Shadowhunters: How Going Off-Book Made The Show (And Its Characters) Stronger

SHADOWHUNTERS - "Moo Shu To Go" - Alec finds himself torn between duty and loyalty to Jace in “Moo Shu to Go,” an all-new episode of “Shadowhunters,” airing Tuesday, February 9th at 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., EST/PST on Freeform, the new name for ABC Family. (Freeform/John Medland) MATTHEW DADDARIO, DOMINIC SHERWOOD, NICOLA CORREIA-DAMUDE, EMERAUDE TOUBIA

Adapting any beloved book series for the screen has historically caused mixed opinion among fans, and the heat that has faced Freeform’s demon-killing show Shadowhunters since it’s production was first announced back in 2014 is no exception. There’s an immense pressure to keep things faithful to the source material (in this case, Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series), and with a previous screen adaption of the franchise failing to impress movie goers, the pressure this time around has been deafening in its intensity. There’s a lot riding on it, and the decision to adapt the books for screen a second time was surely a risky decision. Fans were excited at the chance to see their favorite characters once again, but more than a little wary of the shadow of past mistakes.

So when the show’s executives and primary cast members began to openly talk about how the show would stray from the original structure of the books, fans were thrown headfirst back into the disappointment of the film’s shortcomings (of which lack of faithfulness to the source material was one of its many criticisms). The road was once again paved with good intentions, but the decision to move into left field with the story didn’t bode well for the diehard.

We’re now seven weeks into the show’s first season, and while there are some still complaining about the changes, there are many, many others who have embraced the newest adaption of the Shadowhunters world. For anyone who has objectively read the books, thirteen episodes is a lot of time to tell the story. The first novel was slow-moving at best, sprinkled with just enough intrigue and a splash or two of an action scene to get you hooked, but to faithfully adapt that into thirteen episodes would leave us with a lot of dead space and free time for Clary Fray, the protagonist, to reflect on how she feels about things – riveting television, it does not make.

To remedy this, the show writers have taken elements from the entire print series and brought them forward to keep the show’s pace running smoothly. They’ve also plucked the often overshadowed secondary characters from the series, dropped them front and centre and plumped them up with brand new storylines. Not only does it work, but those secondary characters are now perhaps the most intriguing characters of the entire show.

SHADOWHUNTERS - "Dead Man's Party" - Clary, Jace, Alec and Isabelle must hatch a rescue plan that takes them into the heart of a vampire lair in “Dead Man’s Party,” an all-new episode of “Shadowhunters,” airing Tuesday, January 26th at 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., EST/PST on Freeform, the new name for ABC Family. ABC Family is becoming Freeform on January 12, 2016. (ABC Family/John Medland) MATTHEW DADDARIO

Alec Lightwood of the Mortal Instruments series was an 18-year-old harbouring a secret love for his Parabatai, Jace. He was rude when given the chance, and cold, and so far back in the closet that he actually threatened to kill Clary when she so much as breathed a word of his sexuality. He spent the first three books denying who he really was, and for two of those he was in a secret relationship that happened largely off-page. His sexuality and his hiding of that was his story – and most of his story happened in the background, away from the focus of Clary and her journey. Where no one could read it.

In Shadowhunters, Alec Lightwood is a young man in his early 20s struggling to keep inside the lines he has carefully drawn for himself. He’s snarky, exasperated and an absolute buzz kill, locked in firmly by his allegiance and responsibility to the Clave. His letter-of-the-law mentality gets overruled more times than not, and as the one in a position of authority he’s the first to bear the consequences. His loyalty to his family and his superiors is what drives him, but each episode brings a new responsibility to carry, and for a guy who is already struggling to keep everything in order, the burden is beginning to get a little too much. Plus, he’s growing closer to Magnus Bane, who is perhaps the only person around who doesn’t expect anything from him, while he harbours a secret love for his Parabatai, Jace. And he’s just been informed that he’ll have to enter a political marriage to redeem his family’s ties to the Clave. All of this and a bag of crisps, right on your television screen. Juicy, right?

SHADOWHUNTERS - "Of Men and Angels" - Magnus and Luke reveal Clary’s past in “Of Men and Angels,” an all-new episode of “Shadowhunters,” airing Tuesday, February 16th at 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., EST/PST on Freeform, the new name for ABC Family. (Freeform/Sven Frenzel) EMERAUDE TOUBIA

As for the previous incarnation of Isabelle Lightwood, she was a spiked-heels-and-fishnet-wearing promiscuous teen girl who used her hook ups as band-aids for her daddy issues. She wasn’t nearly as interested in Clary as she was in her own social life, but she seemed supportive of her brother Alec, though with Clary’s lens of the world being centre-stage, Isabelle and her story also suffered the off-page treatment. By book three, what little story she had was further downsized when she was relegated to the role of love interest for a male character who had a rather impressive character arc in comparison. But being armed with a whip, a slew of innuendos and being ready to throw down when needed made her a role model to some. To others, she was simply a sad, damaged girl who hadn’t been given enough page presence to make them care.

