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Review: Clockwork Princess

I’m on a mission to read all of Cassandra Clare’s books this year, and after months of feeling like I was stuck in the middle, I have reached an end–not the end, because I still have two collections of short stories and three full novels to go, but I have officially reached the end of the Infernal Devices trilogy. Although I had read the first two books of this series previously, this was my first time through book three, Clockwork Princess. This will be a spoiler-free review, but you should read Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince before continuing below.

clockworkprincessAbout the book: Mortmain’s evil plans are coming to fruition–the automatons are now nearly unstoppable and countless in number. All he’s missing is Tessa, the final piece toward completing his scheme, and he won’t be missing her for long. Charlotte and the other residents of the London Institute are preparing to end things once and for all–if they can manage it, with only nine fighters. More likely, they’ll fight to the death and make no more than a dent in Mortmain’s army. Defeat would mean disaster for all shadowhunters, but the Consul is looking for any excuse to remove Charlotte from power at exactly the wrong time–no one else will help her now. With Jem and Tessa and Will all tangled up in conflicting love and honorable intentions, there are threats of broken hearts on the horizon, as well as the potential end of all Shadowhunters.

” ‘There must always be a first,’ said Jem. ‘It is not easy to be first, and it is not always rewarding, but it is important.’ “

I would easily say this is the best book of the three. The action starts right away, but without the momentary confusion of coming into the middle of a scene. From the beginning there’s a wider range and more equal distribution of character perspectives presented than we’ve seen in the earlier Infernal Devices books–Will, Tessa, and Jem are still our main characters, but the reader also sees secondary points of view early and often throughout the book. Sophie, Charlotte, Cecily, the Lightwoods…

“We see our better selves in the eyes of those who love us.”

First of all, there’s a plot hole here. In this volume, the reader finally learns about Mortmain’s “creation” of Tessa, and what he’s planned for her. But even if he played a role in her existence, how does that explain his knowledge of her unique shape-shifting talent? This is a question for anyone who’s already read this book–if Tessa’s the first of her kind, how could anyone (Mortmain included) have known what specific power she would display, even before Tessa knew?

But back to the review. My only real complaint about Clockwork Princess, and to a lesser extent, the other books in this trilogy, is its length. I do not mind reading long books, but I think most of the issues I had with Clockwork Princess could have been resolved on their own if Clare had been restricted to a shorter page/word count. First we have Jessamine, a largely pointless character. This trilogy failed to make me sympathetic to her case, and her reappearance in this volume provides only a reiteration of information. She does very little to further the plot throughout the trilogy. Secondly, we have annoying repetitions, which I mention in more detail in my review of Clockwork Prince, but which also appear in this book. The reader follows multiple perspectives, which I enjoy, except for the parts where the characters discover the same things at different times and the reader is forced to read a repeat of the same information. I wish Clare would have found a way around that. I also wish some of the Jem/Will/Tessa angst had been left to the reader’s imagination. Because thirdly, we have nonstop angst. It was clear from book one that they all love each other, and the looks and gestures between them would’ve been enough to convey the difficulty of that situation without each character describing their love and pain in every chapter. Will’s curse from book one and Jem’s and Tessa’s engagement from book two (and something else I won’t describe from book three) are the only real changes between the three of them, and yet we are given hundreds of pages of reasoning as to why each of them shouldn’t be in love with the other but is anyway.

That’s a hard point to criticize though, because the overly drawn-out love triangle angst is basically the purpose of the book. The mystery with Mortmain could have fit inside one book if all the relationship drama were removed from the trilogy; after the first book, he’s barely present. We don’t see him at all in Clockwork Prince, and in this book he makes one big play for total control of the Shadowhunter world, which is significant, but hardly takes up 568 pages. I’m not sure it even takes more than 100. Clearly the tension between Jem and Will and Tessa is the majority of the book. And just below that is the romantic tension between the secondary characters…

” ‘Life is a book, and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read. I would read them together with you, as many as I can, before I die–‘ “

Not all of Cassandra Clare’s books are that way. There’s always angst, but this trilogy in particular is full of the complications of love. Others are much more plotty. Clare writes some great plot twists, but very few of them can be found in Clockwork Princess. What can be found, though, is a sort of elegant exploration of love and all its complications. And through that, the largest weakness of this book–its overstated romantic tension–also becomes its main strength.

