September 06, 2010

Victoriana Manna (review of Clockwork Angel; C. Clare)

Clockwork Angel
Cassandra Clare
Walker Books 2010

Magic is dangerous - but love is more dangerous still... When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray arrives in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Friendless and hunted, Tessa seeks refuge with the Shadowhunters, a band of warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. Drawn ever deeper into their world, she finds herself fascinated by - and torn between - two best friends, and quickly realizes that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. (Blurb courtesy of Amazon)

Like many, many others I had been eagerly anticipating Clockwork Angel for some time – although not without trepidation. I, I am ashamed to admit, shy away from most historical fiction and when I had heard that this title was set in Victorian London, I wasn't convinced. Equally, I had worries that I wouldn't like it as much as Clare's Mortal Instruments series. I needn't have worried. Clockwork Angel is extremely enjoyable – and very (if not entirely) different to any of the authors previous outings.

The story itself trundles along fairly slowly, which surprised me as I expected pacy plotting and lots of action a la the Mortal Instruments. In actual fact, the gentler pace is extremely effective. Not only does it instantly set the story apart from its predecessors but it also allows for a wealth of detail. London is winningly, if not flatteringly, imagined as a grey yet vibrant city – filled with noises, smells and odd characters. Due largely to Clare's clever plotting, I never felt that I was being overwhelmed with historical facts yet still felt immersed in the period setting. Each place detailed in the book from the Institute to the Pandemonium Club is beautifully described allowing the reader to create a full mental picture of each scene. However, there is not too much spoon feeding with the descriptions being enough to satisfy curiosity but leaving room for the imagination also. The plot takes off more in the second half at the book but those who expect the rapid action and pace of the Mortal Instruments will be disappointed. There are scenes of fighting, but they are few and far between. Saying that, each of these scenes is gripping and brutal. By limiting the violence, Clare is able to shock more effectively with that which she does write.

The characters are all extremely well realised. Tessa is a great protagonist. Despite her obvious confusion at her situation she remains clear-headed and proactive. She is focused and brave, while also being scared and bemused by her dealings with Will and Jem. Her reactions to both of them rang completely true, as did her interactions with the others in the institute. I particularly enjoyed her ability to stand up for herself – not something I would necessarily have expected considering the period. Will I was initially unsure of – despite the authors ardent claims that he was nothing like Jace (of Mortal Instruments fame), he initially seemed awfully familiar. However, while they share a certain devil-may-care attitude and dry sense of humour I think that Will is an altogether more complex character than Jace – and much darker. With Jace there always seems to be a deep down joie de vivre that Will absolutely lacks. He seems to be completely eaten up by guilt and insecurity and his cruelty in a scene towards the end of the book is quite astonishing. He is not unlikeable as such, but until his story fully emerges I suspect it will be hard to sympathise with him – although the very last page of the book did have me feel really quite sad for him, without even understanding why. Jem is extremely winning. And he plays the violin – I assume most of you know how I feel about musical boys, so this pleased me greatly. He easily could have seemed a bit too nice, too good to be true, but his tragic back story lends him an oddly sinister air that works very well.

Charlotte and Henry are also nicely written – Charlotte in her desperation to prove herself and Henry in his mad scientist absentmindedness. Jessamine, too adds an added dimension as the first unwilling Shadowhunter that I've come across – something I felt was missing in the Mortal Instruments. As always, the inimitable Magnus Bane was a joy to read, displaying again the many facets of his fascinating personality. Something that I found particularly interesting was the relationship between the Shadowhunters and not only their small group of trusted downworlders, but also their human servants. The arrogance of the Nephilim is subtly illustrated in the way that they see these characters without really seeing them. Their attitude to Mundanes is almost like that of someone to a pet – fond, but ultimately dismissive. That reminds me to give a particular shout out for a familiar face rescued from Highgate towards the end of the book. I was delighted to see him and his presence makes me wonder where this trilogy of books will lead...

All in all, Clockwork Angel is a great start to a new series. The steampunk aspect works well and the villain of the piece is suitable menacing, although yet to be fully fleshed out – I look forward to seeing a lot more of him in later books. I see no reason why fans of Jace, Clary and the gang from the Mortal Instruments would not take Tessa, Will and Jem to their hearts. I have, and I look forward to the next installment with great curiosity and glee. Clockwork Angel is, thank goodness, a triumph and one that stands alone perfectly well.

Thank you to Walker Books for sending me this title to review.


Clover said...

Well I'm glad that it's sufficiently different from the Mortal Instruments but just as enjoyable with great characters. I get a little nervous reading historical fiction as well, but am still excited to read this one.