In Shadowhunters, Isabelle Lightwood is a young woman in her early 20s, confident, comfortable in her skin and carefree, which is a point of resentment between her and her commanding mother. Her daddy issues are non-existent, as she shares a close, solid bond with her father that seems to have shaped her faith in herself. She welcomes Clary into their world with open arms and supports her with sisterly charm – in fact, when it comes down to it, she supports everyone. She’s just broken things off with a guy she has legitimate feelings for, and in learning the consequences her brother will face, she’s finally conforming to the Clave’s ways in order to better protect him. She’s actually nice, and her fierceness in protecting those she loves is not the off-handed mention it once was, but a proud, powerful, unyielding force that is impossible for us to ignore.

SHADOWHUNTERS - “The Descent Into Hell is Easy" - Clary’s memories may be the key to finding her mother and The Mortal Cup in “The Descent Into Hell is Easy,” an all-new episode of “Shadowhunters,” airing Tuesday, January 19th at 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., EST/PST on Freeform, the new name for ABC Family. ABC Family is becoming Freeform on January 12, 2016. (ABC Family/John Medland) VANESSA MATSUI, ISAIAH MUSTAFA

Luke Garroway’s character was thoroughly given the television treatment. Being a bookstore owner in his previous rendition didn’t lend itself to anything, while being a New York detective gives Luke bigger scope by utilising his character to tie in the grisly evidence of Valentine’s plans into the greater Shadowhunter mythology. Now that his story as a Werewolf Alpha has been brought into the show earlier, that combined with his detective day job allows him to answer questions raised on the side while the other, younger characters try to figure out who they are and where they sit in the world.

SHADOWHUNTERS - "Of Men and Angels" - Magnus and Luke reveal Clary’s past in “Of Men and Angels,” an all-new episode of “Shadowhunters,” airing Tuesday, February 16th at 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., EST/PST on Freeform, the new name for ABC Family. (Freeform/John Medland) KATHERINE MCNAMARA, HARRY SHUM JR.

Fan favorite Magnus Bane, who physically appeared once in the events of the first book, gets to regularly showcase the responsibility and importance that comes with being the High Warlock of Brooklyn. His fate is also tied to his much-anticipated romantic interest in Alec Lightwood and his compassion for him. What once was an allusive handful of moments mentioned through third parties, Magnus and Alec’s budding relationship is now a weekly source of fan excitement. For the first time ever, we get to watch them fall in love.

SHADOWHUNTERS - "Bad Blood" - Alec and Clary are forced to make some hard decisions in “Bad Blood,” an all-new episode of “Shadowhunters,” airing Tuesday, March 1st at 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., EST/PST on Freeform, the new name for ABC Family. (Freeform/John Medland) DAVID CASTRO

The biggest upside of the series being in a television format is the luxury of time. Thirteen episodes is a lot of time to fill, and Shadowhunters is filling it by exploring things the books simply didn’t. In place of randomly turning up dead in the arms of a Vampire, Simon’s traumatic transition from Mundane to the Undead has been a main plot point of the series so far. He’s struggled, he’s hallucinated, he’s alienated himself from his family and friends, and the seeds of his future bond with Raphael Santiago have been planted. Raphael’s involvement with Simon’s transition is no longer the random event it was originally – it’s now based on something. Exploring the off-page, background narratives of the story helps to better shape these characters and make them matter to us right now, without having to wait a few books for them to develop.

SHADOWHUNTERS - "Rise Up" - With the Institute on high alert, Jace, Clary and Isabelle are forced into taking drastic actions in “Rise Up,” an all-new episode of “Shadowhunters,” airing Tuesday, March 8th at 9:00-10:00 p.m., EST/PST on Freeform, the new name for ABC Family. - With the Institute on high alert, Jace, Clary and Isabelle are forced into taking drastic actions. (Freeform/John Medland) JADE HASSOUNE

Instead of long-winded info dumps through the mouths of other characters, we get to personally engage with Meliorn of the Seelie Court, Camille of the New York Vampire clan and the villain himself, Valentine Morgenstern and his Circle of followers. We even get to see the extended Lightwood family, Robert and Maryse and little Max (who is already breaking hearts). And since this is all happening beyond Clary’s book narrative, the Shadow World and it’s characters have more depth. We no longer have to see them through the eyes of someone else; we get to engage with each character on our own terms, directly and intimately. We get to know what makes them tick, how they make us tick, and we’re all the better for it.

