Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare.
This is the third and final book in Clare’s Infernal Devices series, which itself is a prequel to her ongoing, longer Mortal Instruments series. And if anyone isn’t aware, the movie of the first book in that series, City of Bone is coming out this summer.
I picked up the first book in the Infernal Devices series blissfully unaware that it was topping teen bestseller lists (how?? I read these several times a week!), only aware that it looked steampunky and I like steampunk. Now I’m addicted – it feels like a junk food addiction, and I’ve been struggling to articulate how these books can feel both beautiful and unhealthy. Warning: there is no way to discuss this without spoilers for the previous two.
Tessa Gray is not a Shadowhunter, but she’s been living at the London Institute for Shadowhunters, headed by Charlotte Branwell, since she escaped from the villains in the first book. Now she’s doing her best to help them. At the end of the last book, she got engaged to sweet Jem, even though she’s equally in love with bad boy Will and broke his heart getting engaged to Jem. (I was really annoyed with her, last book, for getting as upset as she did about this. We’ve known Jem has a short amount of time left to live since the first book, while Will is perfectly healthy and only just working out how to be nice. I really think Tessa made the best possible choice here.) But anyway, while the story opens with this drama and the romance of planning Tessa and Jem’s wedding, events move rapidly along. Will’s younger sister Cecily (still a teen – we are in a world of lots of beautiful teens and a few still not too old adults) arrives from Wales to bring Will home, but is sucked in when everyone at the Institute leaves to help fellow Shadowhunter Gideon Lightwood battle his father, who has turned into a giant demon worm. Naturally, this wins them more enemies on the Council, and the Consul is already engaging in a full-scale letter-writing war to have Charlotte (expecting her first baby) replaced as the head of the Institute. (He was expecting her to be submissive and pliant.) Then, the villain Mortmain, whom we’d all hoped was defeated in the last book, sends his evil clockwork men to bring Tessa back to him. Meanwhile, all of this action and fighting is more than Jem’s fragile health can really bear. In the end, though Tessa’s strapping young admirers would do anything to protect her, it’s up to her to stop Mortmain and his Evil Plans to Take Over the World.
This is a pretty tall book, 570 pages long, and I devoured it in a few days. Clare has that perfect balance of character interest, exciting plot, and beautiful setting that made it impossible to put down. Having a building full of beautiful young teens all of whom are involved in some sort of hopeless love affair contributes to the junk food feeling. They are all too beautiful! And they go sighing around after each other in a quite melodramatic way, which I’m a little ashamed to admit did not stop me from feeling for them. That being said, I was glad to see that the new romances in this book aren’t love triangles. Tessa does much less in the way of self-flagellation over her feelings for her two boys than she did in the last book, which was a great relief, and Will shapes up nicely. Love triangles are both over-done in current teen lit and hard to do well; especially now that Will has got his head on straight again, I really felt that both Jem and Will were good choices, making for a more believable triangle. And Clare resolved the whole thing in a beautiful, unexpected way. And even in the historical setting, Clare gives us equal partnerships in all of the romances, with none of the uneven power balances that bothered me so much in, say, Twilight. The only thing potentially wrong with the book (besides the Drama and sometimes overly descriptive writing) is that I didn’t find it inspiring Deep Thoughts. So maybe it’s the writing style and the feeling that I’m being manipulated so skillfully into not being able to put the book down that makes it feel unhealthy, like eating the whole box of Girl Scout Cookies at once. At least a book binge won’t have bad effects on my blood sugar, right? And if you have thoughts on this book, or on what makes books feel like Real Literature vs. (potentially less worthwhile) Pop Literature, I’d love to hear them.