Book Review: Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare

February 1, 2012 at 10:36 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

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~
Cheers!

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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~
Cheers!

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