This is the second book in a series, so if you haven’t read the first one, Clockwork Angel, there will be spoilers below.
Despite all their efforts, Tessa and the Shadowhunters of the London Institute are no closer to finding the Magister, nor to Tessa’s unusual origins. Now an ultimatum from the Council leaves them only two weeks to find Mortmain or the Institute will be taken from Charlotte and Henry’s hands and Tessa will be easy prey for the Magister. Along with self-destructive, charmingly offensive Will, gentle and ailing Jem, and the ever-pouting Jessamine, they’ll have to understand why the Magister is at war with the Shadowhunters if they’re to have any hope of deflecting his purpose.
Every time I read one of Cassandra Clare’s books with my eye toward writing a review, I notice a certain similarity about my notes: they’re almost all about the characters. Sometimes things that really stand out about a character, sometimes the way a character relates to another, or compares to another, the way they interact with others…I have a little over two pages of notes and there are maybe two lines that aren’t about characters. The thing is, I LOVE her characters, largely because she does not spare them a damn thing. If her characters are in a situation where they can get hurt, chances are they will be. It forces them to stay dynamic, to continue reacting to things and adapting to things, and those reactions have a consequence on others that will then force them to react. So, true to form for me, a lot of this review is going to focus on the characters, because that’s what I find most riveting about this book and the others in the series.
I love that we get to start seeing Jem stand on his own a little more, rather than simply being Will’s better-natured shadow. Always being mild and good-humored, which is most of what we see through the first book and into the beginning of this, makes him a little bit of a doormat, and thereby a less interesting character. The slash of temper, of fury and bite and the deep hurt that accompanies that, makes him more rounded and frankly more appealing. Part of that comes from Tessa getting to know Jem better, but part of that is also Jem choosing to put himself forward more, choosing to step out of Will’s shadow.
Through this book we come to understand the parabatai relationship a little better, and through that we come to understand a little better the dynamic between Will and Jem. They chose to bind themselves to each other and finding out their different reasons is especially revealing. Of Will Jem says “When Will truly wants something, when he feels something, he can break your heart”, but Will is an overtly passionate person. He throws himself into things, even when it’s nothing more than a facade or a diversion, but the intensity of what he feels is always out there, vibrating in the air around him like a plucked string. Even when the truth of the feeling is hidden, the intensity of it isn’t. Jem is the opposite; he holds himself back from things, partly from his health and general life-expectancy, and now he’s finally letting himself want something with everything in him, and actually letting himself pursue that. When Jem wants something, truly wants something, he is far more heart-breaking than Will, because his intensity is matched by blinding sincerity.
When it comes right down to it, Jem is a much better friend to Will than Will is to Jem. Will calls Jem his ‘great sin’, proof of one of the many ways in which he is unutterably selfish. Even when Will starts from good intentions he mucks it up somewhere along the way, generally from a complete and total lack of thought. It’s more than keeping people from getting too close to him; it’s that he genuinely hurts the only people who love him in spite of how he behaves. That’s not to say that the relationship between Jem and Will becomes all angst and pain in this book- it doesn’t at all. But it does become more real from incorporating those elements.
I love the bickering amongst the Institute children. Will and Jessamine snipe at each other incessantly, Jem weaves through it with good grace, and Tessa inadvertently makes it worse half the time. Watch teenagers in any group setting and you see the same dynamics, along with Charlotte’s resigned pleas to occasionally behave themselves.
I felt so bad for Charlotte through this book. It’s easy to forget how truly young she is because she’s so weighed down by her responsibilities in the Institute, but she’s only 23 or so. She’s trying so hard with no one to truly help her, and what she can accomplish is significantly diminished in the eyes of her peers because she’s only a woman, and a woman has no business running an Institute. She exhausts herself for so little thanks, and on top of that she has the squabbling children, and the Downworlder relations, and Henry. Oh, Henry. He means so well, but he’s so clueless, except- every now and then, we get a flash of the Harry that lurks behind the absent-minded inventor. When he actually focuses on something, when he pulls himself into the present, we see the man who could be a true partner for Charlotte. He’s aware of the others within the Institute but Charlotte invests herself in them.
In the first book, it was easy to feel sorry for Jessamine. She was so earnestly wistful about the life she wanted it was easy to be sympathetic. After all, the life of a Shadowhunter isn’t easy and it’s not the life she chose- how horrendous a life of that sort must be when it’s against everything you’ve ever wanted. Still, it’s harder to feel sorry for her this time around. She’s so purposefully self-deluding. She’s resentful and rude and flat-out refuses to adapt to reality and changing circumstances. It’s hard to feel any true sympathy for someone that purposefully disconnected from common sense. I understand that she has dreams, but she also has a stubborn streak a mild wide laced with an overgenerous share of hatefulness. I don’t feel sorry for her; I flat pity her.
The secondary characters are amazing. Sophie continues to grow. She’s not a creature in the shadows, for all that a large part of her job is to be exactly that, and she continues to gain appealing aspects. The dynamics between the Lightwood brothers are wonderful. It’s easy to see how certain traits stay in the Lightwood family. Sometimes Gideon and Gabriel have echoes of Alex and Izzy but they’re not mirrors. Gideon is especially intriguing. Gabriel is still young enough that he’ll take his father’s opinions as his own rather than investigate his own, but Gideon has gotten a see a little bit more of the world. He has all the Lightwood stiffness and then some but he also has the wounded charm of someone whose world has fallen around him. Woolsey Scott is just frickin’ hysterical, and I actually really liked Consul Wayland. He’s a very fair man who knows that what is fair isn’t always easy or even kind. Magnus is, as ever, gorgeous. He’s beautifully complicated, and I think Woolsey’s observation best sums up Magnus’ outlook across both series: you can’t save every wounded bird.
Interestingly enough, Tessa is fairly stationary. It’s not that she doesn’t continue to grow and develop but that she’s caught between so many other people that she ultimately ends up in very nearly the place she started. In the first book she was caught between Will and the chance to rescue her brother; here she’s caught not only between Will and Jem but by the expectations placed upon her by the London Shadowhunters and the continuing mystery of her origins. And I love it. We know that Tessa is going to be around long after those in the Institute turn to dust. It’s a fact of her life, an unavoidable consequence of what she is, very much akin to standing still while the rest of the world moves on without you. It’s heart-breaking- but it’s also encouraging because we see how she can approach that with grace and unfailing spirit.
And remember that JG that Jace finds in the Silent City?
Be on the lookout.
Until next time~