“Life was an uncertain thing, and there were some moments one wished to remember, to imprint upon one’s mind that the memory might be taken out later, like a flower pressed between the pages of a book, and admired and recollected anew.”

And if you’re only reading for the love story, you’ll appreciate this ending. The last 80-100 pages of this book lay plot entirely aside to explore how things turn out for our main characters after everything settles down.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Personally, I could have done with a little less angst. But the story between all the heartache was well done, and even the heartache had its moments. I admit I was wary of this trilogy when I read Clockwork Angel this year–I didn’t like it as much as I’d remembered, and I was afraid the rest of the series would feel the same; but the three books steadily improved, and I think the rocky start was worth reading just for this third volume. I believe there’s a spin-off series (also by Cassandra Clare) starting publication in 2018, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for that. I’ll also be continuing onward through the rest of the Shadowhunter works, including a read of City of Heavenly Fire in August, which will be another satisfying end, I hope.

Coming up next: I’m presently reading my classic of the month, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Classics reviews only appear in my monthly wrap-ups, so you’ll find my thoughts on Treasure Island there, and my next full review will feature Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game. Ware’s book features a group of boarding school friends who’ve grown up and are dealing with an unexpected death, and the uncovering of lies they’d vowed not to tell each other.

Do you like starting a great series, or finishing it? There’s such a big difference between the anticipation of a great first book and the satisfaction of concluding the last one. While I liked the conclusion better in this trilogy, I think generally I’m a fan of first books–they excite me. Which do you prefer?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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Review: Clockwork Prince

“When I think of you, and you are not there, I see you in my mind’s eye always with a book in your hand.”

I’m reading all of Cassandra Clare’s books in publication order this year, and I’m up to Clockwork Prince, book two of the Infernal Devices trilogy. This is my last Shadowhunter reread for the year, so the next five books will be all new to me and I feel like I’ve reached a milestone in my 2017 Shadowhunters journey. I was a little nervous because I didn’t like Clockwork Angel (the first book in this trilogy) as much as I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised with this second volume. No spoilers for book two here, but please read Clockwork Angel before continuing below.

About the book: The Consul has given clockworkprinceCharlotte two weeks to find the missing evil mastermind Mortmain, or lose leadership of the London Institute. Some of the Institute residents are determinedly helping her achieve this goal, but others make for surprising hindrances to her success. Benedict Lightwood wants control of the Institute for himself and will stop at nothing to wrest it from Charlotte; his leadership, of course, would leave the Institute uninhabitable for Charlotte’s friends, as well. Benedict would be enough to handle on his own, but there is also the slippery nature of Mortmain and his helpers to contend with, who always seem to be a step ahead of the Institute crew. These two adversaries Charlotte and her adoptive family must deal with at once are almost more than they can manage–but not so much to keep the teenaged orphans too busy to fall in love, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

“You are in love and you think that is all there is in the world. But the world is bigger than you […] and may have need of you. You are a Shadowhunter. You serve a greater cause. Your life is not yours to throw away.”

About the characters: in Clockwork Angel, I was put off by how rudely all of the characters seemed to be speaking and behaving toward each other. In Clockwork Prince, the reader is given explanations for some of the more deliberate cases of rudeness (which doesn’t quite excuse them from being so awful to each other, but at least it shows the reader that they’re not always cruel, soulless creatures intentionally hurting each other). Furthermore, one of the main characters’ pasts is examined much more closely in this novel, providing evidence for the fact that underneath the insults lies a caring heart.

“There is a soul under all that bravado. And he is really alive, one of the most alive people I have ever met. When he feels something, it is as bright and sharp as lightning.”

