Wednesday 1 September 2010

Book Review: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Fanfic-writer-turned-pro Cassandra Clare spun up an urban-fantasy trilogy all about the Shadowhunters, supernatural warriors fighting against evil demons. And she provides a solid if flawed prequel to that trilogy in "The Clockwork Angel" -- lots of steampunk automatons, flashy action and romance, but the heroine feels like a bland copy of Jane Eyre.

Tessa Gray came to London to live with her older brother Nathaniel, but instead she was taken prisoner by the malevolent Dark Sisters, who force her to "Change" every day. Then a boy named Will -- one of the Nephilim -- rescues her in an explosive battle with the sisters weird, and whisks her away to the London Institute, where the Shadowhunters coordinate their battles against demonic forces.

Her only hope to find her brother lies in helping the Institute, so Tessa reluctantly joins them in finding the man called The Magister, who apparently rules over all occult happenings in London. Her shape-changing powers are esesential to their plans, but they won't be enough to keep an automaton army from taking over London...

For the record, there IS a clockwork angel in this book, but it isn't really important here. I'm not sure why Clare didn't call this book "The Clockwork Soldiers" -- it's a better representation of what this book contains. Lots of steampunk horrors, magic angel swords, and frequent descriptions of the pretty teenage boys.

Clare's writing is detailed and fairly atmospheric. The beginning of the book is rather cheesy ("Whispers that run through Downworld like a river of black poison") and the action scenes tend to be flashy and over-the-top. But she has a knack for atmosphere, detailed descriptions and some tongue-in-cheek humor from Will ("There was a time I thought I was a ferret, but that turned out to be the opium haze").

Unfortunately, writing Victorian girls is the weakest part of Clare's story. Tessa is a prissy girl who feels like a pallid copy of Jane Eyre, and the constant drumming that she is SUPER-SPECIAL AND UNIQUE leaves her feeling vaguely Mary-Suish. She becomes more interesting in the last few chapters, but that was too late to make me like her.

The supporting characters are far more interesting -- Will is a quirky, quipping warrior-boy who uses lies to cover up his apparently dark past, and Jem is his smarter, more tragic counterpart. Clare also introduces us to an absent-minded inventor, a strong warrior-woman, and a scarred maid. The downside: Jessamine, the "conventional" Victorian girl who is demonized as a selfish brat... but is still more 3-D than Tessa.

"The Clockwork Angel" has some flaws, particularly in its flat heroine, but the last few chapters leave us with plenty of promise for the next two volumes of the Infernal Devices trilogy.


Anonymous said...

I can't bring myself to read anything by this woman again...but your review has me thinking

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