There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Hidden Lineage – Don’t Discount the Tropes March 23, 2013

You can’t be a reader of fantasy and not be aware of the fantasy tropes; dark lords, artifacts of power, ancient prophecies and the forthcoming end of the world / life as we know it. As writers, we navigate these tropes at our peril – not wanting to slide into the slush-pile of ‘seen it all before’. However having just read Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, due for release on the big screen later this year, I’m reminded that certain tropes are enduring because they resonate with us at a personal level.


In the case of City of Bones, the trope in question is the character with the hidden lineage.

Okay, so there have been a slew of peasant boys who’ve turned out to be the misplaced heir to the kingdom, son of the evil overlord and sometimes both at the same time. But what is it about this trope that keeps coming back, and in the case of Cassandra Clare, back with great impact.

Choice of Protagonist: Clary, the protagonist in City of Bones, is an every girl. She’s neither popular nor unpopular, dealing with fairly typical family dramas and generally getting on with life, when all of a sudden things change. Beneath the façade of life as we know it, she discovers a completely unforeseen world – one she must navigate and understand, in order to resolve her own unique circumstances.

Anyone who ever traversed those figuring-yourself-out teen years can relate to Clary’s dilemma, which in many ways is no different to those faced by Luke Skywalker, or Harry Potter. Clary has an family lineage of note – her family has been influential in shaping the world behind the world. And like Luke and Harry, Clary doesn’t just rise up and and assume the mantle of her parents (a very good thing too); she needs to understand how this new world works and where she fits in to it.

Context: An interesting fantasy realm really comes into its own when it forces a character to evaluate their beliefs. What I enjoyed about this novel was Clare painted a fully realised world, where the fantastical elements are well drawn and interesting, but ultimately they are merely a backdrop for the character’s main concern – family. The magical setting is something to be understood and navigated to gain a very personal end. It’s not just magic for magic’s sake.

Growth: Any peasant can find out they have a great lineage, but the real story is in how they respond to it. Despite discovering a new layer of reality, the thing I liked about Clary was she kept hold of the things that were important to her. She didn’t try and hide her ‘impossible’ experiences from her best friend, trusted her instincts and held on to her values. At the end of this book she was starting to look beyond her immediate circumstances to consider the greater good. It’s an interesting transition, and one I’m looking forward to following through with her.

A New Twist: If I’m honest, I almost put this book down before it really got going because I have read widely in this genre and I wasn’t sure if it was going to offer anything different. But a friend told me to give it time because there was a really good twist at the end. I’m so glad she did, because although there are tropes at play in this book – including werewolf, vampire and the fey, Clare put a great spin on it. The interplay between the main characters is interesting, and the twist was well worth it. Book 2 here I come!

While any form of trope or cliché should be handled with care, I’d encourage you to scratch the surface. You might just find a new way to tell a really good, old story.

– by Raewyn Hewitt


6 Responses to “Hidden Lineage – Don’t Discount the Tropes”

  1. katemsparkes Says:

    I’m glad to hear you almost put it down- I did, but now I’ll go back to it some time. Part of the reason I put it down was that it just wasn’t grabbing me, but another was that I saw the hidden lineage thing coming a few chapters in (same reason didn’t finish Cinder- had it all figured out way too early). Also, I heard about a twist that sounded kind of gross. But if you liked it, I’m willing to give it another shot! I know a lot of people love the series.

    I deal in tropes, we all do. I’ve avoided artifacts of power, prophecies, and the orphan hero(ine), but I’ve got a journey and my own “yer a WIZARD, Harry!” type moment. It’s all in how you put your own spin on things, I think, and turning tropes on their heads can be far more interesting than ignoring them.

    Great thoughts, thanks for sharing! You’ve helped me a lot deciding about this book. One more try, it is!


  2. katemsparkes Says:

    Is that a blurb thing on the front from Holly Black? I might have stuck with it longer of I’d seen that, too- my copy has Stephanie Meyer. 🙂

  3. Rachel O'Laughlin Says:

    I love this! It’s great to acknowledge that there can be deep, wonderful ways to retell old stories. Sometimes I feel like we as writers get too caught up in trying to avoid cliches, we forget to tap into the age old patterns of humanity (something especially important for me because I don’t have a lot of creatures and magic in my stories. My characters are mostly human).

    • Rachel I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I agree about tapping into those big issues of humanity. I find it really helps with character development to know what really drives them. And like you my characters need to work because my WIP world doesn’t have many magical creatures / bells and whistles either.

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