Speaking of character development… I should mention that so, so much of this book seems dedicated to a certain love triangle. SO MUCH LOVE TRIANGLE. I mean, all three of the triangle characters are fully developed and a choice is made, but there’s no getting around the triangle. I think several relationships within and surrounding this triangle would’ve been forced to a very different place if either of the two suitors had been aware of the other’s pursuit, but alas, all of the one-on-one friendships/relationships growing here seem to be occurring primarily in private. I’m guessing that the final decision of who will be with whom will have to be remade again in book three, when they’re all finally honest and open with each other and the full truth comes out. All the secrecy is unsustainable.

“I feel myself diminished, parts of me spiraling away into the darkness, that which is good and honest and true– If you hold it away from yourself long enough, do you lose it entirely? If no one cares for you at all, do you even really exist?”

While Mortmain evades capture, hundreds of pages focus instead on the characters constantly present, and all their complicated feelings. All of the “research” and “discoveries” made by the Institute’s Shadowhunters involve little to no contact with their adversaries, or even, hardly, with acquaintances who may be able to help. There are a couple of brief conversations, but overall there is little advancement in any regard but romance in Clockwork Prince.

“I had always thought one could not be truly lost if one knew one’s own heart. But I fear I may be lost without knowing yours.”

A non-romance-related writing tactic worth noting is the repetition involved in the revelation of information in Clockwork Prince. These characters are each independent, but they all also have unique relationships inside the group, in which information is revealed piecemeal. The reader will learn a bit of a character’s past, and then the narration will remind the reader that other characters do not hold the same information, and later page space will be taken up by those other characters learning what the reader has already been told. It can be interesting trying to piece together new layers to clues that are divided this way, but it’s annoying to be given a piece of information and then forced to wait patiently as the other characters continue guessing at a truth that has already been revealed to someone else. A key point of Will’s past is disclosed in Clockwork Prince, for example, and I believe I read the same information about it three times as different characters discovered it, with several incorrect guesses and assumptions mixed in between. Each instance focused on the shock of the reveal all over again, rather than presenting unique perspectives or additional layers to the information that would have provided the reader with something new to discover through the repetition.

And yet, the emotions and mysteries of the characters drive the plot steadily onward, and there is less general unpleasantness than I found in Clockwork Angel.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I’m still not loving the series, but this one did improve my opinion of it and I suspect the third book will be even better. This one was definitely an improvement from Clockwork Angel, and I’m still planning on reading onward to see if it keeps improving. I first started reading this trilogy in 2012, I think, and I read Clockwork Prince for the first time right after its release, so I’m excited to finally be getting around to finishing the series. For as much as I loved all the Shadowhunter books when I first experienced them, I’ve been putting off reading the endings for an awfully long time, and I’m ready to fix that. Next up in publication order will be City of Lost Souls, and then on to the third and final book in this trilogy, Clockwork Princess. I have high hopes for wrongs being righted there.

Further recommendations:

  1. Cassandra Clare quotes lots of classics in the Shadowhunter novels, and especially in the Infernal Devices trilogy. If you like the Clockwork books, you should check out some of the novels that inspired Cassandra Clare–like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  2. Shakespeare also makes a few appearances in references in the Infernal Devices; if you want something a little more poetic but just as classic and inspiring, try Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play full of magic and revenge and romance.

Coming up Next: I’ll be reading my classic(s) of the month next, both of Harper Lee’s books. I only review classics in my monthly wrap-ups, so you’ll have to wait until then to find my responses to Lee’s books. I think I’ll take a short break between them though, to read another book from my May TBR, so my next review will be of JP Delaney’s The Girl Before, a recent thriller about two girls who’ve inhabited the same apartment space and found similar disaster within.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now read my full review of the next book in this series, Clockwork Princess!

Review: Clockwork Angel

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 inclockworkangel 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.

Further recommendations:

  1. 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).
  2. 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?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant