Review: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

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4 out 5 Clockwork Stars

This is the first in The Infernal Devices trilogy. I am a huge sucker for historical fiction set in England, especially London. This is my 2nd read of this series, and I love it so much. This one definitely held up to a second read.

This is the story of Tessa Gray, who has come to England to reunite with her brother. He got a job with their parent’s former employer (they were orphaned) and now their aunt has died, and Tessa has nowhere to go. That is a recipe for disaster when it comes to heroines.

Sure enough, Tessa is immediately thrown into danger. She is in the clutches of enemies as soon as she lands in London. And she’s not the only one in danger. Her brother is missing. It turns out that Tessa has a secret…that even she doesn’t know. Luckily for her, the Shadowhunters come along. Now at first, Tessa is incredibly passive (more on that later). I was getting really upset with that part of the story, but along come Will and Jem. It felt like Clare was holding Tessa back until the boys were in the arena.

First is everyone’s book boyfriend, Will Herondale. He’s incredibly snarky, not unlike another Shadowhunter we know and love, and he’s described as being just as beautiful. But Will’s snark has a dark edge to it. At times, he’s downright cruel. The harder people try to be kind and love him, the harder he pushes them away. I really felt like Cassandra Clare kept plot points and secrets back a lot longer in this series than she did in the mortal instruments. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, and this was the 2nd reading… but Will goes back and forth between charming and really hard to like.

Then there is Jem, and he has secrets, too. He’s half-Chinese and an orphan, like Tessa. He lost his parents to a demon attack and came to England to get away from the vengeful demon that killed them. He clearly has some kind of health issue, and it’s through Jem that Will doesn’t come off as a complete monster. Jem and Will are Parabatai which is a form of bond between two warriors. They clearly have a close relationship, with Will the wild child and Jem the patient, kindly older brother figure. I really love Jem. He’s by far my favorite.

It does bother me that we have a bit of a love triangle in this series -though it’s very slow burning – more slow burning than the fandom makes it seem. The three are really getting to know each other in this book and it hardly feels like a love triangle, but… signs are clear. We are heading for the triangle.

As for plot, we’ve got Tessa in the middle of some diabolical shenanigans. In case you don’t know what a Shadowhunter is, they were gifted by the angel Raziel with heavenly gifts (runes that give them strength and power and that help them in their fight against demons) and they are supposed to fight back any demon incursions into our world and govern Downworlders: vampires, werewolves, fairies and warlocks. There is something special about Tessa and there are downworld forces that are after her for some nefarious reason. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are these automata, neither man nor demon, and so much harder to fight for Shadowhunters. It adds a nice twist, as we see in The Mortal Instruments that Shadowhunters have all the tools they need to fight demons. This ups the danger factor, not to mention the creep factor. It’s a very steampunk/Victorian element.

Along with Jem and Will, there is Charlotte and Henry. They are a young couple that run the London Institute. Charlotte’s father had run it before, and she was appointed on his death. However, she’s a woman, and no one is okay with a young woman running the institute, not at this point in time. As a result, the idea is to make people think Henry is actually in charge… or that is the idea. Unfortunately, Henry has no interest in even keeping up appearances that he controls anything. All he cares about (or appears to) is his workshop. He’s an inventor… creative perhaps, but not very good. I like that though he and Charlotte are pretty nerdy, it’s clear they are also Shadowhunters – brave and good in a fight. There are a few times where the baddies try and run away and Charlotte and Henry go racing after them. So nerds, but badass nerds.

Unlike in the other series, in this one we see people who are mundanes who can see the Shadow world, and who glamours don’t work on. We’re told that many families of people with this ability have served Shadowhunters for a long time. Which just kinda adds to the sketchy way they treat mundanes. I don’t know if there aren’t any in the New York and other places we saw in modern times because the practice died out… which makes you wonder what happened to these people. I hope that will be touched on in future books. In this book we meet Thomas the groom/handyman, Agatha the cook, and Sophie, the parlor maid. I love how they aren’t quite like servants you would find in other situations. Charlotte has encouraged Sophie to speak as freely as she wants, especially in regards to Will Herondale and his shit way of dealing with people.

As for things that bothered me. I felt that Clare didn’t have a strong a grasp on the period or British setting. I get that the main character was American but I saw no difference between her language and the way the British characters spoke. The setting slipped into the background – it didn’t exactly feel like historical fiction other the mention of places that anyone with knowledge of British literature would be familiar with. I have read A CRAP TON of British lit – both the original 1800’s literature and historical fiction. So a lot of things really stuck out. I felt that Tessa wasn’t “proper” enough. What controversy, right? I’m all about the feminism, believe me, but for the time, Tessa was way too modern and that took me out of the story. I think for the casual reader, that’s not gonna be a big deal, but if you are really into historical fiction (like me!) it doesn’t ring true.

I also felt Tessa was very passive in the beginning. She didn’t push back at anything that came at her, and that was convenient for the plot at the time.

But for the most part, I just love this series. There’s a lot of clever twists and turns, a few betrayals (I saw one coming and there are characters you don’t trust from the outset, but it didn’t bother me at all, it just kept me intrigued.) I’m looking forward to re-reading the next two books.

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