January 31, 2013

A Tam Lin Invasion

Oh, I forbid you, maidens all
That wear gold on your hair,

To come or go by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam-Lin is there.
Project: Fairy Tale is a month-long blogging event hosted by Alison of The Cheap Reader that centers around original fairy tales and fables and their retellings. As a huge fairy tale/fable enthusiast, I was more than eager to participate in Project: Fairy Tale. As you might recall from my post back in October, the fable I chose to focus on is the Scottish ballad "Tam Lin." I've been doing a lot of reading and research since then and am eager to share my thoughts on here!

Now, on the eve of Project: Fairy Tale, I just wanted to let my readers know that my normal posts and reviews will be taking a one-month hiatus. They'll be replaced with tons of "Tam Lin" goodness. This month I plan on delving into the "original" story of the Scottish ballad "Tam Lin," its history (and explaining why it is difficult to pinpoint its origins), some of its themes, and much more analysis. Interspersed with those posts will be tons of book reviews on retellings and more general discussion posts (which I hope that you'll discuss with me). February's going to be an exciting month here, so I hope that you'll bear with me and learn a little in the process! If fairy tales and fables are not your thing, then never fear: my blog will be back to normal by March.

If you're interested in learning about other fairy tales and fables (I know I am!), I encourage you to check out Project: Fairy Tale's master post, where different bloggers have taken it upon themselves to focus on tales ranging from "Beauty and the Beast," "Rapunzel," "Snow White and Rose Red," "Aladdin," "The Six Swans," "Robin Hood," and so much more!
But up spoke her, fair Janet,
The fairest of all her kin;

I'll come and go to Carterhaugh,
And ask no leave of him.*
Until then!

*Taken from Jennifer Holm's version of "Tam Lin," found here.
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January 29, 2013

Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week we are all recounting some of the most frustrating literary characters we've ever come across.

Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — Mrs. Bennet does provide some comic relief to the story, but I honestly have no idea how her family is able to put up with her dramatics. I certainly couldn't.
Cornelius Fudge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling — Fudge has SO many opportunities throughout the book to help prepare the Wizarding world for Voldemort's return. Instead he chooses to deny all potential bad news until it's too late. He's not an evil person, but certainly a terrible leader.
The Giving Tree of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein — My friend Anna put it best when she said: STOP GIVING, TREE!
Beatrice Lacey from Wideacre by Philippa Gregory — Oh Beatrice. I understand that she cares about Wideacre above all else. But the measures she resorts to to keep her claim there are ridiculously over-the-top and, shall we say, quite incestuous. 
Macbeth from Macbeth by William Shakespeare — No, Macbeth, you were not really predestined to commit any of those horrible crimes. You have choices, so many choices, and you just keep making the wrong ones.
Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell  — I love Scarlett and how self-serving she is. I just wish she realizes she needs Rhett sooner and can admit that they are alike so that there's no need for that ending to happen. 
Edna Pontellier from The Awakening by Kate Chopin — Maybe now that I'm older and a little wiser than my high school self I could appreciate Chopin's work a little more. All I remember of my reading experience was how frustrated I was with Edna, who would rather end her own life than put up with her husband and children.
Fanny Price from Mansfield Park by Jane Austen — Fanny is one of the most passive characters I've ever read. I get that you're humble and moral, but please assert yourself every once and a while!
Bella Swan of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer — I'm not sure I understood the concept of a Mary Sue until I read Twilight. Is it too much to ask for a protagonist with a bit of a personality?

Don Quixote from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes — Don Quixote is at least an amusing character. But his misadventures start to fade together after a while. Can no one really talk any sense into him?
Agree with any of my choices? Let me know which characters you think are the most frustrating!
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January 25, 2013

Liebster Blog Award

I was nominated for a Liebster Blog Award by All Fantasy Worlds. Thank you, Oana! The Liebster Blog Award is given to upcoming bloggers that have less than 200 followers. I debated doing this myself and then realized that I really don't post anything personal on my blog, so I wanted to use these questions as a way to give my readers some background on myself. 

