10 Ways Shadowhunters is So Different from the Mortal Instruments Books

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With the premiere of Shadowhunters, Season 2 airing today(!), some of us are refreshing our memories by re-watching Season 1 — while others are convincing our Mortal Instruments-virgin friends to test out joining the fandom as well.

By this point, we all know (hopefully!) that the show was based on a popular six-book YA series called The Mortal Instruments written by Cassandra Clare between 2007 and 2014. A a lot of the diehard Shadowhunters TV show fans have obvs read the fantasy novels (sometimes over and over again), but don’t you think it would be a little too predictable for them to have a series that follows the book exactly? It’s a lot more than just a name change that makes the show different from the books it was based on. The creative freedoms that TV creators make in their book-to-screen adaptation can actually make the story just a little bit better — even making the television series potentially better than the OG tale!

The executive producer of Shadowhunters, Ed Decter, said before S1 premiered, “We love the books, and that’s what got us involved with the project to begin with. But, we still have had a version of it out there.” (He’s talking about the 2013 Mortal Instruments: City of Bones movie that didn’t exactly live up to its expectations in the box office or among fans.) Ed continued, “We wanted to have surprises both for the real hardcore fans and then we also want to introduce the viewers that have never been exposed to the world carefully and slowly.” While staying true-ish to the books, the writers of Shadowhunters have made quite a few changes to the story, so keep reading to see the 10 biggest differences:


On the Freeform show... the characters are older.

When The Mortal Instruments books begin, Clary is just 15 years old, as is Izzy, and Alec is 18. On the TV show version, Clary has turned 18, Izzy is in her very early 20s and Jace and Alec seem to be slightly older than Izzy. This makes Clary's actions a little more believable, as well as opens up the show to cover more mature subjects than in the book series.

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... Clary is a lot more complex.

A big issue that a lot of Mortal Instruments book readers had with the YA heroine was her bad relationships with other women, in particular with Izzy. Clary's negative feelings toward the other female protagonist seem to be largely based on jealousy, and readers couldn't help but feel like a lot of Clary's thoughts about Izzy (and another character, Sheila) were very slut-shame-y.

On the television series, Clary and Isabelle seem to have a much stronger relationship right off the bat.

Furthermore, Clary's bond with her mom also starts off a lot better. This could have something to do with the fact that she's slightly older and, let's face it, when you're 15, you fight with your mom. A. LOT.

Her older age also means that we see Clary have a bit more real-life ambition on the drama than she does in the book version. As an 18-year-old, the TV show picks up with Clary being accepted into an advanced program at the Brooklyn Academy of Art.

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... Simon's transition into a vampire is changed.

Geeky, mortal Simon had a lot more air-time in the Mortal Instruments books: He doesn't become a vampire until the second book installment and is sired by Raphael.

On the TV show, vampire Simon transforms on Episode 3! The vampire, Camille, allows a hostage Simon to bite her while the two are making out. TBH, it's kind of sexy, but a lot of book fans were PISSED. They feared how having Vampire Simon so early on will change other events that are supposed to come and worry that some favorite book events are going to be really different on the Freeform program.

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... The Institute is totally different.

When introduced in the books, The New York Institute has very few occupants: Jace, Hodge Starkweather and the Lightwood family. However, when we see it on the TV show, there are a lot of other Downworlders who use the space.

The TV version of the Institute also looks super modern and has a ton of technology, which isn't how it's described in the books. In fact, tech is very rarely used in the written series, despite a "sensor," which was invented in the 1800s and is used to track demons.

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... the characters have different professions.

Clary's mother, Jocelyn, owns an antique store on the Freeform drama, but she is an artist in the fantasy novels. Luke Garroway owned a bookstore in the books, but became an NYPD officer when the character moved onto television. Seems like every supernatural TV show needs to have at least one cop character (ahem, The Vampire Diaries, Beauty and the Beast, Charmed).

Another consequence of the aging-up of some of the central characters, Simon is an accounting student, as opposed to a 16-year-old high schooler. (P.S. Those runes you can see drawn on Luke's neck in the pic... not in the books! The Circle members have that print on their neck on the TV show ONLY.)

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... the supporting characters are introduced earlier.

Ragnor Fell, Catarina Loss and Tessa Gray all meet Clary during the twelfth episode of Season 1. In the books, Clary runs into them during separate journeys. Also, certain characters (such as Madeleine Bellefleur) have made no appearance (yet!) despite their relationship with other supporting characters introduced.

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... Valentine glamoured himself as Michael Wayland.

When the truth about Michael Wayland is exposed on Episode 10 of Shadowhunters, Jace immediately recognizes him as him father, because Valentine had made himself look like Michael. But in the Mortal Instruments books, Valentine had only taken on the name and identity of Michael, making the reveal not as instantaneous for Jace.

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... Jace and Valentine work together by choice.

Jace and Valentine obvs have a very complicated relationship in every version of The Mortal Instruments, but in the written version, Jace toys with the idea of working with Valentine internally, but never actually follows through. On the TV show, there is some coercion involved with his decision to partner up with Valentine, but ultimately he chooses to go with him on the final episode of Season 1.

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... shape-shifting demons are different.

In the books, shape-shifting demons are called Eidolon. On the TV series, they are a subintelligent species called raveners, who are called upon by warlocks to do their bidding. Creepy!

Photo: Freeform

On the Freeform show... the Mortal Cup has different uses.

The Mortal Cup is an incredibly important object in both the book and on the TV series, but it's actually been conceived very different by the author versus the show creators.

On Shadowhunters, they mention that if a human drinks from the cup, they will die. This concerned viewers who had read the book because in that version, drinking from the Mortal Cup could make a mortal into a Shadowhunter. The show's creators also changed the value of the Cup: Many Downworlders desire it in the adaptation, but only a select few are looking for it in in the original.

Lastly, Clary never uses the cup in the book to control other demons, but on the TV show, she does that several times.

Photo: Freeform

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  • chris

    There’s some things here that don’t make any sense…

    1. Who is Sheila? There is no Sheila in the books…

    2. Simon doesn’t “turn” into a vampire in episode 3…that’s until episode 8…

    3. Catarina Loss and Tessa Grey have not been introduced on the show yet…

    I suggest you do more research on the books and show before writing any more articles for this fandom.