Book Review: Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

April 26, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Okay, I know what some of you are thinking: why on earth is this crazy girl switching in the middle of the series when there’s another City book out? There’s actually a fairly simple answer to this. The Infernal Devices, while technically a prequel to the The Mortal Instruments is actually designed to be interwoven through the second TMI trilogy, and the books build off of each other. This book was meant to be read between City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels, with the forthcoming Clockwork Prince meant to be read between City of Fallen Angels and next May’s City of Lost Souls; Clockwork Princess will follow, finishing out the ID trilogy, and then City of Heavenly Fire will close things out for TMI.

Have I confused you enough yet?

On with the show! (but keep in mind, reading it in the intended order means we get to appreciate some major spoilers from the first TMI trilogy, so if you’re leery, be careful of what you may see below)

Clockwork Angel takes us to 1878 London, a city that trembles on the edge of Progress; clockwork has become an art and steam has powered the way to faster travel, greater transport, and an entire world open to exploration and trade. Tucked away in the seamier areas of the city, however, the dangers of the Shadow World lurk to prey on unsuspecting mundanes, and the Shadowhunters of the London Institute and Enclave are there to uphold the Accords and the Law- when they aren’t squabbling like children past their bedtime. Into this gray, dismal world comes American Tessa Gray, bound for London to reunite with her brother Nathaniel after their aunt’s death. Met at the docks by a pair of intimidating sisters, she’s held captive so they can train her unique talent- the ability to Change completely into another person, living or dead- and hand her to the Magister. Her rescue is only the first adventure in a London ripe with intrigue, danger, a deadly threat, mysterious origins, and people who are rarely what they seem.

Steampunk, along with its steamless cousin of clockwork, is hugely popular right now, but Clare handles it with as much finesse and skill as the gritty streets of New York in TMI. Her London comes alive under grey skies and narrow streets packed with hawkers and vendors, where carriages are a fact of life, one dresses for dinner, and calling someone by their first name without permission Just Isn’t Done. It’s not just a different setting, it’s a different time period, with different expectations and manners and rules. We never question it though; even in the midst of familiar banter and teasing, we aren’t jarred out of the slightly formal language indicative of the time. Seeing a man’s shirt sleeves speaks to familiarity (and a certain level of rudeness) and there is something unbelievably erotic in the act of removing a glove. We’re taken deep into that world and kept there until, breathless, we read the final page and start swearing because we have to wait until December to find out what comes next.

The first character we meet is seventeen-year-old Shadowhunter William Herondale. Which, let’s admit it, made me snerk as soon as I saw the name. We immediately have a solid impression of Will: cocky, arrogant, likes to show off, intensely loyal and protective, and devil-may-care while hiding all sorts of dark and twisty pain and vulnerability. (Sound like another seventeen-year-old Herondale Shadowhunter we know?) It’s too easy to say he’s a copy of Jace, though, or that Jace is a copy of him, because there are so many differences between them. Will lies like he breathes, but the lies are always spoken with the intent of presenting the worse possible facade. He acts as though things touch him but lightly, but he isn’t necessarily a good actor- we see too many flashes of what lies beneath, of what’s missing, and then we have chance to find out that he’s only had five years to polish that act. Only five years, you say? That’s so long! But when you lie with every piece of you, when you’re a genuinely good person who feels the need to hide that at all costs, five years isn’t nearly long enough. He’s tortured and reckless, impulsive, forward, but he doesn’t trust. Finding people he can trust actually scares him, because if he trusts them he might confide in him, and he confides in them, if he shares the burden that keeps him from laughing even as he treats everything like it’s funny, he fears they’ll hate him for it.