In order to accept and participate, here are the steps laid out by All Fantasy Worlds:
1. Tell 11 things about yourself.
2. Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you.
3. Post 11 questions for those who will be nominated by you.
4. Nominate 11 bloggers who have less than 200 followers.
5. Get in contact with those 11 bloggers in order to inform them that you nominated them.


Okay, first off some fun facts about myself:
1. Right now I am a paralegal assistant by day and taking a Library Sciences class at night.
2. I currently live with my family in Wisconsin, although I grew up and attended college on the East Coast.
3. I am left handed.
4. My favorite Disney princess is Princess Jasmine.
5. I adore retellings, whether they are of fairy tales, fables, myths, or classic novels. Although I'll admit that I can then be more critical in judging those retold novels.

6. I love musicals. They make me happy. So far I've seen Beauty and the Beast (twice), Les Mis, Chicago, and Young Frankenstein on Broadway. Planning to see Wicked in May (fingers crossed)!
7. My ideal vacation would be to visit New Zealand (and go on The Lord of the Rings tour, of course).
8. I don't really like listening to music. If I do listen to it, it's on the radio at work/my car or as background noise.
9. I used to fence competitively in high school. 
10. I think I'll be a serial student for life. I want to keep taking adult education classes. They're cheap, and why wouldn't you want to keep learning about different things forever? 
11. I like being able to stay up late and sleep in but rarely do it; if I have things to do I'd rather get them done relatively early so that I can relax after, instead of the other way around. I spent one summer waitressing and I much preferred the lunch shift to the dinner one. 

And here are the questions I have to answer:
1. What other hobbies/obsessions do you have besides reading and writing? 

I feel like I don't have time for too many hobbies besides reading and writing in my free time, but I do love baking. I was given this cake decorating kit that I have yet to use, but I'm really excited to try it out. I really love making these red velvet chocolate cake balls - they're delicious!
2. Do you lend your books to friends? 

Yes! I love pushing books on people. I wish I was able to do it more in college, but I went to school halfway across the country from my home, so there was limited space for me to bring many books, especially since my two majors (English and Spanish) both had heavy reading lists. My only issue is that I read books super carefully, even mass market paperbacks, so that when I'm finished reading them they still look brand new. It saddens me that my copy of Sharon Shinn's Archangel and the first two books in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series have incredibly broken spines. But at least others have been able to appreciate good stories!
3. Have you ever convinced someone who hasn’t read a book in their life to start reading? How? 

I honestly don't think I know anyone who has never read a book. If we stretch this question to mean those who are reluctant readers and maybe don't really read outside of school, then yes. My boyfriend's probably my best example. I convinced him to read a little each night and now he loves A Game of Thrones and the following books in the series. I have tons of other books I can't wait to introduce him to. :)
4. What book did you hate despite everyone saying it was awesome? 

Hate's a pretty strong word. I like to think that I know my reading preferences well enough that I'll be able to avoid those books that I know I'll strongly dislike, regardless of whether tons of other people love them. If I had to pick a super disappointing read, though, I'd probably go with Jodi Lynn Anderson's Tiger Lily. That premise had so much potential, but I thought it was incredibly boring and could not connect to any of the characters. It almost felt like Anderson was trying far too hard to make this deep, nostalgic story, and it fell completely flat. I am baffled by all those positive reviews out there.
5. Which book character would you like to date and why? 

