Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare: Book review

(Clockwork Princess coverSpoilers follow.)

Oh boy this is a stupid book.

I honestly don’t mean “stupid” as an entirely bad thing – I like plenty of things which are “stupid”, and there’s nothing guilty or ironic about my affection for them.  I mean “stupid” as in, Clockwork Princess is unashamedly romantic and melodramatic and hand-wringing and bosom-heaving. And if that’s what you’re reading this series for: fine. You’ll love this final instalment. Everyone’s paired off neatly, more or less, and everyone gets a tidy ending. Hurray.

I guess I’m more about plot than romance, though, and the plot is disappointing. For starters, it’s thin, so thin the novel’s sharp-clavicled cover model would look at it and be like “Seriously, eat a sandwich, plot”. But it seems weightier than it is because half of every page is devoted to characters ruminating on the exact same problems they were ruminating on a chapter ago. (“I love Tessa but Jem loves Tessa, woe!” “I love Sophie but Sophie is a mere servant girl, woe!” “Gideon tricked me into wasting scones, woe!”) There are whole pointless chapters you can just glance over without losing the thread of the story – which is a hallmark of Clare’s work, and not a great one.

It’s the resolution to the plot that’s most disappointing. (Book, I am disappoint.) Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince told us that Tessa, our immortal heroine, has mysterious powers unknown even to her, which make her vitally important to the cunning plans of Mortmain, our villain. Well, Mortmain seems to do a pretty good job building an unstoppable army of robots without relying on Tessa, and even after finishing this book I’m still not clear on exactly why he needed her so badly. (Something to do with using Tessa’s shapeshifting ability to make her transform herself into Mortmain’s dead father, so Mortmain can access dear old dad’s memories and make his automatons even more powerful. Or something. Like, is that all.)

And the ending just feels so… easy. Tessa is torn between her love for two best friends, Will (who’s beautiful and arrogant and less of a dick than he seems) and Jem (who’s beautiful and kind and suffering from a fatal illness that will kill him any day now). She ends up with Will, but not because she has to make any sort of sacrifice or choice: Jem – impossibly, implausibly nice Jem- goes and joins an order of immortal monks (… kind of), despite saying early on that he’d never do that, freeing her up to marry Will. Easy. But then, after a century or so, when Will’s long dead, Jem leaves the order and hooks up with Tessa anyway. Even easier! So she ends up with both of them. The cake is both had and eaten.

And Mortmain is defeated pretty easily, because Mortmain is a dull villain who’s evil mostly just because he’s evil (another Clare hallmark), much as Clare tries to flesh him out with a backstory. He exists because someone needs to be working to destroy Tessa and Jem and Will and the rest of their demon-fighting Shadowhunter friends, right?

I kind of feel bad coming down harshly on Clockwork Princess. It is what it is. It’s not terrible. (And it’s a lot better and more inventive than the increasingly over-the-top Mortal Instruments series, which this Infernal Devices series precedes). Other people will read this book for much different reasons than I did. And those people will probably like it a lot better.

Previously: Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare; Clockwork Prince, Cassandra Clare


Book review: Clockwork Prince, Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Prince, Cassandra ClareClockwork Prince is Cassandra Clare’s sixth book, on top of a heap of her fan-fiction, so by now we know what kind of writer she is. More importantly, she knows what kind of writer she is, and Prince is laden with her hallmarks: zippy banter; (borderline pretentious, questionably necessary) literary quotes and references adorning every other page; irresistibly beautiful but tortured bad boys to entice the plucky heroines.

It’d be so easy to write Clare’s books off as florid trash – and they are certainly floridly trashy – except there’s something about them that just works. Even when the dialogue sounds more like something from a contemporary teen drama than 19th-century Victorian London, you keep reading. Even when the stakes of the plot seem to have nicked out for a cigarette break (a long one), you keep reading. Even when Clare tosses in yet another “They almost kissed but something interrupted them”-style, super-melodramatic cliffhanger… yeah.

(Minor spoilers ahead for Clockwork Prince‘s prequel, Clockwork Angel.)

The “clockwork prince” of the title is Mortmain, a shady fellow with ties to London’s Downworlders – Clare’s collective term for vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and other supernatural riff-raff. He had a hand in the mysterious birth of Tessa Grey, who’s grown up to learn she can take on anyone’s physical appearance, though she’s still yet to discover the true origins and nature of her power.

In Angel, Tessa fell in with London’s Shadowhunters, particularly the handsome but emotionally unavailable Will – a character delivered straight from the Cassandra Clare Factory for Devastatingly Handsome But Emotionally Unavailable Male Leads – and his kind-hearted best friend Jem. In Prince, the trio is tasked with uncovering Mortmain’s dastardly master plan, which apparently involves building menacing robots to kill all the Shadowhunters.

The Shadowhunters spend most of their time gossiping about Mortmain, yet strangely, he never appears in the book named after him. It means there’s never any real threat to Clockwork Prince – no jeopardy. Sure, there’s a subplot about mean Shadowhunters wanting to kick Tessa’s allies out of their headquarters. But there’s never any sense that anything bad will actually happen, and the book kind of shuffles to a close without ever really challenging its characters. In the last few pages I expected something shocking to jump out and ruin everything. It doesn’t.