SHADOWHUNTERS - "Dead Man's Party" - Clary, Jace, Alec and Isabelle must hatch a rescue plan that takes them into the heart of a vampire lair in “Dead Man’s Party,” an all-new episode of “Shadowhunters,” airing Tuesday, January 26th at 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., EST/PST on Freeform, the new name for ABC Family. ABC Family is becoming Freeform on January 12, 2016. (ABC Family/John Medland) KAITLYN LEEB, ALBERTO ROSENDE

In refusing to remain faithful, Shadowhunters has effectively changed the protagonists and their ragtag group of sidekicks into a solid, enjoyable ensemble cast of characters finally on equal ground. Everyone gets their moment to shine, and in letting them do so, the characters better compliment each other. The energy is new and different and riveting, and the fans – old and new – could not be more pleased.


Shadowhunters airs Tuesdays at 9pm/8c on Freeform, and Wednesdays internationally on Netflix.


  1. I couldn’t agree with you more ! the crew of Shadowhunters are doing an amazing job ! it keeps us interested and guessing 😉 I really like what they are doing 🙂
    thank you! I loved it<3

    1. They really are. The dedication and passion for this project from all involved really comes through and I couldn’t be prouder of the work they’re doing. Being interested and kept guessing as a viewer is never a bad combination! Thanks for reading!

  2. Wonderful article as per usual. I am proud to be a fan of both the books and now the TV Show, the books are something you are able to read at your own pace and you get attached to certain characters through the eyes of our protagonist, same reason why we care so much for her in this medium.
    The Show is different we don’t have Clary and Jace in front of us every single step of the way, we have now 6 (7 if we count Luke) main characters each of the equally as important as the other and with an important time on screen to develop themselves further than what we were able to see with Clary and I applaud that so much, because thanks to that the way their stories are told is not only given a bigger importance and depth but also makes us fall more for this other characters and to find a piece of ourselves within them.
    People have complained about the fact that we don’t feel as attached to Clary or as in love with Jace but…this is because we are not inside her head, it is impossible to feel the same way about both of this characters when we are not directly liked to her and her thoghts which a LOT of the time revolved around Jace. But still we hve seen a lot of growth in Clary, as Kat very well said she has finally learned to say thanks and sorry, and soon she will feel the weight of her actions, as for Jace his time to suffer deeply will come, last episode we saw the pain while she looked at the family pictures we just have to be patient his angst will come.
    They have done a wonderful thing with our characters and their personal storylines, and I am actually very happy with the changes and modifications.

    1. While I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the story, I had problems with the majority of the characters in the books – those I wished to see more of simply didn’t get the time they needed, while those who had all the spotlight just didn’t draw me in. I don’t know who sold their soul to make this production happen, but they certainly deserve a fruit basket because the only problem I’m having now is trying to choose which character I enjoy best. And I can’t decide! That, in my humble opinion, is a very good problem to have!

  3. Couldn’t agree more! One of the reason’s I kept reading the books was because it was such an interesting concept and I fell in love with the secondary characters, even though their importance to the plot was very minimal. I’m so happy to see that Shadowhunters has fleshed out the secondary characters so much and made them infinitely more complex than the books. In my opinion, the more the show strays from the books, the better the story gets. There’s just so much opportunity to make this an unbelievably amazing series. The cast and crew have done such a phenomenal job in bringing this world to life for not only the die hards but new fans as well.

    1. As did I, so it’s a great joy to watch them be explored and learn more about them. And I couldn’t agree more – getting to watch our characters be thrown into new situations with new storylines is kind of everything I never knew I wanted, and the further away they get from the restrictive box of the source material, the more invested I find myself. I’m such a huge fan of what they’re doing and I can’t wait to see more. Thanks for taking the time to read and leave your thoughts!

  4. A true book reader of the Shadowhunter world is pissed off with the fact they went off track with the book. I hated the movie because they didn’t follow the book so I am not so thrilled with the fact that they are not following the book. Half the time I want to call bull with the scenes I seen so far. Everyone who reads the book knows that Raphael is Simon vampire sire not Camille who ever did this irked me so. I’m over here like really? Really? Also Maureen is a preteen little creepy girl who obsessed with Simon and they don’t meet until a couple of books later. Like hell would Clary and Simon be friends with Maureen they don’t even know her like that. So mad with the way things turned out the only reason I am watching this is because I love Malec moments. Magnus and Alec are my beau so I continue to watch this for their sake and hoping those two get it on.