I have far too many book boyfriends! Eugenides from The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner for sure. He would probably frustrate me to no end with his inability to always be honest about what he's up to, but at the same time he's so kind and good and so very amusing and fun. He's definitely one of the most well-characterized characters I've ever read. He seems like a real person to me. Also, I wouldn't mind dating Harry Potter (who would?) or Prince Po from Graceling. I like to read about arrogant and cocky bad boy characters, but I don't think I'd ever want to date them.
6. If your life would be turned into a movie, which actress/ actor would you like to play you and why?
I have absolutely NO IDEA. I think a movie of my life would be pretty boring, at least thus far. I don't have a list of too many actresses that I love. Rachel Weisz is one of my favorites, but she's quite a bit older than me. Same with Liv Tyler. Can I say if we were closer in age, I'd want it to be one of them?
7. Which is your favorite villain?
Probably Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series. She's so flat and therefore easy to hate. Once a villain starts acquiring some depth and layers, then it's more difficult for me to hate him/her quite as much as I usually would like to.

8. Is there a genre you would never read? 
I dislike saying never. But probably sports novels.
9. Which is your favorite classic novel? 

I actually love classic novels. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Homer's The Odyssey, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and John Milton's Paradise Lost are some of my favorites.
10. What magic power would you like to have and why? 

The ability to heal myself and others. I think that Yuna from Final Fantasy X rubbed off on me a little, but if I had a power I'd like to be able to help both myself and others.
11. Who is your favorite author and what question would you ask him/ her if you had the chance?

Too many favorite authors! I guess I'll go with my most obvious answer, however, and say J.K. Rowling. I read the Harry Potter books as I grew up and was about Harry's age when each new book was released. It was a magical experience and really shaped my reading interests, as well as my desire to write books myself. I'd really just like to talk to her about her writing experience, how she's been able to craft such a wonderfully nuanced world, and ask her for advice.

And I nominate:

Rhin @ Perfect Nostalgia
Courtney @ Courtney Reads a Lot
Stormy @ Book.Blog.Bake.
Kelsey @ The Lost Book Reports

My questions:
1. Where do you spend the majority of your time reading?
2. What book has impacted you the most over the years?
3. Who is your fictional twin? Not the fictional character you'd like to be like, but the one you're truly most like.
4. And now which literary character do you wish to be more like?
5. What is your biggest bookish pet peeve?
6. How did you come up with your blog's name?  
7. What's one book that you feel like hasn't gotten the attention and hype that it deserves?
8.What classic novel would you love to see retold? (Bonus points if you can say which author you'd like to do the retelling.)
9. What magical creature do you think has gotten the short shaft of the stick so far in book representations?
10. What is your biggest book turnoff?
11. What's the most unique book you've ever read?

Thanks for reading!
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January 23, 2013

Waiting on All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights any upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
Publication date: July 30, 2013
The first book in an exciting YA trilogy, this is the story of two best friends on the verge of a terrifying divide when they begin to encounter a cast of strange and mythical characters.

Set against the lush, magical backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, two inseparable best friends who have grown up like sisters—the charismatic, mercurial, and beautiful Aurora and the devoted, soulful, watchful narrator—find their bond challenged for the first time ever when a mysterious and gifted musician named Jack comes between them. Suddenly, each girl must decide what matters most: friendship, or love. What both girls don’t know is that the stakes are even higher than either of them could have imagined. They’re not the only ones who have noticed Jack’s gift; his music has awakened an ancient evil—and a world both above and below which may not be mythical at all. The real and the mystical; the romantic and the heartbreaking all begin to swirl together, carrying the two on journey that is both enthralling and terrifying.

And it’s up to the narrator to protect the people she loves—if she can. (Goodreads)
Gorgeous cover and a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth? I don't need to know any more than that to want to read this book! But I also love the fact that this book seems to be about more than a paranormal love story, that there's a focus on the relationship between two sisters. Let's hope this novel lives up to my expectations!
What are you waiting on?
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January 20, 2013

Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall by Susan Ee
Published: 2011, Feral Dream
Series: Penryn and the End of Days, #1
Genre: Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic
Source: Personal ebook

I never thought about it before, but I'm proud to be human. We're ever so flawed. We're frail, confused, violent, and we struggle with so many issues. But all in all, I'm proud to be a Daughter of Man. 

