Surprisingly, when I first read ‘Chain of Gold’, by Cassandra Clare, Alastair Carstairs was just another character to me. Another Alec, another Gabriel, another Kieran. If anything, Alastair was even worse than those previously mentioned characters, for they all had visible “reasons” for being the way they were, (naturally, I am not excusing the specific behavior of those three men) - whereas Alastair just seemed to be a dick through and through. It was only during my re-read, and first read of Chain of Iron, when I realized how much I truly liked Alastair’s unique character.
Before we get into why I like Alastair so much, I think it is only right that we discuss everything that came before: Before Chain of Gold, before Alastair stood out to me, before this “villainous” boy turned into one of CC’s most interesting characters. Alastair’s introduction to the Shadow World was monumental at best, and I have no doubt that most readers disliked Alastair when he first arrived on our pages.
As far as I’m aware, Alastair’s initial introduction was in ‘Tales of the Shadowhunter Academy’, where we see James’ early life and how he became friends with the Merry Thieves. James was a peculiar boy at best – a halfbreed and an abomination at worst. Despite Alastair’s relation to the incredible Jem Carstairs, (who we all love so dearly), Alastair stood out as one of the older boys who capitalized on James’ differences. Alastair was harsh to James and Matthew alike; James was unique, and Matthew was not the stereotypical Shadowhunter at all. Quite early on in the short story, we grasp that Alastair is the villain in the narration, the smug-boy who sets a demon upon James as what he considers to be a meaningless ‘prank’. Naturally, this is what gets James expelled from school, and what sets up Alastair as being one of James’ deadliest enemies. Not only did Alastair make James’ experience at the Shadowhunter Academy a living hell, but he also ruined all James’ chances of fitting in with his peers. (Alastair is coincidentally the one to bring Matthew and James together, but that, is purely coincidence).
However, it is in ‘Ghost of the Shadow Market’ where we truly begin to despise Alastair Carstairs. Told this time from Matthew’s perspective, we see Alastair’s final words to Matthew before he blows up the school in what I consider to be one of Matthew’s greatest moves of all time. (Funnily enough, Matthew is one of my favorite characters too, which is odd, since he opposes Alastair so much). This is when Alastair says something rude to Matthew, and burdens Math with a weight of which lives with him from then on out. Alastair claims that Matthew isn’t truly Henry’s son; too weak and idiotic for Charlotte, who instead had adultery relations with Gideon Lightwood, who's own wife was a scarred-mundane whore. Matthew, obviously, takes this information to heart, and instead of asking his mother for the truth, perches a truth-telling serum from the Shadow Market, unknowingly poisoning and killing the fetus in Charlotte’s stomach. For anyone who has read the book, this moment has a monumental impact on Matthew and his well-being. The reason why Matthew drinks as excessively as he does is due to this “crime” he has committed, and Matthew’s entire destructive lifestyle is blamed on Alastair Carstairs, whom he despises.
This brings me to a point which may be controversial to make – Alastair cannot be blamed for causing Matthew’s spiraling disaster of a life. Alastair was cruel at the Shadowhunter Academy. That is a fact. He was rude and spiteful and bullied both Matthew and James alike. No matter how different Alastair is in Chain of Gold, (and he is, undoubtedly, changed), his half-assed apologies do not cut it at all. “I was a rude boy back in the Academy days”, does not encompass Alastair and his vices’ whatsoever. But, Matthew’s decision to purchase Faerie potion from the Shadow Market and hide it in his mother’s food was completely his own. Yes, Alastair planted a seed of doubt in Matthew’s mind, and for spreading those rumors, he needs to be held accountable. However, Matthew could’ve easily let the doubt slide, or ask his mother for the truth regarding the circumstances of his birth. Doing something he knew was illegal, especially at an old-enough age to know better – that is all Matthew’s own, personal choices and actions. I’m not saying that the death of Charlotte’s fetus is Matthew’s fault, but I am implying that blaming ALASTAIR for this death is completely bizarre. Alastair did not know how hard his words were going to resonate within Matthew, and Matthew did not know that he was actually buying poison from the Faerie at the market. Neither boy should be blamed for the death of the fetus, and Matthew definitely should not despise Alastair for his own gloomy life, as it was Matthew who decided to keep the truth to himself, and it was Matthew who decided to use alcohol as a coping method for his pain. But that is another story, and a different character’s review.
