Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Published: 2009, Margaret K. McElderry Books
Series: The Infernal Devices, #1
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fantasy
Source: Library book
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Whatever you are physically...male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy--all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.
It's been a while, Cassandra Clare. I still actually want to refer to you as Cassie Clare, since that was how I was introduced to your work, back when you wrote Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fan fiction (which was fantastic, by the way). After not feeling strongly about City of Bones, which I read upon publication, I decided it was time to read Clare's other series, which sounded more like the type of books I'd read anyway (historical fantasy rather than urban fantasy). Courtney in particular is a huge fan of Clare's works, and her recommendations generally don't steer me wrong.
Upon the death of her aunt, her last remaining caretaker, Tessa Gray travels to London to live with her brother Nate. Nate, however, is not there upon her arrival, and Tessa is convinced to accompany her brother's "friends," Mrs. Dark and Mrs. Black, to their house to await Nate. Kept in their house as a prisoner, the Dark sisters force Tessa's latent magical powers to blossom. By touching the object or trinket of another, Tessa has the ability to transform into its owner and recall his/her memories. After learning that they're training her specially for their master, Tessa realizes she must escape. Her savior comes in the form of Will, an attractive young Shadowhunter (children of the Nephilim) who keep the rest of the magical creatures of the world (Downworlders) in order. Amidst a world far darker than she imagined, full of mortals, Shadowhunters, and Downworlders, Tessa comes to realize that her gift is unique. So unique, in fact, that the man called the Magister will do anything to possess her and her abilities.
The entire The Infernal Devices series is a prequel to Clare's more popular The Mortal Instruments series, but my lack of knowledge of Clary and Jace's stories was not a deterrent to reading this book. The London of Tessa, Will, and Jem is fully realized and wonderfully described. Clare douses her world with enough touches of the fantastical, from the Shadowhunters and Downworlders to the mysterious clockwork creatures, to keep me entertained and guessing.
Where Clare really excels is in characterization and character development. All of the Shadowhunters from the London Clave are very clearly defined. I particularly enjoyed Will and Jem's relationship as parabatai, where Shadowhunters can bond for life to another, becoming each other's protector. I loved how the Clave is full of so many diverse characters, from the fierce Charlotte to the brilliant but absentminded Henry to the loyal Jem to Jessamine, whose only wish is to live a normal life. I did have slight problems with Will, for similar reasons to why I wasn't overly thrilled with City of Bones and its male lead, Jace: while Clare is great at creating the troubled bad boy character, they all seem to end up having similar characteristics to her Draco from her fanfiction trilogy, The Draco Trilogy. Don't get me wrong — I loved The Draco Trilogy and the Draco she created. I just wish that I didn't keep seeing his character in every other bad boy with substance that Clare has created since. The dynamics of the characters within the Clave and Tessa's interactions with them were enough, however, to keep me invested in the story.
The story is full of plot twists. Secrets, betrayal, and mysteries abound. As the most oblivious reader ever, I found myself surprised by basically every new revelation. My obliviousness aside, I do think that the plot twists were well-handled, none of them over-the-top or unrealistic based on the world and characters that have been established. Along with Tessa, readers can quickly find themselves in over their heads as when one portion of the world seems to be firmly established, some new knowledge comes along that topples that understanding.
Reading Clockwork Angel has reinvigorated my love of nineteenth-century British literature. Victorian literature in general was probably my favorite focus area for my English degree. I just love everything associated with the books of this time period, from the culture/customs to the romances to the mysteries. Whenever Tessa or Will mention a book, I found myself recognizing the title and wondering whether I've already read it. In fact, before I return the book to my local library, I'm going to have to skim the pages and write down all the books mentioned. I loved the fact that Tessa is a reader. Not only that, but that Clare works within the conventions of Victorian literature and that time period. In many ways, Tessa is like a conventional Victorian heroine. At the beginning of the story she's prim, proper, sentimental, and has strict beliefs in gender/social roles. As the novel continues, Tessa becomes a little less tightly-wound and is willing to look at things in a more unconventional way, but she never quite loses her Victorian-era sentimentalities, of which I approve.
Apparently this book is technically classified as gaslamp rather than steampunk. I don't really understand the differences between the two, since they both do deal with a pseudo-historical world where scientific advances are juxtaposed with an older time period (generally Victorian or Old West). I've looked up the definitions of both and I still have trouble grasping this difference. They're all historical fantasies to me, I suppose. If anyone can shed light on this issue, I'd much appreciate it!
While Clockwork Angel may not be the most profound book I've ever read, it did keep me entertained. Clare writes well and can come up with an inventive story. And she writes some fantastic romantic scenes.