The apocalypse has come to Earth and it seems like the end of time for humanity. Cities have been destroyed by angels, which continue to patrol the skies and attack those humans they find alive; people are afraid to move at night because of other, unknown threats, some that leave bodies half-eaten and mutilated. But humanity's biggest threat, as well as the only hope for salvation, seems to be in each other. This is the world that Penryn, her mother, and her little sister Paige have known for the past few weeks. Due to her mother's schizophrenia and Paige's physical disability, Penryn has become the de facto leader of their family and they've at least been surviving, which is more than most of humanity can say. When she tries to move them to a safer location, however, all hell breaks loose. Paige is captured by angels, her mother has disappeared, and Penryn finds herself saddled with an angel whose wings have been brutally cut off in an attack by his own kind. Penryn and the angel Raffe begrudgingly join forces as they travel to the angels' eyrie to redress the wrongs committed to themselves and their loved ones.

Susan Ee holds nothing back in her creation of a dark and intricate post-apocalyptic Earth. In this world it's difficult to tell who is likely to help you and who is likely to attack. The humans left alive are divided and, for the most part, leaderless. Through Penryn's descriptions, readers witness an Earth where homes have been abandoned, cars are left in the road, and humans are at their most animalistic states. It is a world without rules or morals, yet one where actions and consequences continue to matter. Penryn's hyperawareness of her each and every action shows this. Does she stay and rest in the relative comfort of a nicer house or move on before other gangs of people have the same idea? This is a world straight out of many post-apocalyptic nightmares.

In general I found the characterizations to be very well done, although it is Penryn's interactions with the other three main characters (her mother, Paige, and Raffe) that really makes Angelfall an enjoyable read. I found Penryn's life before the apocalypse somewhat questionable (She mentions a father many times, yet her father stood by and allowed his daughters to stay with their unstable and potentially harmful mother? Penryn does mention that her mother was on medicine, which has recently run out. Still, though, I can't imagine why young children were left in such an uncertain and potentially dangerous environment.), but I was able to suspend my disbelief over family dynamics for the duration of the events recounted in the book itself. Penryn has been forced to provide strength and support for her mother and sister, and she proves herself to be more than capable.

I really appreciated the fact that Angelfall has no romance. Written for a teenage audience, Ee's book could have easily fallen into a paranormal romance cliche. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with paranormal romance in books, but I cannot help but appreciate it when authors consciously steer away from cliches in their books. Angelfall is first and foremost a story about survival. Secondly, it is a story about Penryn's journey to save her sister from the angels, about Raffe's journey to get his wings sewn on. I did enjoy the gradual friendship and banter that develops between these two characters, but I think a relationship would have cheapened the significance of all their trials and tribulations. Although I do hope that their relationship grows in the subsequent novels and I could see a romantic relationship forming over time. 

I really like the unique twists that Ee puts on angel lore. Her angels may be as diverse in appearance as humans are, but they are a different form of being all-together. One whose bones are light and hollow like birds, with the ability to heal super quickly. Yet Penryn's interactions with Raffe do not seem to be out-of-the-ordinary. Many times, Penryn finds herself thinking too fondly of Raffe and forces herself to remember that he's not human. And as readers we do the same. Deprived of his wings, forced to walk on the Earth, Raffe's actions and thoughts do not seem much different from any human's. Yet it is his race of being that has been responsible for the destruction of the human race. Over time his role in the apocalypse might be accepted, but it will not be forgiven or forgotten.

At times I felt like there is too much going on within the novel and not time spent contemplating these issues. I do not necessarily expect all the answers, nor would I want them at this point. But once Raffe and Penryn reach the eyrie in San Francisco, I felt like bits of information were being thrown left and right. They are all interesting and I'd like to know more about those aspects introduced near the end of the book, but there are simply too many things going on at once. I'm sure Ee has planned out the series, but it's frustrating for me as a reader to have so much new information thrown at me the end. I definitely cannot wait to see how it's all connected!

