To celebrate our first autism-friendly screening with the Curzon Cinema Sheffield (information about this here) I wanted to bring attention this week to the character who might be my favourite example of good ASD representation in fiction: Tiberius (Ty) Blackthorn of Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight. I often have problems with how ASD is presented in the media and Ty is a great example of how to do it right.
You might be aware of Cassandra Clare because of her Mortal Instruments series, the TV show adaptation of which – Shadowhunters – has been scooping up awards and nominations left, right, and centre. However, her newest novel around the Shadow World, Lady Midnight – part of the Dark Artifices series – is possibly even better. It may not yet quite have the following of City of Bones, but it ought to.
Focusing on the Blackthorn family, Julian has serious problems; he’s 17, running his home Institute in lieu of his uncle Arthur, who spends his time hidden away in the attic with some mysterious faerie-related trauma, and he’s fallen in love with his parabatai, Emma, an act that is strictly forbidden under the totalitarian rule of the governing body of Shadowhunters, the Clave. If things were bad before, now his brother Mark has been returned from the Wild Hunt by the faeries. He should be happy, and he is, but looking after a shadowhunter who has been raised as a faerie just seems like one more child under his care. Emma is there to help him, but every moment with her is becoming agonising as it becomes harder and harder for him to hide his feelings for her as each day passes. Mundanes (shadowhunter code for humans) are being murdered in a mysterious cult killing-type affair that seems to be operating on a supernatural level, and it’s up to Emma and the Blackthorns to find out who the killer is before the Clave or the mundane police – partially because the murders seem to bear startling resemblance to the murder of Emma’s parents half a decade earlier.
But on to Ty and ASD representation. Clare has stated Ty is based, very loosely, on her step-brother, who has autism. Ty is Julian’s secret favourite sibling, and twin to his sister Livvy. In the Shadow World, there are no words for people like Ty, or anyone else who isn’t neurotypical. The shadowhunters with dyslexia, with ASD, with anxiety, are simply pushed into the corners and forced through the system, circular pegs being pressed into square holes. Tiberius is rarely seen without his headphones, which he uses to make the world quieter, and his hand toys – made by Julian – to help slow his too-fast mind. His hands flutter, he likes Sherlock Holmes, and you’ll want him to be your new best friend. His sister Livvy is his partner in crime, the Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, and guides him through the intricacies of life that Ty doesn’t have space for in his head full of facts. She wants to keep him close forever, for them to be parabatai like Julian and Emma, but Ty has different ideas. Unsatisfied with the Clave’s plan for him to simply be a warrior pushed through the same mould as everyone else, he wants to be a scholar, finding out patterns across ancient texts and working with the smartest individuals in the Shadow World.
Ty is magnificent, and I can’t possibly oversell a character this good. The story itself is amazing, with LGBT+ representation to boot (that’s right, bi and pan characters with a trans* character confirmed for the new book out this May). And for fans of the Mortal Instruments, there are cameos from your favourite original New York squad, and an extra surprise at the end that will make any fan happy.
Stay safe, friends. x