The problem, I guess, is that Prince suffers from classic “middle instalment in a trilogy” syndrome. It’s a bridge between the origin story and the grand finale, without much to prop it up on its own.

But I doubt that will matter much to Clare’s ardent aficionados, who read these books for one thing: sex. And there’s plenty of that. Sexual tension runs high between Tessa, Jem, Will, and all the supporting characters – conveniently, Shadowhunters’ mores are way more relaxed than those of their Victorian peers. There’s love potions and secret weddings and nighttime trysts and more and more and more and more till the book practically throbs in your hands.

It is ridiculous. And yet, I will keep reading.

Previously: Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare


Book review: City of Fallen Angels, Cassandra Clare

It doesn’t feel right to call Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series “so bad it’s good”. It almost feels right. But – like the first season or so of Gossip Girl – while the books border on trashy, they’re smart, knowing trashy. Not so much “guilty pleasure” as “straight-up pleasure” – I’ve often recommended them as “Like Twilight, but good”.

So basically what happened is this: Clare wrote a trilogy of books (City of Bones, City of Ashes, then City of Glass) about the demon-killing Shadowhunters and their varied adventures and romantic entanglments. Trilogy becomes bestselling trilogy, and when you have a trilogy on your hands you do the sensible thing and extend it. Hence the fourquel City of Fallen Angels (which will be followed by two more sequels, comprising a second trilogy).

Which means Clare has to find more stuff for her heroes – including hunky Shadowhunter Jace Wayland/Morgenstern/Lightwood/Herondale/Whoevenknowsanymore, whose aforementioned hunkiness is endlessly purple-prosed at us; his girlfriend Clary; and her best pal Simon – to do.

And therein lies one of Fallen Angels‘ biggest problems: nothing really happens. The first three-quarters are mostly just melodramatic hand-wringing, with all the meat of the plot at the end.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if the melodrama wasn’t so forced. For example. We’re repeatedly reminded how passionately in love Jace and Clary are, yet their relationship is filled with vague problems-for-the-sake-of-problems. Sure, I get that conflict drives narratives and the course of true love never did run blah blah blah, but the couple’s impenetrable woes eventually become frustrating.

The bigger, unseen problem, though, is the book’s troubling subtext: three male characters (Jace, Simon and newcomer Kyle) physically hurt women, often greivously, and are forgiven because, basically, they weren’t themselves or weren’t in control of their actions at the time, and thus aren’t actually bad guys. This is… worrying, is the mildest way to term it, and I wonder how other readers reconcile it. (I’m guessing “easily”, given the number of rabid fangirls these books have.)

On the bright side, this is the best written Mortal Instruments entry so far (though not as good as in Clare’s spin-off, Clockwork Angel). The previous three books were marred by flat background characters, some of whom are fleshed out a little more in Fallen Angel.


Book review: Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare

I’ve been a reader of Cassandra Clare for a while: in the early ’00s I enjoyed her Harry Potter Draco trilogy (pretty much the only fanfic I’ve ever read, I swear!), I lapped up the Very Secret Diaries like everyone else on the internet, and last year I consumed her The Mortal Instruments trilogy in about a week.

Thus I am qualified to say that Clockwork Angel, the first instalment in The Infernal Devices trilogy, is her best work yet.

So Devices is basically a prequel to Instruments (it’s not necessary to have read Instruments to get Devices, though I’d recommend it), set in a late-19th century London infested with demons and “Downworlders” – Clare’s term for vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beasties. Fortunately regular humans, or “mundanes”, are protected by the Shadowhunters: an elite band of warriors descended from angels (more or less).

Tessa Gray comes to this world from New York City, searching for her missing brother Nate, and soon encounters two teenage Shadowhunters and best friends: the beautiful, arrogant Will (who’s basically the same character as Jace from Mortal Instruments, at least at this stage in the trilogy), and the sensitive, sickly Jem ((for the record: Team Jem! Will is the Bad Boy, and I’m not into the Bad Boy.)) . Naturally a love triangle begins to blossom, as Tessa is pulled into a dangerous mystery building in the Shadowhunter world.

The individual elements of Clare’s works are rarely that original, and that goes for Clockwork Angel – there’s the usual steampunk tropes, familiar demon-hunting tropes, the character-types you’ll find in most YA novels, all wrapped in customary snark – but that isn’t an insult. Clare has a knack for combining stuff we’ve seen into an enjoyable, compelling story.

Clare’s writing adopts a Victorian style which suits her well, but be warned that Angel is very heavily geared towards setting up the next two parts, Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess – don’t pick it up yet if you’re the type of reader who interprets “tantalysing clues” as “frustrating loose-ends”.

Fortunately I am not that type of reader. Clockwork Angel is entertaining, dare I say ripping stuff, crammed with invitingly detailed world-building – I even read it during my lunchbreak at work, and let me tell you, I don’t do that for just any book.