I am happy that Susan Ee's self-published book has become so popular and received its own official publishing deal with Amazon. It is well-written, features some strong characterization, and presents a unique take on the angel apocalypse. Reading books such as Angelfall definitely makes me question the traditional publishing process and the stigmas against self-publication. All I can say is that I'll happily read Ee's sequels, whether they do end up being traditionally, indie, or self-published.
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January 18, 2013

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Published: 2009, Dutton Juvenile
Series: If I Stay, #1
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library book

I don't really care. I shouldn't have to care. I shouldn't have to work this hard. I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard.

My experience reading If I Stay perfectly illustrates why I simply cannot start reading a book with no expectations or any idea of what the book is like. I'd read so many positive mentions of the book that I figured I should check it out to see what all the hype is about. Somehow I never even managed to read a blurb of the book before I started reading the book itself. And that proved to be my downfall.

Mia's life revolves around playing her beloved cello, her family, and her boyfriend, Adam. She believes that her biggest challenge will be in deciding whether or not to attend Juilliard
an incredibly long distance from her Oregon hometown assuming she is accepted. But her life changes within the blink of an eye when, on their way to visit her grandparents one snowy morning, her family's car veers off the road and crashes. Her parents are both pronounced dead at the scene while Mia herself is not in a much better condition. Although her body itself is catatonic, however, Mia seems to be separated from her body and witness everything that happens within the next twenty-four hours, from waiting to learn the conditions of her parents and little brother, to watching her own body be operated on, to seeing how family and friends react to the news of the crash. It is through the lens of an out-of-body experience that Mia ruminates on her life thus far, and whether her life is still worth living.

The basic premise of the book is quite fascinating. Who isn't curious about having an out-of-body experience, or who doesn't wonder how much coma victims can really understand? Mia's disconnect from her body also dovetails an almost emotional detachment from her current life events. In a way, it makes sense. After enduring such trauma, Mia is having a difficult time processing everything. The scenes where Mia is present and observing her body's treatment garner little emotion from Mia herself, and much more from the other observers, her friends and family. It is through her memories (and her choices in the order of how she reflects back on them) that readers are able to understand Mia and how, regardless of her decision to stay or move on, her life will be irrevocably altered.

Mia's focus on her various relationships is definitely the strongest point of the novel. She allows her relationships with family, her boyfriend, friends, and music to define her. This is not to say that she allows the expectations of others to shape her, however. A bit more mature than the average teenage girl, Mia chooses to devote her time and effort between these four areas equally. It is incredibly refreshing to read about a character who has a true passion (music, in this case), who actually gets along with her family, who has strong friendships, and who has a relationship based on trust and truth. As Mia reflects on whether or not she'd like to continue with her life, she focuses on these four aspects and how they're intertwined. If one of those parts (her family) is gone, then are the others enough for her to have a good life? This is not an easy choice for Mia to make, but it makes for an incredibly powerful and moving reflection.

This is an incredibly character-driven novel. Outside of Mia's flashbacks, not much action occurs. If I take a more distant approach, I can definitely agree that Forman excels in developing realistic, nuanced characters and strives to make her readers care about their fates (even while knowing that not all of them can have happy endings). It is here that my particular views as a reader reared its ugly head. I did care about Mia, really I did. But I almost put an emotional fence between myself and the characters. I didn't like the story that was being told and was in no mood to open up my emotions to these characters. From a more impartial perspective, I definitely give Forman credit for the creation of her characters.

Ultimately I did not find If I Stay to be a satisfying read. It's poignant and thought-provoking, but it was simply too depressing for me to handle. And the worst part is that it does have rays of hope, especially by the ending, but it was difficult for me to see any of them. It's a shame that I had such a tough time reading this, because I know that Gayle Forman's works are highly regarded overall. I'm a little hesitant to read others works by her, but I would like to be able to have a positive reading experience with her books. Perhaps Just One Day will be my next book from her, so that I can have a break from Mia and Adam's world.
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January 16, 2013

Waiting on Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights any upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Cinders & Sapphires (At Somerton, #1) by Leila Rasheed

Publication date: January 22, 2013
One house, two worlds... 