It is a tricky situation to navigate. ‘Chain of Gold’ reveals information about Alastair that we were otherwise privy too. It is uncovered that his father is an alcoholic, a situation that Alastair has been dealing with in secret since he was a little boy, (essentially stripping him off the childhood he deserved). This creates an insight into Alastair’s dislike of Matthew, who is perhaps now the only Merry Thief he cannot stand, (Alastair’s relationship with James is much better than what it once was). We also learn about Alastair’s doomed relationship with Charles, who is politically obsessed, and not ready to be openly different in a closed-off, 20th century society. It is interesting how Alastair is the one more open about his feelings than Charles – both boys know what they feel, but only Alastair is prepared to actually do something more about it. Alastair wants what we all want: to be loved and accepted without having to hide away. In order to get where he wants to get in life, Charles need to be as proper as he can, and as such, their relationship fades away. (But isn’t it ironic that Charles is Matthew’s brother?). Alastair is also ‘Persian’, and his dislike towards his own heritage is not something we see a lot of in previous books. However, ‘Chain of Gold’ shows us that Alastair is just as insecure as anyone not white would be in early 20th century Britain. I think that a great representation of this is Alastair’s bleached hair, which he dies in order to fit in with his peers. (Again, odd how Matthew is the one with blonde hair and pale skin, as opposed to Alastair’s black hair and tanned skin).
Although, easily the best scene ‘Chain of Gold’ gifts us is the scene in Paris, (yes, you know the one). Here we truly see Alastair shine. His newfound ‘friendship’ with Thomas. (Hardly a friendship, but still something sweet nevertheless). This chapter gives us insight into Alastair’s pensive side, how he has changed since his schooling days, and how he is perhaps not as villainous as we once thought. And maybe, just maybe, Alastair is remorseful of what he had done during those days at the Shadowhunter Academy. Even though Thomas is initially cold towards Alastair, there is no doubting the companionship that springs up in-between them, and with Alastair now living in London, maybe things between the boys can become even bigger?
Again, nothing with Alastair is easy. In the next chapter, Alastair is rude to Thomas, and we are reminded of the boy he once was. How can we forgive him when, despite everything, he is still just as rude at times? This is where Alastair’s similarities to Alec, Gabriel, and Keiran disappear. Alec and Keiran both became nice after book one, and Gabriel after book two. These three characters all had initial ‘blocks’ in the way that were stopping them from being kind people, but when their reasoning is ‘brought to light’, it is discovered that they are all actually good people on the inside, and we cannot help but love them. Even though ‘Chain of Gold’ brings Alastair’s reasonings to light, he is still rude, and we understand that being snobbish is now just part of his character. Alastair is more than one dimensional, he has faults, and they don’t just instantly disappear when everything gets better. I believe that is why a lot of people have a hard time liking Alastair, and why he stands out to me as a character – Alastair remains a dick long after we understand why.
By the end of ‘Chain of Gold’, Alastair is just about ready to start anew. He breaks up with Charles, and seeing the way Cordelia fits in with the Shadowhunter's of the London Enclave, even dies his hair back to black. Alastair is prepared to properly connect with Thomas, who has lost his older sister and is leaning on Alastair in a way that makes little sense to anyone but them. Thomas sees Alastair as his emotional support, Alastair sees Thomas as the same. This is when Matthew, (WHO I LOVE), truly disappoints me. Where Alastair’s life seems to be getting better, Matthew’s is doing the exact opposite. And even though Alastair is willing to be nicer, the two boys still cannot see eye to eye. Matthew blurts out what Alastair had said all those years ago about his mother and Gideon Lightwood, (in much more shocking detail), and Thomas can now only look at Alastair with disgust. Thomas, the one person Alastair found some sense of belonging in, turned to hatred. Thomas and Alastair’s friendship is torn to shreds, and Alastair is left utterly alone again.
Like previously discussed, I do believe Alastair is one of CC’s most complex characters. He is unlike Alec, Gabriel, and Kieran, in the sense that his actions are, (arguably worse), and despite the reasoning behind it all, he still remains a dick. In the end, though, Alastair is just an ethnically diverse, queer fellow in 19th century England, who was robbed of his childhood by his alcoholic father. Alastair wanted to save his sister from the truth, and by doing so, his own youth was destroyed by constantly throwing out empty bottles and making sure Cordelia was unaware of Elias Carstairs’ “headaches”. Alastair’s characterization in ‘Chain of Gold’ is monumental, and although I will discuss this later, his further characterization in ‘Chain of Iron’ is just as good. Alastair made mistakes, as we all do. Alastair is trying, as we all do too.