Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Review - Cassandra Clare's The Clockwork Angel

The Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices Book 1) by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: August 31st, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

After her Aunt's death Tessa Gray has only one place to turn, her brother Nathaniel. Penniless in New York her brother sends her a lifeline in the form of a steamer ticket to join him in London. But things don't feel right when she arrives in England. Instead of finding her brother eagerly waiting on the docks she is met by the eerie Dark Sisters who show "proof" that her brother had indeed sent them. She soon begins to doubt this as she is imprisoned by the two sisters for weeks and forced to undergo horrific changes while they also claim to hold her brother captive. It turns out that Tessa has a gift. An unwanted gift. Given an object that belongs to someone she can turn into them. She can even get a glimpse of their mind. Or, as is often the case with the Dark Sisters choices, their last minutes on Earth. The change is horrific and just the fact that she can do it makes Tessa question all that she's ever known. She has spent her life living in books, is this someone else's story? Or is she trapped in her own nightmare where she will marry a mysterious figure called the Magister? Then one night an angel appears in the form of Will Herondale. Will and his compatriots rescue Tessa from the Dark Sisters. Realizing that it wasn't all a dream, Tessa must face this new shadow world.

The truth is that Will is literally an angel, one of the Nephilim, a Shadowhunter. He takes Tessa to the London Institute where she will be safe. The Institute is run by Charlotte Branwell and her husband Henry, with Will, Jem, and Jessamine as their wards. They explain the shadow world to Tessa and about it's inhabitants, the Downworlders, such as the Dark Sisters who are warlocks, and others, such as werewolves and vampires. The stuff of penny dreadfuls made real. They found Tessa while investigating a mysterious death of a mundane, what they call regular humans. The truth is they have no idea what Tessa is. Her powers have never been seen outside a warlock, yet she has no markings of one. They agree to offer her safe harbor and help her find her brother, because he wasn't being held in the Dark Sisters house like Tessa or they would have found him. Tessa, besides being shocked by all that she's learned, is almost more shocked by their generosity; she was sure she had just traded one prison for another. But once the investigation is underway things are more complicated than they could have imagined. Vampires breaking truces, automatons wreaking havoc, and who really is the mysterious Magister and why does he want Tessa?

After forcing myself to finish The Mortal Instruments series I honestly didn't know if I had it in me to ever pick up something written by Cassandra Clare again. I am seriously still in awe how anyone could have liked such a badly written series and I am continually surprised that it hasn't come up on charges of plagiarism. Seriously, Joss Whedon and J.K. Rowling's lawyers need to get on this eventually right? Please tell me Clare doesn't get away with it in the end! But here's the catch. Before I'd even started reading The Mortal Instruments I had already bought The Infernal Devices because of the Steampunk aspect. So this left me in a major quandary. I was stuck with this series of books I wanted to sell (in fact this one is a signed first edition!) BUT I have this serious problem wherein I can not sell a book I've bought without reading it. Yes, I knew the chances of it surprising me and actually being good were almost at zero. But the fact remained I own The Infernal Devices and therefore they MUST be read. And that's what Backlog Bonanza is all about! Not just posting reviews that have been left by the wayside, but getting to those books I have been putting off. Books like The Clockwork Angel.

So what can I say about The Clockwork Angel? Well, it seemed awfully familiar. It's been two years since I slogged my way through The Mortal Instruments so I had to do a bit of brushing up, thank you fan wikis, and I was right in the familiarity of the plot. The best thing I can say is that at least she's ripping off her own material now with a side of Rosemary's Baby... Pandemonium Club starts it all, check. Loved one kidnapped, check. Rescue from evil doers and brought to the Institute, check. Party where we meet Magnus Bane, check. Angsty pretty boys, check. It has all happened before and it will happen again. Especially in the world of Cassandra Clare. Just throw in a few, a very few, Victorian trappings and it's another bestseller. Apparently. I think I could have handled the familiarity, because as I said, at least she's ripping herself off, if it wasn't for the predictability. I mean, seriously people, a monkey with rudimentary crime fighting skills could have solved this in three seconds flat. In fact, I think that monkey might be far more entertaining. Each and every big reveal and plot twist was obvious hundreds of pages in advance. At times I almost started tuning out because it was just all so expected. Were there really supposed to be any surprises? Because seriously, no, there weren't. This is formulaic writing in a voice that is so flat it doesn't seem real, just words on a page.

I mean, literally almost nothing happens. Hundreds of pages of words and more words. Oh, and the poetry quotes before chapters? What. The. Hell. OK, so, thing about me, I'm not the biggest fan of poetry quote before chapters. At the beginning of books they're OK, but there's something about them being at the start of chapters that gets under my skin. Unless they really perfectly resonate with what is going on it that chapter they just come off as pretentious. Here, given the writing style; the lack of voice coupled with the fact that Clare can barely form a grammatically correct sentence the pretension is oozing off the page. With Tessa's love and continuous mentioning of Dickens, I mean it's seriously like beating a dead horse here, I started to wonder... how deep does Clare's pretensions go? Does she actually think of herself as a modern day Dickens? Does she think that her books will stand the test of time? Stephen King has admitted that he knows his books won't be remembered, so how exactly will Clare's? I mean, the minimal plot and lots of padding out the pages is Dickensian. But the thing about Dickens that I don't think Clare gets is that he could really write. I mean REALLY write. Perhaps I should add delusional to her pretensions?

Going back to the whole this is just City of Bones with a Victorian veneer, it's not even a very good veneer. Here's some fog, here's some old streets, here's some outmoded ways of thinking, that's all you're getting. In fact, it seemed that it fell to Tessa and to an extent Jessamine to keep reminding us we where in Victorian England, not "Modern Day" New York. It was almost laughable the cliches coming out of Tessa, "Women can't wear pants!" "Women don't do that!" "What do you mean Charlotte runs the institute? She's a woman!" Seriously!?! How about working this into the plot in some way versus just blurting these weird retro and sexist phrases randomly. Oh wait, that would mean the book has to have a plot... doh. It seriously scares me to think that there are perhaps millennials out there at this minute who think that this is what Victorian England was like. It's almost as fantastical as a world with Shadowhunters! As for the "Steampunk" aspect of this book. Adding a few automatons doesn't allow you the Steampunk designation. Cause here's the thing, Steapmunk is about worldbuilding and alternate history and getting lost in "what ifs." Sure, people latch onto the gadgetry, but it's about the story in the end. Something Clare clearly can not comprehend. On may levels.

So, of course, to entertain myself I started thinking about what this book could have been versus what it was. Tessa barely touches on the idea of if she can turn into anyone then who exactly is she. It's mentioned in passing but that's about it. Yet here is the one flash of light that could have grown into a book about identity and who we are inside. That who we are outside isn't who we really are. Tessa has been thrown into this shadow world and everything has been thrown into question. Is she really human? Did she really know the world before? Does her brother really love her? Who are her friends? Who is she? All these questions need answering and yet... These are all questions we have to answer for ourselves in life and the target audience of young adults is when we really start to think about them. This book could have been so much more. It could have been a journey about finding yourself in a world that is strange and disconcerting. Instead it was a badly plotted generic book that was more interested in making eyes at the cute yet troubled boy than exploring the depths of the girl who was making the eyes. I hope that perhaps the next book in the series which I will be forcing myself to read will answer these questions, but I now have a lot of experience with Clare and my guess is that it will not.


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