    1. That’s an interesting argument you make about how much you don’t like how they’ve changed things – and yet the thing you like most about the show (Malec) is a direct result of how they’ve changed things. Who’s to say Camille has sired Simon? We haven’t even seen the episode yet! And as for the show version of Maureen Brown, she is a vast, enjoyable improvement from her pointless 5 page stint in the books. Being a “true” reader of the books is not measured by your enjoyment or loyalty to the source material. I’m pretty sure I read the books word for word with my own eyes after all, and you can’t get much truer than that. As for your comment regarding your watching of the show for the sole purpose of watching two characters engage sexually, that right there tells me all I need to know. Good luck to you.

  5. I’m a new fan of the material (watched the awful movie, never read the books), and I have to say that I love everything thus far! Great article, and I’m a huge fan of the show. (Not feeling particularly interested in reading the books due to the fact that I’m most interested in the secondary characters who got almost no book time, though!)

  6. This is so bad. No. Whoever wrote this didn’t liked the books , it just made me puke seeing this writer shaming the characters . The show is so unaccurete and a true reader to the bones won’t like what they did with the beautiful world created by Cassy. I was ok-ish with the show until episode 6,7. Those were horible. The Clace scene was cringeworthy . They were supposed to kiss in the garden and the only persone who knew about them was Simon,in this cheap adaptation everybody and thei mother in the institute saw them except from Simon,who turned into a vampire. What. No!It happend to soon. They are rushing things and jumping over important facts. Also the effects are awful,the fights are unrealistic.
    Jace – in books he is a strong confident character who at first didn’t like Clary so much. In the show he is a puppy and all he does is listing to Clary.
    Clary- in the books she is confindent but scared of fighting,her talent was creating runes. In the show she kills demons like there is no tomorrow like she didn’t even trained that much. What about her talent about runes?Nothing. Nada. She couldn’t even remeber the opening rune.
    Alec-I actually like show Alec more the City of Bones Alec. No complaints for Mathew he slays.
    Magnus-In books he is the most powerful wizard and in the show he runes out of magic because of healing Luke. Com on.
    Isabell-So much skin. No. Izzy is not like that but Emeraude does an awesome job playing her.
    Simon- as character in the show Alberto is flawless but oh my. Why did he sleep with Maureen?Why the heck is he turing so soon into a vampire. This was supposed to be City of Bones not all the books merged into one creating a disaster full of plot holes.
    Also quote from Cassandra Clare herslef(serch it if you don’t belive me) a fan asked her “What would you never put in Shadowhunter World?” She answered” Arranged marrige” . I mean ew. No. He is gay. He can’t be manipulated . And what the writter of this article saied about his marrige “Juicy” . Excuse me? Juicy? Shadowhunter World is anything but jucy. If you want cheesy juicy stufd watch Telenovela. Jesus.
    My only reason for still watching the show is that i love Cassandra and all she does and this gives her credit in someway and publicity. So maybe many viewers will start reading some kf her books but I hope they don’t espect that her books are as bad as this tv show.
    I have another thing to say than you can shove the hate on my gut . The parings jessus. Clace is awful. I hate it. I would hate it even if I hadn’t read the books. Malec is my OTP and I kindda still have hopes from them in the tvshow.

    With all of this said. If ABC-family touches my baby Will I will commit murder.
    Tschüss Mundane

    1. You sound so bitter my friend. I am a committed reader to the TMI series, and you don’t get to say who’s a “true reader”. This show is BASED on the books, we knew from the start there would be changes. & you know what? I’m pretty impressed with how much they’ve actually kept so far compared to other TV shows based off books. If you don’t like it? Don’t watch just to bring every little thing that isn’t directly from the book down. This writer did a LOVELY job pointing out the positives and while everyone has a right to their opinion yours was very rude. You do not represent all readers of the TMI series and you will not reflect fans of the books on my account because we are not all this bitter and blatantly rude. Some of us actually like the TV show and want to see it succeed, as it is doing. So please if you are going to try to state your opinion, use a little nicer tone and maybe people will actually try to hear you out. Thank you & have a great day.

  7. As always Sam, this is wonderful, positive, and reflects everything that I’ve been feeling! Love your articles, hopefully we can get many more seasons of them!!!

    1. Thank you, Laura! So glad this show is getting a second season! I look forward to writing more articles about it in the future 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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