“Oh, what a fantastic ride!”
That was my first thought upon finishing Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare’s latest work in her world of Shadowhunters. Set in Victorian England, it serves as the first of three prequels to her best-selling The Mortal Instruments series.
Those unfamiliar with The Mortal Instruments will have no problems if this is the first book of Clare’s they read, but avid fans will get much more out of it, recognizing the beginnings of certain elements — explanations of things, and characters, to come.
In Clockwork Angel, Clare easily blends the fantasy/sci-fi of The Mortal Instruments with steampunk, mostly in the form of a creepy-as-hell robot army bent on wreaking havoc on the London Institute and capturing our new heroine, Tessa Gray. Her special ability is the catalyst for all the dramatic action in Clockwork Angel, and believe me, there is so much that readers may find themselves panting.
They may also find their patience exhausted by Will, who is so similar to Jace, it’s easy to forget they are separate characters, except that Will — if this is possible — is even more cruel and cold than Jace. He has some hidden reason for being a jerk (like Jace) but readers only get hints at what it is. The third point in the the book’s potential love triangle is James, or Jem, who is Will’s foil in every way. He’s mature, perceptive and kind, if a bit on the effeminate side. Both boys clearly have feelings for Tessa, but we’ll have to wait for the remaining books in the series to see how it all plays out. (For now, I’m not taking sides.)
As a The Mortal Instruments fan, the highlight of the book was stepping back a hundred years to see the genesis of certain elements. Clare does a fantastic job incorporating details from the previous series into Clockwork Angel. For example, Henry’s constant tinkering eventually leads to the development of the sensor. The alliance with Magnus Bane is strong even in Victorian England. We discover the roots of the Pandemonium Club. And Church the cat … meeeow. (That’s cat for “I’m not going to tell you.”)
The plot, in true steampunk/gaslight fashion, works like clockwork — it’s a well-oiled machine that keeps the reader flipping pages like the second-hand on a pocketwatch. Driving the mechanism is a series of questions, working and fitting together like the teeth on a cog. Some of the questions come to a satisfying conclusion, but most build suspense for the next two books. (What is Tessa? Why was she “created?” What happens to Jem? Why is Will the way he is? What role does Magnus Bane play in this? Do Charlotte and Henry lose control of the London Institute?)
On the whole, Clockwork Angel is a wild ride with plot twists and enough action to render readers breathless. If I really wanted to be nitpicky, I could say the characters are a little too familiar, but considering their last names, there is a good reason for this. Fans will be richly rewarded and Cassandra Clare novices will soon be converted into devotees.
Hang on to your hats, boys and girls: Clockwork Angel is a “whir-click” tick-tock trip.