Tag Archives: urban fantasy

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

Review: City of Lost Souls

I started reading Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books in January, and I’m up to book 7 in publication order. The next two are both end-of-a-series books (book 3 in the Infernal Devices trilogy and book 6 in The Mortal Instruments series) and now that it’s been about 7 years since I picked up a Cassandra Clare book for the first time I must find out how things are going to end. But I’m not quite there yet. I just finished reading TMI book 5, City of Lost Souls, and I enjoyed it even more than I expected to. No spoilers below for City of Lost Souls, but if you haven’t read the previous four books, from City of Bones through City of Fallen Angels, you’ll probably want to do that before continuing with this review.

cityoflostsoulsAbout the book: Jace is bound to the imposter Sebastian, who everyone knows is Valentine’s evil son Jonathon, though he doesn’t use that name. What’s new is that the dark magic used to bind Jace to “Sebastian” affects his motivations, and thus his actions. When Jace and “Sebastian” go missing from the rooftop Clary left them on, the Clave prioritizes finding them–but the Seelie Queen warns Clary that she might not find Jace in the same condition as she left him. When the Clave tires of searching, Clary and her friends continue not only to try locating Jace, but to thwart Sebastian’s plans entirely so that Jace can be pulled free and clear of the evil influence. This will require spying, lying, and brute force, in the end. Except just as Jace may have been changed by the binding magic, Clary might find a softer Sebastian than she was expecting. Is redemption possible for her brother? Or is it all an act, like her instincts are telling her?

“We’re meant to protect each other, but not from everything. Not from the truth. That’s what it means to love someone and let them be themselves.”

Although Clary and Jace were my favorite characters in TMI books 1-3, they’re becoming more frustrating in these later books. These aren’t exactly short novels, especially books 4-6, so the tension between Clary and Jace is getting a little drawn-out. They love each other, but there’s always some reason they can’t be together the way they want to be. I understand that some romantic tension is necessary to the series–no one wants to read about people being happy and everything going right all the time, and emotion is just as important to Clare’s Shadowhunter books as plot. But the reasons Clary and Jace are being driven apart are getting pretty weird and elaborate at this point, and I wish Cassandra Clare had found some other way to keep the tension alive than to keep planting variations of the same barrier between Clary and Jace. For much of this book, the sections in Clary’s perspective often looked more or less the same: the twisted but repetitive “I love him but I can’t be with him but I love him anyway so I must find some way to be with him” angst, while not much else was actually going on.

But Clary’s not all bad. For the first time in the series, Clary has some real Shadowhunter skill. It’s not just luck or conveniently timed ideas for creating new runes; in City of Lost Souls, we finally see some of Clary’s combat training pay off with learned maneuvers. It’s so good to see her as more than a damsel in distress, and as more than an odd, exceptional case of a Shadowhunter lacking the typical know-how. She’s finally starting to be notable for more than her stubbornness and parentage, which is a huge plus.

“You don’t need anyone’s permission to do anything. You’re Clary Fray. You go charging into every situation without knowing how the hell it’s going to turn out, and then you get through it on sheer guts and craziness.”

And yet, even though the plot is all wrapped up in Clary/Jace drama, some of the other main characters are becoming much more interesting in City of Lost Souls. There are some interesting developments between Alec and Magnus, Isabelle and Simon, Maia and Jordan. Maureen is creeping out from the plot shadows. Camille makes an interesting offer. Rafael refuses to be forgotten. And Jonathon/Sebastian is, as always, a wild card at best. I found some of these other character developments and smaller plot threads more interesting than Clary’s angst for about 3/4 of the book, although Clace did leave off in an interesting situation.

“He was like the ocean ceaselessly throwing itself against a rocky shore, and this Jace was… a calm river, shining in the sun.”

Clare is great at twisting characters so that you never quite know who is who or what they’re going to do next. You might think you do, but then Clare shows a whole other side to their character. Morally gray characters are so much more interesting than bland heroes and villains, especially these morally gray people who all have some connection either to heaven or hell that shapes them in uniquely powerful ways.

And I suspect it will just keep getting better in the final volume, when everything comes together at last.

“If you keep hope alive, it will keep you alive.”

“Battle was like a whirlpool […] Things came at you and then surged away so quickly that all one was really aware of was a sense of uncontrollable danger, the struggle to stay alive and not drown.”

There was also a bonus scene the end of my copy, which I read in conjunction with City of Lost Souls. The scene is called “Becoming Sebastion Verlac,” and features an inside look at Jonathon’s past. This scene disappointed me. No new information is provided through it, and there are no surprises or even points of intrigue. On top of that, it didn’t  quite match up with the commentary from the book proper. In City of Lost Souls, Jonathon tells Clary that when he encountered Sebastian Verlac he hadn’t expected him to fight back. In this scene, the real Sebastian is portrayed as a “trusting fool”, without the presence of mind even to be afraid before his death. Bonus content is always hit-or-miss for me, and this one was a miss.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Even though my feelings about Clary and Jace are cooling off, there’s more going on in this book than the usual penultimate-novel tension build-up. There are some unanswered questions left at the end though, which is making me more eager than ever to finally reach the end of this series. I’m invested in a lot of these characters now, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll all end. I haven’t actually read any of Clare’s series endings yet, but I suspect it’s not going to be a flat happy ending where everyone lives and evil is thwarted forever. Next in publication order is Clockwork Princess, but I want to get to City of Heavenly Fire soon as well, while this one’s still fresh in my mind.

Coming up next: I’ve also recently finished reading Emily Henry’s new release, A Million Junes, a YA magical realism romance. I’ve been reading a ton between the end of June and beginning of July, so I have a little backlog of reviews to work through, and lots of great reads on my TBR for July, so stay tuned. More Cassandra Clare reviews within the month, but first I can’t wait to share everything I loved about the ghosty Romeo-and-Juliet type story of A Million Junes.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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: City of Fallen Angels

I finally picked up Cassandra Clare’s fourth book in the Mortal Instruments series, the fifth book she published: City of Fallen Angels. I won’t spoil anything from this one, as usual, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series (City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass) you should probably check those out first, just in case.

Now, I was pretty darn sure I had stopped after reading the first three in this set, the original trilogy, but I kept having moments of something like deja vu while I was reading this one. I wonder if I did read this one when it was first published and have just somehow blocked it mostly from my mind, because the plot didn’t feel as familiar to me as in the first three books, but there were definitely some people and details that made me think, “Oh yeah, I knew that;” I’m not sure how else I could have known about Simon’s fourteen year-old fan and the return of Maia’s ex-boyfriend and Jace returning to the Silent City. So the jury’s still out on how new of an experience this book was, but I can certainly say I enjoyed it.

FullSizeRender (13)About the book: Clary is finally undergoing proper Shadowhunter training, but she’s still nowhere near as skilled as her friends–except at drawing runes. Jace should be having the time of his life now that he can have a legitimate relationship with the girl he loves, but other things keep getting in the way. He’s having nightmares that leave him afraid of being around her at all. Meanwhile, Simon is feeling the long-standing Nephilim prejudice against Downworlders and vampires in particular, though he doesn’t exactly fit in with them, either. Maia’s past comes back to bite her–or maybe it already has. Isabelle is coming to terms with her place in her family, with her friends, and maybe with her boyfriend, if he’ll stop two-timing her. Alec is also having boyfriend issues, but they’ve been hidden behind a lot of traveling and the standard Magnus glitter. With everyone dealing with their own problems, it’s difficult for them all to realize how the dreams, the dead Shadowhunters, the new (old) vampire in town, and Sebastian’s fate all tie together in a disturbing way that concerns them all.

“…it didn’t matter; the world, the city, and all its lights and life seemed to have narrowed down to this, just her and Jace, the burning heart of a frozen world.”

One way in which this book feels disparate from City of Glass (book 3) is its use of new plot. There are significant details from prior events in this series that come back in City of Fallen Angels, but whereas City of Glass was originally the end of a trilogy with everything from those first three books all coming together inside it, City of Fallen Angels feels like the beginning of something new rather than a continuation of what came before. It seems more like City of Bones, when the group is setting off on an adventure they don’t really understand yet; little mysterious things are happening but it doesn’t all make sense until the last hundred pages or so. And then it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger that will definitely connect this volume to further books. I didn’t expect this one to feel so much like the beginning of a second trilogy, but it does.

On another note, I did not like the weird Clary/Jace situation in this book. It just seems so pointless to me when two people in a book who love each other can’t just talk about their problems and they let them spiral out of control instead until they’re forced to talk about the problems eventually anyway. Exceptions to this rule usually involve a third party who is protected along with the secrets, but there’s no third party here. So that was frustrating, but it did eventually right itself. And really, after the happy ending for Clace at the end of the third book, I’m not surprised to see new problems with very little backbone arriving between them because where can you go from perfection? Everything going right makes for a boring book. I just hope Cassandra Clare has something more substantial in mind for them in the upcoming volumes.

“What they had wasn’t ordinary, or subject to the ordinary rules of relationship and breakups. They belonged to each other totally, and always would, and that was that. But maybe everyone felt that way? Until the moment they realized they were just like everyone else, and everything they’d thought was real shattered apart.”

A side warning: Do not try to look up reminders on who’s who in the Shadowhunter series if you haven’t already read it all. Cassandra Clare ties lots of details together between books and series within the Shadowhunter realm, and it is apparently impossible to double check details online without being spoiled on what’s still coming. This has been a bigger problem for me with the Clockwork series than the Mortal Instruments, but it’s definitely worth noting, and highly annoying.

That said, while I was reading this one, I did really love the connections I spotted to Clockwork Angel, and it seemed like even though I could recognize some names and details from that companion trilogy there may be even more hints at plot points from the Infernal Devices that would be fun to see after having read all of those books, rather than just the previous books in publication order. Cassandra Clare is one of my favorite authors when it comes to cross-novel references to her other works; that level of detail really brings a world to life, and I wish it happened more often in fiction. I like to think of fiction as one giant multiverse, and I wish different parts of it bled together more often.

In the Shadowhunter world, that aspect is especially great because the main characters are all somewhat connected (so far, anyway) so the references to what happened in the past has more emotional appeal and seeing seeds laid in the Infernal Devices trilogy for what will come into New York in the future is also exciting. It’s like the ripple in the pond, every action affecting what comes after it.

Don’t you know better? Hearts are breakable. And I think even when you heal, you’re never what you were before.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I was worried about this one after I didn’t like Clockwork Angel as much as I’d expected, but it turned out there was nothing to worry about. I’m invested in the Shadowhunter world all over again, and even though I’m still wary because my next Clare book will be Clockwork Prince, back in the Infernal Devices trilogy which I wasn’t loving as much this time around, I cannot wait to find out how that series will improve and then get back to the Mortal Instruments for another exciting round of demon-slaying in Brooklyn.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman is more adult than YA, deals with magic in a more scientific/mathematical way than the supernatural nature of the Shadowhunter world, but it contains an interesting band of friends on a magical adventure, fighting the Beast and learning about a secret magical world.

What’s next: I’m currently reading my classic of the month, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in college, and always was a bit sad that my high school didn’t have more mandatory reading of classics like that. So I’m getting around to it now on my own. I will add my thoughts on this one to my monthly wrap-up, but my next full review post will feature Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger, the thrilling just-published companion to All the Missing Girls, a murder mystery told backward. I hope this new edition to the set will be just as interesting.

Which new releases are high on your radar at the moment?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant.

Update: you can now read my complete review of the next book in this series, City of Lost Souls!

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

Review: City of Glass

This year I’ve been rereading/reading for the first time all of Cassandra Clare’s books, and couldn’t wait to pick up her third book, City of Glass. In fact, I’ve been enjoying them so much that  I went ahead and bought the whole series. On sale, of course. This will be a spoiler-free discussion of the third book, but if you haven’t read books one and two yet, check those out before reading further!

mortalinstruments1-3About the book: Clary has been informed that something in Idris may be able to revive her mother. Jace, however, doesn’t want Clary going somewhere so dangerous and will do almost anything to stop her. Simon would do less, but he gets roped into Jace’s scheme in an unexpected way that keeps him in the center of this novel’s intrigue. Clary, of course, won’t let anyone stop her from doing anything, no matter how much trouble she may find in the process. Clary’s plan to save her mother meets a surprising snag related to Valentine and his… assistant. He’s threatening the Clave even more strongly than usual now that the third mortal instrument is within sight, but there is one way he might be stopped. Even if Valentine is thwarted, though, it won’t change the fact that Clary’s heart is breaking. Or will it?

The Clary/Jace romance in these first three books is probably the strangest romance I’ve ever read. There’s a crazy Clace plot twist in this third book which I remembered from my first read seven years ago. With knowledge of how it ends, I had a lot more patience for all the angst, although I found that knowing where Clary and Jace leave things at the end of this book did not make their strange brother/sister/love relationship any more comfortable for me. It certainly is a unique take on a romance obstacle, though, and I appreciate that. It’s definitely a memorable relationship, if relationship is the correct term for a tortured, incestuous flirtation.

“I love you, and I’ll love you until I die, and it there’s a life after that, I’ll love you then.”

On another note, I do think this volume is less funny than the first two. Jace usually has some good lines, and Simon, but even in general Clare’s sense of humor gave me a good laugh in the first two books. This one, though, is more serious, more emotional, and is a little less laugh-worthy. The heavier subject matter in this one is certainly not a bad element, but I thought the difference in tone worth noting.

It also feels like there’s less action for a good chunk of the middle chapters in City of Glass. There’s some drama involved in the initial travel to Idris, and certainly there’s action toward the end of the book when Valentine’s plans wreak havoc for the entire Shadowhunter community, but in the middle there’s a lot of conversation and traveling from house to house for more conversation and then back to the first house and more talking and then back to the second house for more explanations. It’s mostly important information, and backstory is often described by Clare in a way that puts the reader into a sort of involved story-within-a-story, so it’s by no means boring. It even felt a little more typical of teenaged lifestyle, to be in a town/city in separate homes instead of all under the roof of a single Institute, and thinking that whatever it is the characters need to say is so important that they have to go immediately in person to discuss the matter. Of course, in the Shadowhunting world, some of these details actually are life-or-death scenarios, which keeps things interesting.

The funnest aspect for me stemmed from half-remembering bits of who’s who and what’s what from my previous read–there are so many people in this series who are not who they say or think they are, and I found so much enjoyment in trying to figure out who was lying about what. The good guys have faults, the bad guys have redeeming qualities, and everyone is influential for some reason or other. Clare does a great job of bringing back old characters, or introducing new characters with links to people the reader is already familiar with, so with every new name began a new guessing game. This has probably been one of my favorite series to reread for that reason. Even the characters I had strong impressions of being good or evil I had to second-guess because Clare’s writing excels at disguising a character’s true nature until the key moment of its reveal, making these characters feel more real and intriguing every step of the way.

“People aren’t born good or bad. Maybe they’re born with tendencies either way, but it’s the way you live your life that matters. And the people you know.”

An inspiring note from Clare’s foreword included in the edition I read:

“Clary and her friends are heroes who make their stories true–as, in the end, do well all.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. None of these characters are perfect, but that’s what I find so appealing about them. This is the last book in the Mortal Instruments series that I’ve read previously. I remember reading it the first time and feeling like it had a solid ending, but now that I’ve reread it, I can’t believe I was so satisfied by that ending that I didn’t want to read three more books of Simon and his vampireness, and Isabelle and Alec kicking demon butt, and Jace and Clary… well, doing whatever it is they’ll be doing for the next three books now that they know more about their pasts. I will definitely be reading on in this series as soon as possible (taking into account my already full TBR), but before I dive into City of Fallen Angels, I’ll be picking up the next Cassandra Clare book in publication order, Clockwork Angel. This is the first book in her Infernal Devices trilogy, which I’ve also read several years ago, but I remember it even less than I remembered the Mortal Instruments, except I recall having the impression that I liked it even more than the Mortal Instruments books, so I have high hopes.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but I’ll only be reviewing that briefly in my monthly wrap-up, so my next review will feature the next book on my TBR, Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything. This one’s about a teen girl who’s brother lands in jail, and to cope she makes friends with a family who runs a local pizza parlor who remind her that she’s got her own life separate from her brother and his (in)famous behavior. I anticipate having this post ready first thing next week, but in the meantime I have a list post for you tomorrow–my Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time. Stay tuned!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now check out my full review of the next book in this series, City of Fallen Angels!

Review: City of Ashes

I recently read the sequel to Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, entitled City of Ashes. This was a reread, but it’s been seven years since my last encounter with this book, so reading it again now was almost a new experience (I have a horrible memory for plot). Check out how this one compares down below. This will be a spoiler-free review of the second book, but I will mention some details about where we left off at the end of book 1, so if you haven’t read that yet, take a break and check it out before reading further!

cityofashesAbout the book: Clary’s and Jace’s relationship has reached a new level of awkward since their parents waited to reveal that the two were siblings until they’d begun falling in love. Then, of course, the reader must consider that their mother is under a magic spell of unconsciousness and their father is the evil Valentine who basically wants to take over the world with his army of demons. Simon and Jace are both blinded with infatuation, complicating matters with their inability to see what’s right in front of their eyes. There’s hardly time for love, though, with the Inquisitor hounding the wrong people for Valentine’s crimes. Speaking of Valentine’s crimes, it turns out that the mortal cup isn’t the only mortal instrument he’s after, and he’s got dastardly plans for the second object. When most of the adults refuse to see what’s happening, can Clary and her friends stop Valentine before it’s too late?

