City of Wicked Demons: The Transformation of Female Main Characters, by Heather Rolfert
Content Warning: This article describes violence and familial abuse.
When we close our book, we leave behind fantastical worlds. We forget about the characters as we crack the spine on the next book and dive in.
We move on, believing fictional worlds never share similarities. We feel that way, surrounded by connections all around us from reality and fantasies, even if we don’t see fairies floating past us, people shifting into other human forms in front of our eyes or signs telling us we’re “the chosen one.”
Of course, we easily accept images fantasy realms show us.
We believe princesses need knights in shining armor to whisk them away to safety, and that they can never save themselves. But, not all female main characters fit that mold. They appear helpless in the beginning, but something always pushes them to save themselves.
This time that something happens to be a demon.
Demons are scary. They’re grotesque beings of abnormal height, filling up the room around them. They tower over unsuspecting victims, their jagged teeth bared as saliva flies from their mouths. Seconds later, screams fill the remaining space and are quickly consumed by the monster.
But, that’s not a demon's scariest form. Pure terror spreads throughout a victim’s body when a human being stares them in the face.
Casual grace. Beautiful looks. Charisma. Smiles. It all appears real. So real that they could reach out and touch it. But, the illusion
Welcome to the fictional worlds of Clary Fray and Emilia di Carlo, where one can see the fearsome in City of Bones and fear the fearsome in Kingdom of the Wicked.
In the bustling streets of New York in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, Clary is set up as a princess who needs a guiding hand through the unknowns bearing down on her. As she struggles to mend the pieces of her fraying homelife and past friendship, she comes to a daunting realization.
She’s not human. She can draw runes on her skin, healing, strengthening or disappearing from the human eye in seconds.
She’s a Shadowhunter.
Taken under the wing of a male Shadowhunter, Jace, her human life morphs into one of an angelic being. Instead of walking around the streets of New York, she begins hunting in the shadows, keeping demons at bay from her world and the mortal world.
Through lessons, explanations, training, saving and healing, Clary begins to leave behind her human life for good.
But the demons she played a part in fighting aren’t what pushes her transformation from a Shadowhunter princess to a Shadowhunter warrior.
There is only one demon who can do that. It’s a demon she knows so well.
He doesn’t spit saliva in her face or consume her screams, but he doesn’t have to do that to chill her to the bone.
In the past, he completely violated the rights of his whole family. He experimented on them with new concoctions, fully disregarding any kind of moral boundaries. He lied, manipulating those around him to believe his way was the only way to follow. He kidnapped them, forcing his idea of a family into their minds.
As everything and everyone crumbles into ruins with her dad’s touch, Clary can only see her dad for what he is underneath his persona.
If she remains a Shadowhunter princess, she will become queen of a shattered and broken realm with a demon as king.
If she pushes herself to be a Shadowhunter warrior, she will become queen of her own life, choices and desires, with no outside persuasion.
It’s an easy choice, for submitting to a demon would never bring about a happy ending.
Realms away, in the small town of Kerri Maniscalco’s Kingdom of the Wicked, lives another being with supernatural abilities.
Emilia possesses control beyond human comprehension, but the humans know enough to believe her power is the complete opposite of anything angelic. They know enough to brand her with one word for the rest of her life.
But life graces Emilia with a way to move past that glaring label: her sister Vittoria.
And Vittoria graces Emilia’s life by saving her from becoming too consumed in introverted ways as she longs to get lost in daydreams of new ingredients that could easily become the next best recipe. Vittoria keeps Emilia on her toes, making her laugh when life in general threatens to keep her from smiling.
The two sisters are complete opposites, but Vittoria still manages to always save Emilia, the fledgling witch.
Emilia grows annoyed with her role as the cautious one, thinking that nothing can ever change how she handles life.
But the emergence of a stranger convinces her otherwise. A cold stranger. A heartless stranger. A stranger who is gone in a heartbeat, literally taking the bloody heart of Emilia’s sister right along with them.
Lost in a world without a sister, Emilia sees everything clearly. She has to become daring and impulsive like Vittoria while jumping headfirst into problems that used to frighten her. She has to make the choice to leave behind the comfort of her small cooking world and take off after the demon who killed her sister.
She has to decide if she wants to stare the demon in the eye as she holds the knife over his heart, or if she intends to stare him in the eye as he holds the knife over her heart.
Like Clary, Emilia’s choice comes naturally. She will fight that demon to avenge her sister, even if it means she leaves behind the old Emilia and walks around with blood on her hands.
A thousand times, over and over, she tells herself she would shed blood if that demon tried to hurt anyone else in her family.
Fledgling Witch Emilia is no more.
Now, Mature Witch Emilia reigns.
And Mature Witch Emilia vows to never return to her old self.
We feel like our books are realms apart, but adding in a couple of demons and scenes of blood, saliva and vengeance might just hold the power to convince us otherwise.
The similarities may appear insignificant. They may seem like a stretch. However, it’s clear that Clary Fray and Emilia di Carlo don’t sit back and wait for their knight to come running in to solve all their problems.
They tackle them on their own.
They leave behind their old naive and innocent selves.
They become stronger than the rescuers around them.
Clary and Emilia now become two striking examples of fantasy realms with the potential to become one. With these two female characters as examples and with open eyes and open minds, we can see a world of books, characters and connections waiting to be discovered.
As we go grab our books and sit down to enjoy them, we see how easy it can be to spot connections. We never know which ones may come next, but we’ll be prepared.