One of my big goals has been to read all of Cassandra Clare’s novels in publication order, including the ones I read years ago and the ones I’ve never read at all. Last week I made time for her fourth book, which is also the first book in the Infernal Devices trilogy, Clockwork Angel. This one I have read before, though I remember it very little and had a vastly different experience than I recall from the first time.
About the book: Tessa Gray’s parents died in her childhood. Now, almost an adult, the aunt who raised Tessa is also gone. A letter and steamship ticket from her brother bring Tessa to Victorian London. When she arrives, she is met by the Dark Sisters, “friends” of her brother’s, who take her away and force her to use her strange magical power to prevent any harm coming to her brother, whom they’ve supposedly imprisoned, as well. Luckily, the Dark Sisters are part of a larger supernatural mystery involving the Pandemonium Club, and so she is found and aided by the local Institute’s Shadowhunters. Even they, however, find uses for Tessa’s power and they tell her all manner of truths about Shadowhunters and Downworld that turn her life upside down while they all work to put a stop to the Pandemonium Club and save Tessa’s brother. Most unusual is the fact that their enemies are neither demonic nor angelic–someone has been creating an army of dangerous clockwork creatures that pose a new and challenging threat to them all because the usual protections against demons do not hinder them. Can a few orphaned Shadowhunters and the young heads of the Institute bring justice to light while they’re also being attacked by this mysterious enemy?
” ‘Sometimes,’ Jem said, ‘our lives can change so fast that the change outpaces our minds and hearts. It’s those times, I think, when our lives have altered but we still long for the time before everything was altered–that is when we feel the greatest pain. I can tell you, though, from experience, you grow accustomed to it. You learn to live your new life, and you can’t imagine, or even really remember, how things were before.’ “
There are some great characters in this series. The Victorian London setting is fun and atmospheric. The plot is complex and unpredictable. There are clear differences between the writing of this book and Clare’s earlier novels that set it apart. I remember loving this book more than any of the Mortal Instruments books I had finished before reading Clockwork Angel for the first time. And yet… when I reread it last week, there were a lot of things I disliked about Clockwork Angel.
The biggest problem I had this time around was finding everyone so much more unpleasant than I remembered. I was highly put off for several hundred pages by the rude things many of the characters said about or to each other. They talked about each other behind their backs, insulted them to their faces, shared personal secrets without permission, etc. Even though they made nice gestures like caring for each other while ill and fighting together when a dangerous enemy appeared, I loathed the way these characters acted around each other. I know Jace can come across as rude or uncaring in the Mortal Instruments, but somehow Will’s comments just seemed so much worse in this book. It didn’t matter to me that another character would claim he didn’t mean what he said, he still said some horrid things I couldn’t condone even as jokes or self-preservation. People’s feelings were hurt. Even Tessa notes within that the book,
“But there is no reason or excuse for cruelty like this.”
And while she does finally tell Will that he’s been inexcusably mean, she’s only talking about one particular instance late in the book. There are so many more things that Will gets away with saying. They all poke fun at Henry in a way that would offend me if I were Henry. Jess is unbearably selfish and entitled; even in the few instances where the narration tries to support evidence of her “bravery,” she is only fighting for her own survival in the same way that everyone else is, and unlike everyone else, Jess won’t raise a hand to defend anyone but herself. These are some of the people who run the Institute.
There are good people too, of course–Jem is probably my favorite Shadowhunter of all time (so far), and even the unpleasant characters have redeemable qualities and moments, but it wasn’t quite enough for me to fall in love with this book again.
” ‘One must always be careful of books,’ said Tessa, ‘and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.’ “
In this case, perhaps it was me who had changed, to have such different opinions of a book I remember fondly.
In addition to the questionable manners of the characters, this book opened with a highly unpleasant situation of kidnapping/imprisonment; London was described as gray and dreary, and there had just been a death, along with the threat of another one. These factors seemed to give the whole story an awful, depressing tone. It wasn’t until the last hundred pages or so (of nearly 500) that I finally became invested and felt my mood toward the book improving. There are some great plot twists, character developments, and general messages about humanity toward the end.
” ‘And one can build one’s own family. I know you feel inhuman, and as if you are set apart, away from life and love, but…’ his voice cracked a little, the first time Tessa had heard him sound unsure. He cleared his throat. ‘I promise you, the right man won’t care.’ “
It took a long time, but finally the book started to turn toward the better.
So many people love this book and this series. I loved this book and series (as much as I had read). I’m not sure if the problems I had with it were real issues in the book, or a reflection of my mood at the time I was reading it, or if I just took small plot points out of proportion. Don’t let my less-than-stellar experience with Clockwork Angel turn you away from this series, because while I didn’t like everything about this first book, I did find the characters interesting enough to keep reading, and I did thoroughly enjoy the clockwork aspects and the plot that developed around them. I will definitely be reading onward, and I anticipate a better experience with the second book.
My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. It grated on my nerves for quite a while, but it ended on a much better (more intriguing, anyway) note than it started on, so I am still planning to read further and am truly looking forward to the next book in this series. Maybe it was actually Clockwork Prince (book two) that impressed me so much with the Infernal Devices series. And I am interested enough in the plot web to want to finally see how it ends, since I never got around to reading the final book in my first try. The next Cassandra Clare book on my publication-order list will be City of Fallen Angels, the fourth book in the Mortal Instruments series (which I can hardly wait to get my hands on), and then I will be continuing on with Clockwork Prince next month. I won’t let this one discouraging experience drag me down, and I hope you won’t either; I remember greatness in the Infernal Devices, even though it just didn’t happen for me in this instance.
- I highly recommend reading the first three books of the Mortal Instruments series (beginning with City of Bones) before reading Clockwork Angel. It’s not strictly necessary, but Clare leaves little details in her books that tie back and forward to her other books and the reader can make the most of these references by reading Clare’s books in publication order. Even if you were to read the Mortal Instruments after the Infernal Devices, I definitely think they’re worth the time (at least the three I’ve read so far are).
- Before reading Clockwork Angel I picked up a Jane Austen novel which, upon retrospect, really put me in the mood and frame of mind to enjoy the setting of this one. Even Clare, while writing the Infernal Devices series, was reading a lot of literature from the time/place of Clockwork Angel‘s setting, and thus some of the classics really fit in well in conjuncture with this book. I’ll be reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte later this month, which Clare read and enjoyed while working on this novel, and Tessa routinely brings up Charles Dickens, but I would also like to suggest Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen to compliment this book.
Coming up next: I’m just coming up to the end of Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall, a mystery/thriller about a deadly plane crash full of wealthy people and shrouded with secrets and scandal. There are only two survivors–an up-and-coming painter with a past full of swimming that saved his life after the crash, and the 4 year-old son of one of the multi-millionaires on board the plane. Stay tuned to find out more.
Are there Cassandra Clare books/series you dislike more than the others? I do like the Shadowhunter novels as a whole, but did anyone else feel like Clockwork Angel just wasn’t quite up to Clare’s usual par?
The Literary Elephant