Rose Cliffe has never met a young lady like her new mistress. Clever, rich, and beautiful, Ada Averley treats Rose as an equal. And Rose could use a friend. Especially now that she, at barely sixteen, has risen to the position of ladies’ maid. Rose knows she should be grateful to have a place at a house like Somerton. Still, she can’t help but wonder what her life might have been had she been born a lady, like Ada.

For the first time in a decade, the Averleys have returned to Somerton, their majestic ancestral estate. But terrible scandal has followed Ada’s beloved father all the way from India. Now Ada finds herself torn between her own happiness and her family’s honor. Only she has the power to restore the Averley name—but it would mean giving up her one true love . . . someone she could never persuade her father to accept.

Sumptuous and enticing, the first novel in the At Somerton series introduces two worlds, utterly different yet entangled, where ruthless ambition, forbidden attraction, and unspoken dreams are hidden behind dutiful smiles and glittering jewels. All those secrets are waiting . . . at Somerton. (Goodreads)
I have always been a sucker for stories that feature two people in different societal classes learning how to appreciate one another. Like Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, Celia Rees' Pirates!, or Peni R. Griffin's Switching Well. The juxtaposition of the two different characters, their histories, their expectations, and their interactions with one another is always fascinating. I am also terribly curious about what scandal Ada's father has committed and how that is related to Ada's beau is entangled in this problem.

Plus this is Leila Rasheed's debut YA novel and can count towards my Debut Author Challenge!

What are you waiting on?
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January 15, 2013

Top Ten 2013 Debuts I'm Looking Forward To

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week we are supposed to list the 2013 we're most eagerly anticipating. Since I'm participating in the Debut Author Challenge this year, I am eager to read everyone's list this week! I have a potential list of books that I'm interested in reading, but I'm always up for learning about new possibilities. :)

Dualed by Elsie Chapman — The premise that everyone is born with a Genetic alternate and must kill said Alt before turning twenty sounds creepy but fascinating!
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Foster — An Asian-inspired fantasy where orphan girls are apprenticed behind this one city's walls? Heck, yes!
Chantress by Amy Butler Greenfield — About a woman whose song has the power to bring down destruction. Nothing like a historical fantasy based on siren lore.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson — I love, love, love the fact that this book involves Brazil, mythology, and religious rituals.
Pantomime by Laura Lam — Two girls from very different backgrounds escape to be part of a magical circus. Something about truly magical circuses is awesome.
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson — A "Bluebeard" retelling! Need I say more?
Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed — I'm always in the mood to read historical fiction about relationships that form between people of different social classes.
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd — A retelling of The Island of Dr. Moreau but from his daughter's perspective. I need to read the classic first before this retelling.
Reboot by Amy Tintera — People die and are reborn as soulless perfect soldiers, based on how long before they're revived? Count me in!
Poison by Bridget Zinn — A botched poisoning attempt leaves a young potions master on the run from her kingdom. Sounds like a fun new high fantasy!

What debuts have I missed? Let me know what your most anticipated 2013 debuts are!

Edit: Apparently The Summer Prince is not a debut. My bad!
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January 13, 2013

Review: Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
Published: 2011, Margaret K. McElderry Books
Series: The Infernal Devices, #2
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fantasy
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Clockwork Angel (my review)

I feel myself dissolving, vanishing into nothingness, for if there is no one in the world who cares for you, do you really exist at all?

While I did enjoy Clockwork Prince as I was reading it, looking back on it, it seems like more in-the-moment enjoyment. In many ways, Clockwork Prince did feel a little bit like a filler novel. The stakes are raised, there are a few new characters and conflicts, but, ultimately, the novel is still a continuation of the Shadowhunters' conflict with the Magister and Tessa's search for identity. Nevertheless, the novel is an entertaining second installment in The Infernal Devices trilogy.