Most people let him get away with it because they don’t realize how much lies beneath that carefully cultivated exterior, and the one person who does asks no questiosn about it. And then there’s Tessa. This is a terrifying new world, one whose beauties can be very hard to see under the circumstances, but she has a spine of steel and an unflinching view. She can accept the hard truths, however painful, and continue forward, bruised but brave into what the future may hold. A heroine who loves books as much as she does will always have a soft spot in my heart, but her tartness, her kindness, her curiosity, even her fears make me adore her. Her fasination with seeing herself in the mirror is born from fear, not vanity, and asks a very real question about how much of our identity is defined by the way we look. Her devotion and loyalty to her brother, even as she can clearly admit his faults, is beautiful. She’s perceptive and persistent and feels very deeply, but she doesn’t hesitate to be hard with those who can benefit from that. She has the kind of strength to survive a lot- knowing what I do of Clare’s writing thus far, I’m a little scared to think of what she may be called upon to survive.

Though we don’t see much of him at first, James Carstairs- Jem- is an amazing foil for Will, his parabatai. In that instance, of course, we think of Jace and Alec again, but in some ways, I think Jem and Will display that relationship with more truth, largely because Will reciprocates it more. Will is every bit as intent on protecting Jem as Jem is on protecting Will. On the surface, Jem seems the complete opposite of Will in every way, and not just in the extreme physical contrast. Jem is perpetually mild and light, able to let Will’s more provocative statements go without rising to the bait, but that very mildness conceals incredibly deep emotions. His story is tragic and seemingly without hope but he has a strength that most can only envy (and be infuriated by). His gentleness, despite the horrors he’s seen and survived, and what he continues to suffer, is a choice that clearly illuminates his character. He and Will are very good foils for each other because all those outward differences conceal the fact that, in essentials, these two boys are very much the same, which speaks to how certain things will develop in the future books.

The rest of the characters inhabiting the London Institute are varied and fascinating. Charlotte, tiny and bird-like, absolutely brilliant and desperately fond of all her charges, has to fight for her place as Head of the Institute as a woman very much in a man’s world, and the battery against that position is a physical wound that cannot heal, because it keeps happening. She’s genuinely compassionate, despite her own pain, but sometimes that compassion takes her a step too far. Henry, her husband and an absent-minded brilliant inventor whose inventions rarely come together exactly as he thinks they will (but are nonetheless fairly spectacular), is congenial and mild but there’s somehow something just a little sad about him. Not sad in the sense of pathetic, but sad as in something that lingers within him and makes him understand mechanics so much better than people. Clare has said that YA is not about twenty-something married people, and she’s right, but I very much want to learn more about their marriage, especially given the small things we’re told or witness. Jessamine is…well, Jessamine is a spoiled, entitled bitch, to put it bluntly, who wants nothing more to escape the Shadowhunter world as her parents did, and she doesn’t particularly care how she achieves that. She’s petty and cruel and self-centered, but her fierce desire for an ordinary life can’t help but make us empathize with her a little, especially on the rare occasions where she steps up into the world in which she’s been raised since being orphaned. We don’t get to learn too much about Thomas and Agatha, Sighted humans who work for the Institute, but we do we get to see quite a bit of Sophie, technically Jessamine’s maid, but in reality a sort of general employee. Her scars show more than most but she’s survived the events that caused them, and taken care that she’ll never again be in the position to receive more. She’s the only one without any designs on Tessa, and while she’s too conscious of the divisions between servant and friend, she’s the one person who just sees Tessa, not what she is or what she can do. The Lightwoods aren’t actually part of the Institute, much to their dismay, but…um…SNERK! I laughed SO hard every time we learned something new about the London Lightwoods, simply because there are so many parallels with the present day Lightwoods in TMI. Let’s just say Alec and Izzy inherit some of their traits quite honestly, and the running references to Gabriel’s sister are priceless.

Then, of course, there’s Nate. Nathaniel Gray is Tessa’s older brother and the reason she’s come to London following her aunt’s death, only to be told that he’s been imprisoned and will be killed if she doesn’t cooperate with the Dark Sisters. All of his sister’s energies are bent towards rescuing him, but we slowly piece together the fact that Tessa has been rescuing him for years. We do no favors by trying to conceal from people their own inherent flaws, something Tessa has to learn rather painfully, and his gambling and drinking have put them both in a very bad position time and time again in New York; now, in London, he’s pursued the same course, but there was no one to bail him out of it until the Dark Sisters got their hands on his sister. As much as Tessa loves him, she’s very up front about his shortcomings, which, we come to realize, is why she can be so upfront about/to Will. She’s had lots of practice.

