Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare I pulled this off the returns cart, labeled new… and discovered only later that it’s a 2010 book that just gone out so much that no one here had a chance to take the New sticker off.
This is a prequel series to a series that I haven’t read, Mortal Instruments, and, as it’s described as horror, probably don’t want to. Also, the original series doesn’t seem to have the Victorian and mechanical elements that make this series Steampunk, the element that first attracted my attention.
It is the early 1870s. Our heroine, Tessa, sails from New York City to join her brother Nate in London after her aunt’s death. He’s sent the tickets and a letter in his hand inviting her, so when she is met by a pair of creepy women – the Dark Sisters, aka Mrs. Black and Mrs. Dark – she is shocked. They tell her that Nate is being held hostage based on her good behavior, and teach her to change shapes, mostly into recently murdered people. All of her attempts to escape are useless, however, until the night before she is scheduled to marry the otherwise undescribed but certainly evil and powerful Magister. Then, a handsome and roguish young man appears in her room and takes her away. Will is a Nephil, a Shadowhunter, whose work on earth is to keep it from being overrun with demons, vampires and the like. Here, unlike in Madeline L’Engle’s Many Waters, the Nephilim are not fallen angels, but angels who live on earth to carry out God’s work. Tess doesn’t necessarily trust the Shadowhunters at the London Institute, either, but she’s willing to work with them as long as they will help her find and rescue her brother.
The Institute is populated mostly with young people of about Tessa’s age. In addition to Will, a stereotypical cad if there ever was one, there’s sweet and open Jem and rebellious Jessamine, as well as two young serving people who are humans with a touch of Sight. Even the director, Charlotte, is only 23. (Her husband is officially co-director, but is a genius type who spends his time building clockwork devices of dubious reliability and is generally unaware of the real world.) There’s definitely a love triangle with Jem and Will both vying for Tessa’s attention in a way that was for me strongly reminiscent of Fruits Baskets – but really all the single young people have a tangled web of unrequited feelings for each other. Unlike Fruits Basket, though, (slight spoiler alert) there is actual kissing in this book. Tessa, a proper Victorian girl, then has to deal with her feelings of having done something so very inappropriate which she knows she doesn’t actually regret. In a modern novel, I’d find this inappropriate, but here, I found it appropriate to the time period, and Clare does a fantastic job with things like the tension of just sitting close to someone you’re attracted to. Despite not getting very far on an overall scale, those kissing and even not-quite kissing scenes were steamy hot. I am not prone to swooning over book boys, but I was here, both over the dark-haired poet boy and the half-Chinese violinist. There’s also politics – both between various factions of Shadowhunters and different types of magical beings – and lots of action, including battles with vampires and clockwork automatons. There were a few instances where the dialogue felt a bit anachronistic, and I wished that Will were not so very clearly pretending to be a bad boy, as usually one should believe people who say they can’t be trusted.
Only after I gobbled the first and the second fat book in quick succession to each other (three days each, maybe?) did I notice that it’s on the children’s and YA’s Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists. The second book’s ending was decidedly bittersweet, and I find myself once again waiting anxiously for a sequel.