superpowered and awesome is a reaction to the real story. There’s nothing to be upset about here. For another, wish fulfillment does not a good story make.

His Backstory is Poorly Done

I’m expecting someone to be annoyed with me about this, but I always found Jace’s backstory so overdramatic that it always had me between giggling and rolling my eyes. Now, tragic backstories are a dime a dozen in fiction, and there’s nothing wrong with them. After all, people have issues, and when you give a character major issues, it can be fun to see just how they deal with them as well as the events of the story. The problem is when the events shouldn’t have the effect that they do anymore.

And Jace’s back story is a mix of not needing the effect and just been melodramatic and confusing.

The falcon story is stupid. So, this guy gives his son a falcon and tells him to ‘break it in’. First, unless you want to lose the bird, or your eyes, you don’t ‘break’ birds of prey. When Jace tames the bird, Valentine kills it and says that he ‘ruined it’, and how love is weakness. This is a rather pathetic villain cliché, and coming from a man who keeps trying to get Jace and Clary to play happy families with him, it’s also kind of out of character, and that’s never addressed. It’s stupid, flat, boring and honestly it’s only there before it was in the Draco Trilogy. Where it didn’t really make much sense either.

Even if you wanted to make a warrior, Valentine’s plan is stupid, and he knows better.

But the biggest problem is that, after years away from him, Jace still thinks that his father was a good dad during the first book in particular.

Valentine supposedly died when Jace was a fairly young age. The fact that Jace is still under the impression that what his father did was acceptable, after years of being with the Lightwoods, shows that either the Lightwoods completely ignored the kid, or that they encouraged that mindset.

The fact that, at the very least, the mother shows that she’s been supportive and kind, it’s unlikely that she wouldn’t have addressed the things that he was taught, or that Jace wouldn’t have noticed the inconsistency. Even if he wrote it off to ‘women’ or something stupid like that, we’ve still got the fact that Jace is not isolated anymore. He’s shown to have had some dealings with people in other Institutions. You’re telling me that he never saw another father? Or that in seven years or so years, no one ever talked about what his life was like?

While I have no problem seeing him slip back into his old mindset when faced with Valentine personally, since that does sometimes happen, the fact that he doesn’t even seem to see what was going on as a problem really seems weird to me.

The problem, of course, is the shadow of the Draco Trilogy.

In TDT, Draco was living with Lucius, under the impression that Lucius is his father. He’s been abused his whole life, so obviously, he’s going to normalize it. It’s only after he’s away from Lucius that he starts to see that maybe this wasn’t the most ok thing in the world to do. This makes sense. However, for Jace to have Draco’s outlook didn’t really make a lot of sense. He’d been raised in different circumstances. However, Draco had it, therefore, Jace must too.

That is the level of logic that seems to have gone into the boy’s backstory.

He’s Obnoxious

In order to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, you have to sometimes reveal that you have a heart of gold. This can be done in several ways. Usually, it’s done by having him do something that suddenly makes his bad behavior clearly a front or just a part of a layered character. For instance, going out of his way to do something that he wouldn’t benefit from.

This should be the kick off for a character arc. For instance, when we meet Inuyasha from Inuyasha, he’s a jerk. He’s a complete jerk, but quickly as the series goes on, we’re given the information that he has some good reasons to be a jerk, and he quickly starts to act in ways that hint that he is kinder than he pretends to be. The entire series causes him to open up, to become kinder, to trust people more, and in the end, when we compare his first appearance with his last, he’s a better person.

That is how a Jerk with a Heart of Gold is supposed to go.

Jace doesn’t ever do that.

There is not even an instant where he seems to feel guilty for not only how he treats Clary, but how also he treats Alec, his supposed best friend who should be closer to him than a brother. I can’t honestly think of a moment where he did anything that was even slightly endearing other than kill things that were in the way. And, worse, he doesn’t do anything unless he’s going to get something from it.

Even when he suddenly seems to do something altruistic, such as save Simon, it’s very clearly spelled out that the reason is selfish in nature, such as doing something so Clary will like him. Even the final books, in which one and a quarter of them had him being brainwashed, he’s never really forced to change. Oh, he wangsts. A lot, but he’s always assured that everything is fine, and he is fine.

And, the highest crime of all: he’s annoying. His constant wittisms range from cringe worthy to slap worthy, and when someone rightly calls him out, he’s just got to have the final word. It’s not cute. It’s not funny. It’s not even all that witty. It’s just childish.

In reality, Jace is a pretty immature character. He’s vain, throws tantrums over imagined slights, and is only tolerated by the others because he happens to be good at what he does.

If Clare owned that and made it an honest to goodness flaw, it might work, but she doesn’t. She honesty sees this as sexy, funny and that he honestly doesn’t need to grow as a character. He’s just fine the way that he is.

The problem is that good segment of Clare’s fanbase seems to agree.

So, Why is He Popular?

This is a question that I’ve heard a lot: how can anyone find this character appealing? My answer is a mix between wish fulfillment and reading what Clare wants you to see rather than what is.

Clare writes Jace’s behavior as if it is attractive, and she is a strong enough writer that a reader can get sucked into it. This happens a lot. Since we’re reading from Clary’s point of view, and Clary sees Jace as attractive, reading along the story without stepping back, will lead to conclusions that this is sexy.

Clare really, really wants to you think that he’s sexy too. She’s constantly describing how sexy he is from the way that his muscles move to the Isabella mentioning at some point how he doesn’t matter how much of a jerk that he is because he’s pretty.

Unlike Meyer, who isn’t completely sure what she even wants, Clare is certain that she wants to do the redeemable bad boy, and this trope has an appeal on its own merit. It’s one of those things that kind of sticks out everywhere in fiction, particularly romance or books that are really aimed at girls and women. Ladies, we tend to like to fix people. Particularly dark, tragic men who brood and are pretty. This trope has made writers money since people started telling stories. The Gothic was built on it. It’s one of the (many) reasons that the Victorians were of the opinion that it ate your brain. Some girls seem to really like the idea of a guy who is a jerk to everyone else, but being sweet to them. It’s the reason why characters like Yu-Gi-Oh’s Seto Kaiba and Sasuke are so very popular.

Most of his attitudes and behaviors, being that they came from fanon!Draco, are basically the mix that Clare realized creates a popular ‘badboy’ character. He’s tortured, sarcastic and always has the last word, yet, in the reader’s mind, he’s got a tortured enough past to justify it.

And it makes Clare an awful lot of money.

Fixing It

The real fix for Jace is simple: allow the character to develop. If Jace were to show that the events of the story were affecting him, in more ways than just drawing closer to Clary, his character would be stronger. Allow meeting Clary and Simon to make him question what he’s been doing and how he’s always seen normal people. Allow him to slowly soften towards Alec and Isabella and become more open with them. Allow him to see the consequences of what he’s done and how much that he might have hurt someone else, rather than dismissing it as part of his ‘charm’.

But most of all, the core of character development is one thing: allow the character to be flawed and wrong. If the writer can admit that their character isn’t perfect from the start, they can have an arc. A main character can’t be perfect, even if they think that they are, and the events of the story have to effect the character.

Even if Jace was never what he could have been, due to his father’s abuse and the fact that he would always be somewhat closed off from people who he doesn’t trust, that would be alright. Because he was struggling to improve himself.

Honestly, this fix wouldn’t even require that much of a change in events, just a change in Jace’s reactions to them.

As it is, Jace Wayland is a character who might have had potential, but his creator coddled him so much that he was never able to be anything more than a spoiled child that I was supposed to sympathize with because he was pretty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: