Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Angel Was Made Out Of Clockwork

Clockwork Angel
~Clockwork Angel~
The Infernal Devices
Book 1
By Cassandra Clare
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

Considering the disappointment (and rage) I had with the last books I read by Clare, I'll admit that I was expecting yet another rage-fest with Clockwork Angel. To its credit, even with the niggling suspicion that I would hate this book running throughout my consciousness, it managed to leave me with a favorable impression. Unfortunately, I found much of this prequel's storyline to be derivative of the first, and thus while I did not hate it, I can't say I found much to like either. Let the comparisons ensue!

Our main narrator this time comes in the form of Tessa. To her credit, I found her specialness, quest, and mystery much more tolerable than Clary's, but it did sound awfully similar. Seemingly normal young girl suddenly is thrust into the Shadow World, rescued by Nephilim, discovers she has special powers, engages in romance with her savior(s), and seeks the mystery of her origins while aiding in supernatural battles. Same story, different package. However Tessa wasn't nearly as insufferable as Clary. She didn't argue logic, didn't fight facts, didn't stupidly run off on her own to investigate or sacrifice herself. In fact, I can't think of one thing she did that I would call stupid. She's loyal, caring, determined to find (and save) her brother at any cost, and she likes to read! Gasp and da-rool, right?

However, while I wouldn't say she ever acted stupidly, I can't say she acted much at all. Much of the action, the fact-gathering, the hunting is performed by the Nephilim, with her as just the onlooker. Heck, one of the most crucial intelligence-missions is performed while she is out shopping. But based on her upbringing, including a severe lack of battle training, I could forgive her her lesser role in the more action-packed proceedings. At least it was in-character, even if it wasn't all that exciting.

But on to her saviors. Will is essentially Jace 2 - Jace Harder. More cocky, more mysterious, more of a dick to everyone (save Jem) and yet still garners their respect and affection. Again, I wouldn't really call him stupid in any of his actions—he doesn't go out of his way to show how manly he is—but the way he acts with people is horrible. I suppose we're to take it to mean he doesn't want to get close to anyone, that he's pushing everyone away so he's not attached and they're not attached to him. Which would be noble if we had any idea why he was doing it. But no, all we have is a *mysterious past* that he refuses to talk about, one which makes it seem like he just randomly abandoned his family (orphan my ass), and we should be sympathetic because he's a dark and brooding heartthrob.

Gag. Me. With. A. Fork. I didn't buy it with Jace, I'm not buying it with Will.

Jem, on the other hand, is actually swoon-worthy. Kind, artistic, trusting, empathetic, and legitimately tortured, Jem is a character you can sympathize with and root for in a heartbeat. Suffering from an illness with a dark and mysterious origin (revealed fairly late in the book), he still strives to be a noble human being (or Nephilim) with whatever time he has left. If anyone in this series could be described as truly selfless, it would be Jem.

So with all the major players accounted for, how 'bout that romance? For a book that prided itself on romance—considering all that was written in the cover copy—the half-baked attempts at romance were quite possibly the worst thing about this book. Between the very reserved mannerisms of the time period, the heavy-handed part that etiquette played throughout interaction between the sexes, and the horrid showing of Tessa's two suitors, it's hard to call this much of a romance at all.

Obviously the author is trying at yet another Love Triangle, offering our heroine the choice of two boys with their own strengths and weaknesses. But for that to be even remotely plausible, she has to at least have something more than plain affection for both boys. Sure, she's got the hots for Will throughout the story, despite all the horrible, nasty things he does to her. He toys with her, leading her on, and then shuts her out completely and practically calls her a whore, yet she still has feelings for him?! But for Jem all she seems to do is feel pity and friendship. Granted, she eventually figures out that someone else has a crush on him, but she never felt anything before that either. So we're left screaming at her to wise up and drop the bad boy and to start crushing on the clearly better option, which she seemingly refuses to do.

But then it seems very few of Clare's women are ideal role models when it comes to romance. Besides Tessa, we have Charlotte, Jessamine, Sophie, and Camille. Charlotte seems to care less for her husband than for the role having him has afforded her (running the Institute). She tolerates him and appreciates what little he can help with, but hardly shows genuine affection for him. Similarly, Jessamine only seeks a husband who will allow her to move away from the Shadowhunters, seeking a man as a means more than a confidant. Sophie is the most relatable, keeping her affection under wraps and savoring the emotion even if it is unrequited.

And finally Camille, the vampire who once loved a werewolf, but now shares a bed with seemingly any Downworlder to show spite for his killer. While I don't shun her for moving on, or even being outward with her affairs, I do wonder the refusal to seek out love again. Is it damage or trauma that prevents her, or did she even love the werewolf to begin with? Who knows if the grudge she kept was truly of the heart, or if it was merely something to keep the afterlife interesting. Regardless, none of these examples truly inspire much hope for Tessa, or any impressionable readers delving into this series.

On the positive end, I did like the story involving the mystery and villains of the book. The steampunk elements combined with the Heaven-vs-Hell was actually rather intriguing. Having automatons be a kind of work-around for spells and enchantments (no human can do this, only one with Nephilim blood can do that, etc, etc) was clever, and something I hope will be expanded upon in the rest of the series. I'm also interested in the villains' motivations here. I can tolerate general rebellion against their Nephilim 'betters', but I do hope there's something more interesting than simple "for Power" or "because I'm EVIL" being behind everything.

There were also a few familiar faces and names thrown around. Of course, Magnus Bane is a very important character in The Mortal Instruments series, and here he plays much the same role as in City of Bones: a magical information bringer who serves very little purpose in being there at all. There are also characters with the name of Lightwood (presumably ancestors of the current clan in New York) and Herondale (interesting only to those who managed to get through City of Glass) but no major twists involving them have been revealed as of yet. Perhaps they are thrown in simply as nods to fans of the other series, or perhaps they will introduce juicy lore in future books... I guess I'll have to wait and see.

I suppose I can say that yes, I'm interested in continuing the series. While a lot of the elements aren't wholly new, enough are improved or are interesting enough that I'll give the series another go. I do hope there is less of fashion and shopping and Will (doubtful), but so long as the characters stay fairly non-stupid and the drama doesn't take a sudden turn toward the melodramatic, I think I should get some enjoyment from future installments.

Overall, though it took me some time to get through, I enjoyed Clockwork Angel more than I expected. It's still the same Clare as before, just a little more polished and refined. I'd highly recommend it for fans of Clare's Mortal Instruments series, or those who are in the mood for a YA fantasy/steampunk romance. A good bit of violence and a lot of teen angst make me say high school and older would appreciate this most. So if you're feeling the pang of loneliness that only Nephilim can fill, or if you're looking for a supernatural steampunky fling, you might check out Clockwork Angel.

Approximate Reading Time: 6.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Jennifer Ehle
Length: 14.6 Hours
Listened at 2.3x Speed

I always enjoy listening to books written by, or starring non-Americans. Their accents are never disappointing, no matter how extreme they might get for differentiation's sake. And so, I greatly enjoyed all the voices done by Ms. Ehle. My favorites were definitely the Dark Sisters, who were almost disturbingly sweet, but devolved into shrill harpies. Great villains to be sure.

Overall, I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the series. Not too many deviations from the print book, and a standard production should please any listener, though nothing too memorable that would have me preferring this over a print version. It was a very useful tool whenever my attention wavered. So definitely check it out if it's available.

Disclaimer: I read an e-copy of this book for free via Simon & Schuster Inc./SimonTeen's 31 Days of Reading promotion on their website, In addition, I checked out a copy of the audiobook at my local library. I received nothing in exchange for this review.