” ‘I remember you saying that growing up happens when you start having things you look back on and wish you could change. I guess that means I’ve grown up now.’ “

My favorite part of this book, of course, is the characters. Although I wish Clary was a more active participant in the Shadowhunters’ adventures, her role is already broadening in this second volume and I have a sense that it’ll only improve from here. Simon, on the other hand, has been a great character from the beginning, and I loved him even more here. He becomes a whole new person, practically. Although he, too, is a bit of a tag-along at times, Simon is a wonderful character because no matter how much crap he faces, he keeps plowing forward into the unknown. Alec and Isabelle are finally ready to accept that their group is bigger than three now, and though they don’t always like that fact, they’re fiercely loyal and will leave no one behind. And Jace–he’s stronger and funnier than ever, and never gives up. His character is truly tested in this book, and no matter how difficult it may be to make the right choices, no matter how lightly he seems to take dire situations–

” ‘I don’t want to be a man,’ said Jace. ‘I want to be an angst-ridden teenager who can’t confront his own inner demons and takes it out verbally on other people instead.’ “

–he’ll stand on the right side until his final breath, which may come sooner than he thinks. There are so few people who understand Jace, so he can’t help but keep Clary close. He wants something he can’t have with her though, which makes things harder for everyone. Still, in the end he’ll make what is arguably the best choice.

“Not everything Jace did was insane and suicidal, she reminded herself. It just seemed that way.”

We also have a new character in this book–Maia the werewolf. New characters after the first book always make me wary, but Maia makes a nice addition to the story. Allowing the reader to see Maia’s past and grow to appreciate her personality gives City of Ashes more impact when she is one of the characters threatened by Valentine’s new plan. I have a theory about how Maia will grow more involved in the story as the next volume progresses, and I certainly won’t be upset to see her there. She gives the reader a new angle from which to view some of the characters who are already familiar, which helps keep this sequel from becoming repetitive or disappointing after the end of a remarkable first novel.

Last but not least, our villain has some intriguing depth. Instead of being merely evil, Valentine has opinions and ideals that are not entirely wrong–his fault is that he takes his fight for them too far before he figures out which things he is wrong about. He’s blind to the possibility that he may be causing more problems than the problems the Shadowhunters were already facing. With a dark past and some serious cunning, Valentine is the sort of nefarious character that keeps readers guessing. Despite his outrageous methods, he’s not short on intelligence and can spin some remarkable arguments. He’s not quite likeable, but far from dismissable, as any good villain should be.

“Demons, to you, are hideous creatures that leap out from the shadows to rend and attack. And there are such creatures. But there are also demons of deep subtlety and secrecy, demons who walk among humans unrecognized and unhindered.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I originally gave this one a 4-star rating in 2010, but I think that was my petulant teenaged response to the ending going a way I didn’t prefer and the friction between Jace and Clary that (necessarily) slows their relationship. This time through, perhaps with the skewed perspective of knowing a little of what’s coming in book three, I was more impressed with the character growth the reader is shown through the difficulty of the ending for Clary, Jace, and Simon. I think I had more patience for this sequel now that I’m past my own angsty teenager stage. I’m more and more impressed all the time with how well Cassandra Clare draws her readers into the Shadowhunter stories; personally, I’m hooked. Carrying on in the Mortal Instruments series with City of Glass is one of my most-anticipated reading plans for February. Despite how much I know I’ll love the few books I’m reading now in my break between Mortal Instruments books, it’s hard to read other things when I’m so in the mood for the Shadowhunters right now. I couldn’t put down City of Ashes and I can hardly wait to get my hands on City of Glass .in early February.

Further recommendations:

  1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown is perhaps more adult that YA, but if well-developed characters and non-stop action / plot twists are your thing, you absolutely must check out the first book in his dystopian trilogy. Fans of Cassandra Clare will not be disappointed by the world-building and diverse cast of characters in this rebellious tale of an underling seeking to upset the oppressive balance of power on Mars.
  2. Graceling by Kristin Cashore would be another great YA choice for readers who want a little more fantasy in their TBRs with the same great sense of woven plot and smoldering atmosphere that Cassandra Clare utilizes. This is the first in a set of three companion novels, and a staple of YA fantasy. The main character is gifted, or “graced,” with killing, and must prevent her talent from being claimed by the wrong masters.

What’s next: I’ll be briefly reviewing a very short book I read last week (a short story bound in book format)–Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup. It’s a spooky story about a haunted house, a ghost, a mysterious child, a fake psychic, and more. Stay tuned for more info tomorrow!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now read my review of the next book in this series, City of Glass!