Behind the Book: Queen of Air & Darkness by Cassandra Clare

Editor’s Note: From the master of young adult fiction comes the final novel in the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling The Dark Artifices trilogy, Queen of Air and Darkness. This magnificent conclusion to a spellbinding series involves dark secrets and forbidden love, which threaten the very survival of the Shadowhunters. We had the opportunity to catch up with Cassandra Clare and ask her some questions about the series and Shadowhunters.

What first inspired you to write about Shadowhunters?
The idea came to me one afternoon in the East Village. A good friend of mine was taking me to see the tattoo shop where she used to work. She wanted to show me that her footprints were on the ceiling in black paint — in fact the footprints of everyone who’d worked there were on the ceiling, crisscrossing each other and making patterns. To me it looked like some fabulous supernatural battle had been fought there by beings who’d left their footprints behind. I started thinking about a magical battle in a New York tattoo shop and the idea of a secret society of demon hunters whose magic was based on an elaborate system of tattooed runes just sprang into my mind. When I sat down to sketch out the book, I wanted to write something that would combine elements of traditional high fantasy — an epic battle between good and evil, terrible monsters, brave heroes, enchanted swords — and recast it through a modern, urban lens. So you have the Shadowhunters, who are these very classic warriors following their millennia-old traditions, but in these urban, modern spaces: skyscrapers, warehouses, abandoned hotels, rock concerts, thrift stores. In fairy tales, it was the dark and mysterious forest outside the town that held the magic and danger. I wanted to create a world where the city has become the forest — where these urban spaces hold their own enchantments, danger, mysteries and strange beauty. It’s just that only Shadowhunters and Downworlders can see them as they really are.

You have written several novels- do you have a set process for writing? What kind of rituals or traditions do you practice while writing?
I am a big believer in outlining. I like to know where I’m headed, so before I do much actual drafting I create a detailed outline of what’s going to happen and when. If there are particular scenes that I have on my mind that feel ready to go, I’ll sometimes write those. But otherwise I start drafting at the beginning of the outline. I like to have company while I write, so I tend to write with other writer friends. Often I listen to music—I put together playlists for each of my books, so readers can listen to songs that I feel evoke the feeling of the books.

Emma and Julian are parabatai, and their forbidden romance is a common thread throughout The Dark Artifices. What inspired the idea of parabatai for you?
One of the ideas behind Shadowhunters is that they have an ancient warrior culture, so I did a lot of research into the ancient warrior cultures of Rome and Greece. I came across many stories of warriors who were closely bonded and would fight alongside each other. The Greek word parabatai refers to the side man of a charioteer, the one who is always there to assist. It seemed like the kind of partnership that the Shadowhunters would embrace.

There’s a lot of references to fairy tales and mythologies, both pagan and Judeo-Christian in your series. What kind of research did you have to do for these novels? Is there a particular myth or fairy tale that you enjoyed finding in your research?
Part of what’s fun about these books is that I get to read a ton of folklore for research! I read a lot of old “demonologies” — there was a whole time period where scholars were obsessed with listing every kind of demon and mapping Hell. I read up on the mythology of angels and fallen angels. Raziel, for instance, is an angel from the Jewish kabbalistic tradition, who is supposed to have given Adam, in the Garden of Eden, a book of wisdom — he is sometimes called the Angel of Secrets, or Angel of Knowledge. Therefore he seemed the right angel to have given the Gray Book to the first Shadowhunter. Nephilim in mythology are the “offspring” of men and angels, so that’s obviously a myth I adapted a little more freely to make it serve my purposes. With the Dark Artifices, I’ve been reading lots of folklore about faeries. If I’m ever stuck for ideas, I can always consult my local faerie expert, Holly Black. I have particularly enjoyed learning about the Wild Hunt.

Each of your characters (Emma and Julian, Helen and Mark, Clary and Jace, etc.) have very different personalities, histories and events. What do you do to define each character? How do you track what happens to them throughout your series?
I think people often wonder how a writer creates different characters when all the characters are aspects of the author, since they come out of the author’s head. Fortunately, we are all capable of feats of imagination—what we write like is not necessarily what we are like. Just like people, characters are individuals. Their voice and personality naturally flows out of their history, their backstory, their values, and their desires. Just as people are shaped by the experiences that define them, so are characters.

Do you have a favorite character from The Dark Artifices? What draws you to that particular character?
I can’t pick favorites! These characters feel like family members. But I will say that I really enjoy writing Mark. He has a really offbeat way of looking at things. One of my favorite parts in the whole trilogy is when he becomes suspicious of a garden gnome in Lord of Shadows.

Queen of Air and Darkness is the final book in this trilogy. Do you feel sad when you finish a series? Is there a mourning period or do you begin writing your next work as soon as possible?
Finishing a series is bittersweet, but I’m always happy to see a book go out into the world. It’s gratifying to finally get to share these ideas and stories that have lived in my head for so long with readers. Because my schedule is so packed, I’m often working on multiple things at once, so there isn’t much of a mourning period but I usually try to give myself a little break before shifting gears.

Emma and Julian must learn to trust themselves- is this the main theme you wish your readers to walk away with? What do you hope your readers get from your books?
I think one of the problems of looking for a specific theme in a book is that most books have multiple themes. Definitely learning to trust yourself is one, and so is the importance of family and friendship. In TDA, a major villain these teens are facing is a faction of their own government. A significant part of the book is the questions that people must ask themselves when they realize that those who are meant to protect them are no longer doing so. How do you fight corruption while preserving your own integrity?

What are you reading right now?
I’m rereading one of my favorite series, The Queen’s Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I’m also reading Neil Gaiman’s book Norse Mythology. I just finished Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk and a great book for adults, The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.

What can we expect from Cassandra Clare next?
Queen of Air and Darkness comes out on December 4, and after that I’ll be sharing an adventure that Magnus and Alec had in between City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels—that’s Red Scrolls of Magic, which will be out April 2019. Then I’ll be making a return to historical fiction with Chain of Gold, the first book of the Last Hours trilogy, which is a Shadowhunter series that takes place in Edwardian London. I love that era and I’m thrilled I get to share it with you through a fantastical lens.

Cassandra Clare is the author of the #1 New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly bestselling Mortal Instruments series and the Infernal Devices trilogy, and the coauthor of the Bane Chronicles with Sarah Rees Brennan and Maureen Johnson. She also wrote The Shadowhunter’s Codex with her husband, Joshua Lewis. She has 50 million books in print and her work has been translated into more than 35 languages. Cassandra lives in western Massachusetts. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Pick up her latest release, Queen of Air & Darkness, on sale December 4th at your local Half Price Books or online at