Here are the reasons the book really needs to be read between CoG and CoFA: Camille and Magnus. The name Camille you’ll recognize from City of Bones, when Raphael admits the head of the vampire coven, Camille, is not in town at present. Is there a guarantee that this is the same Camille? Not at all, but there are very rarely coincidences in Clare’s world. Nefarious plots? Absolutely. Coincidences? Not so much. Camille is everything we have come to expect in vampires since Anne Rice got us all fired about them: she is gorgeous, cold, cruel, with an intellect as keen as a blade, and not particularly burdened by any sense of morals. When you have forever, certain things tend to get left by the wayside. She’s also completely ruthless, and perfectly willing to bend information- or at least the delivery of it- to her own advantage. She’s definitely someone to keep an eye one in future books, and not just the books of ID.

Two words: Magnus Bane. Oh my God Magnus! He’s peculiarly unchanged in the way immortal people almost have to be. He still dresses flamboyantly, still has a teasing turn that isn’t entirely cruel-even when sympathy seems like its own kind of cruelty and teasing- and still has an eye for beauty. When he said black hair and blue eyes was his favorite combination, I choked on my soda. He is still, in every way, Magnus, but he isn’t tired yet. Tessa notes that his eyes are full of joy, which isn’t something we see in TMI. There, he’s tired, he’s bored, and he’s hurt, but with a chance to reclaim that joy, tempered by even more experience. And, coincidence being what it is, I don’t think it is one that both he and Camille are in New York.

The details of this series are beautiful, whether they’re in reference to the clockwork mechanisms they come up against or the clothing that, as much as anything else, defines the setting. And, of course, those details can come to stunning importance. In this kind of prequel, especially, when we’re recognizing the blueprints of what came later: vampire motorcycles, Sensors, flashlights, etc, it’s genius. It isn’t just foreshadowing. Certainly they all add in to what gets revealed, but they don’t always build to quite what we think they will. Sometimes it’s just a specific image that repeats, and it’s gorgeous and haunting and usually a little sad, but they’re not the things that define the action. And oh, the action. This book has much more in the way of quiet moments, largely given the more intricate manners and formality of the setting, but the action sequences are breathtakingly written and keep us with one finger under the next page so we don’t lose any time fumbling to turn it.

Despite the many, many somber scenes and pains, there is so much humor in this book. A lot of it comes from the interactions of Will, Tessa, and Jem, of course. Will makes light of almost everything, but Jem- despite playing the straight man- definitely gets in his fair share of wit. The conversation about the ducks…once again choking on the soda, much to the dismay of my notebook. The recurring joke about demon pox is adorable, as is the continued half-amused resignation at Will’s antics (like biting a vampire. Again. At least Simon had the excuse of ignorance and rat instincts, though now I wonder if mundanes can be cured of darkling status by the holy water detox). The “morally deficient” exchange absolutely cracked me up, and there are so many smaller things scattered through, tiny observations that pass in an instant, that keep us from ever sinking too deep into the many pains the characters go through.

As a fair warning, some of you may want to stop reading here: below are some things that caught my attention and made me form my own theories or questions about how some things will play out in the next book. Right or wrong, I have no idea, but if you want to form your own opinions and theories, you might want to avoid mine. And, of course, to avoid spoilers, because theories inevitably give things away whether they turn out to be true or not.

Cecily. We hear the name several times, usually when Will thinks he’s alone and is in a great deal of pain or general misery. I think what we’re being led to believe is that Cecily is in fact Cecily Lightwood, daughter of Benedict Lightwood and sister of Gabriel, and the girl whose virtue Will has reputedly tarnished, and for whom Will might actually harbor a deep affection. Honestly? I doubt it. The name Cecily is tied to Will’s deepest pain, and he wouldn’t bring her up as a joke or as a barb. My theory: I think Cecily is Will’s little sister, someone he failed to protect, which is turn connected to why he showed up on the doorstep of the Institute clutching the Pyxis.