Although the identity of the mysterious and deadly enemy of the Shadowhunters, the Magister, is known, little else is. The Shadowhunter Institute is reeling from the misdirected attack on the vampire de Quincy while the Magister was able to successfully infiltrate the London Enclave with his clockwork devices, kill a few people, and flee with Shadowhunters none the more knowledgeable about him. And now the Shadowhunters are divided: Benedict Lightwood and a few others no longer believe that the London Enclave is in good hands. In response to this challenge, Charlotte and Henry, along with their younger charges, have two weeks to try to shed more light on the Magister and learn just why he's made the destruction of the Shadowhunters into his personal vendetta. In addition to searching for the Magister, Tessa and her friends continue to seek the truth about Tessa's background and just why she's such an desired asset to the Magister.

As with Clockwork Angel, Clare's second novel in The Infernal Devices trilogy is a fast-paced adventure. Many of the conflicts remain the same (which at times made it feel as though Clockwork Prince was not really adding anything new to this series), but the stakes have been raised. In addition to the actual time limit, characters' allegiances continue to be tested and their previously held truths are put into question. With a few exceptions, however, I did not have as much trouble identifying those characters with underlying motivations upfront. Nonetheless, the plot twists were just as exhilarating to read as they were in Clockwork Angel.

The members of our leading trio continue to become further fleshed-out. Tessa will never be a fighter necessarily, but she undergoes a bit of internal growth as she must come to terms with Nate's betrayal, her inexplicable shapechanging abilities, her value to the enemy, and the ever-changing knowledge of her own origins. If I had to describe Tessa in one word, I'd say that she is a trooper. She's a pacifist and has certain expectations for how things should be, but due to her time spent with the Shadowhunters, she's become more adaptable. Will is not quite as enigmatic in this installment, even turning into a more sympathetic character as bits of his past are gradually revealed. The chance to delve into his inner psyche and the reasons behind his actions felt satisfying after enduring so many pages of his sarcasm and bitterness. Jem remains my favorite character, however. He does not possess any traits that make him stand out the way that Tessa and Will do, but he's easily the character that's most true to himself. His problems are not any easier than Tessa or Will's, yet he is the one who remains stoic, compassionate, and kind throughout the novel.

I must admit that the development of the secondary characters is very well done. With the stakes raised, readers are able to witness new growth for both Charlotte and Henry. The Lightwood family, Jessamine, and even other Shadowhunters are given their own conflicts and motiviations. Sophie may be a female servant living in a fantasy-Victorian England, but she is treated like a human (imagine that) and Tessa and others do not dismiss Sophie's mourning over her two friends even when there are currently bigger issues. In fact, overall I appreciated how much Shadowhunters took care of their own. Especially at odds with the socially, economically, and gender-divided Victorian society, the Shadowhunters treated each other with respect and equality. I am not sure the same can be said for their treatment of Downworlders...but I suppose I can't expect everything.

Perhaps the main reason I'm not a fan of love triangles is that I believe most are poorly contrived ways to keep the readers invested in the characters and their relationships. I'd even go so far as to say that some love triangles seem to develop the characters more through their convoluted relationships to others than through the personal development of that specific character. I mention this because a pretty substantial love triangle forms during the course of Clockwork Prince. Of course it centers around our protagonist Tessa. And of course the two romantic interests are Will and Jem, not only Shadowhunter friends but also parabatai. Their bonds of friendship and brotherhood should be more important than any romantic feelings. The added complication that the love triangle features two players whose bonds should be stronger than life itself bothered me to no end. It is also completely obvious that Tessa prefers one of the boys more, yet instead of doing anything, she's simply wracked with guilt. By the conclusion of the book, Clare has guaranteed that any amicable resolution to this romantic entanglement is near impossible.

The Infernal Devices will never be among my favorite YA fantasy series in part, I think, due to the fact that I'm no longer a teen. Although this book had its fair share of annoyances, I have enjoyed the experience of actually reading both Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince so far. I definitely plan on reading Clockwork Princess upon its release.
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January 10, 2013

Review: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

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.
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