J.T.S. The initials are on a watch that Tessa is handed to give her the connection she needs to Change. Clearly, the initials are significant, but we’re left with no idea who they belong to. This theory is far-fetched, but having jumped into my head it just will not let go. I have no guess what the T stands for, for the other two stick in my mind as Jonathon Shadowhunter, the man who first summoned the angel Raziel and asked for the Nephilim to be created, the very first Shadowhunter. Shadowhunters are, of course, mortal, which would at first glance make it impossible for the watch to Jonathon Shadowhunter’s. He’d be long dead and dust by now after so many centuries or millenia. Except…wouldn’t it create a difference, to be the first? To actually commune with the Angel and ask for that gift for all of mankind? So, couldn’t it be possible that he is still alive? And that if the person who got hold of his watch actually knew him in some way, that could explain parts of that person’s knowledge. It’s a long shot, but it interests me.

Final one: Tessa. Her origins are a mystery, though we learn a little bit more about them. She should be a warlock, and she mostly is, but there has to be a reason why she has no warlock’s mark and why she has the ability to not only Change but also access the thoughts and voice of the people she becomes, in essence truly becoming them. My theory: I think her mother is the child of a Shadowhunter. Nephilim blood is dominant, but there are those who leave the Clave, and while the children are contacted every six years, it’s entirely possible that some could be kept secret or slip through the cracks, especially if the child doesn’t actually know. A warlock is the offspring of a demon and a human, but if that human actually has angel blood, that would change the type of warlock produced, and we’re told that Tessa’s mother didn’t even know what she was, and we already know that she wasn’t the demon. There’s a flaw to that, though: again, the Nephilim blood is dominant, so it would show in Nate, and he is thoroughly mundane. The mystery of Tessa’s origins will have to be addressed eventually, especially considering the clockwork angel and how integral Tessa’s talents are to the action, but I’m rather fond of this theory.

For teasers (and horrible teasing, from time to time), follow Cassandra Clare on Twitter: @cassieclare . She’s really good about interacting with her readers, and you learn all sorts of interesting tidbits, including sneak peeks at things yet to come.

Until next time~


  1. Book Review: City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare « dothutchison said,

    […] This book is part of a series, following City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, and Clockwork Angel. If you have not read these books, there will be spoilers […]

  2. cybermagnetik said,

    What a great web log. I spend hours on the net reading blogs, about tons of various subjects. I have to first of all give praise to whoever created your theme and second of all to you for writing what i can only describe as an fabulous article. I honestly believe there is a skill to writing articles that only very few posses and honestly you got it. The combining of demonstrative and upper-class content is by all odds super rare with the astronomic amount of blogs on the cyberspace.

  3. Thanks said,

    Thanks, this is a cool article.

  4. Redhead Heroines said,

    Great review here! I love how you went into the detail about Will and Jem as parabatai, versus Jace and Alec as parabatai. That was definitely an interesting comparison, and I agree with you, Will and Jem display the relationship more fully.
    – Alyssa of Redhead Heroines
    Book Review of “Clockwork Angel” by Cassandra Clare

  5. elizabeth skidmore said,

    this is a really good book and i love ur review. :)

  6. jasmine said,

    hey i just want you to know by the way i love your books.I love them so much that i went a whole night with out any sleep and finished city of fallen angles. i love the way you added id with the mortal instruments. i love Tessa because she is so much like clary, Jem is like alec, and will of course is like Jace. But there is something added to will that is not in jace making him look really tough with that bastard in him but is really charming. One thing i dont like is that have to wait so long for the 2nd id and 5th mortal instruments. Keep doing what you are doing i love it

    • dothutchison said,

      You do realize that I just review the books, right? I don’t write them. That would be Cassandra Clare, and you can find her on twitter as @cassieclare or at her website, I’m sure she’d love to hear this from you!

  7. miss Tessa Gray said,

    i Love Clockwork angel <3 read all of it in a day. I could REALLY picture myslef as Tessa and i cant wait for Clockwork Prince and Princess

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