July 8, 2011

review: clockwork angel

Clockwork Angel – Cassandra Clare

Magic is dangerous--but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own. 

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.


Maybe my genre definitions are different from others’ definitions. Clockwork Angel is not steampunk. It’s a gaslight fantasy, a derivative of steampunk, which is fine. There are some steampunk elements—clockwork automatons, namely—but they have a rather small part in the course of the novel, so I wouldn’t classify this as steampunk if you’re looking for something less fantasy, more scientific. Now that’s out of the way…

Clockwork Angel is a gaslight fantasy set in nineteeth-century London, and it is the first of The Infernal Devices series, the prequel to Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. I have not read The Mortal Instruments, and whether or not I read them in the future, that will be decided later. The setting in Clockwork Angel is the dark, muggy London I expect and love in Victorian England, rife with gambling, brothels, and a sinister underworld beneath the genteel surface of British society. Clockwork Angel takes that dark underworld a step further, filling it with Downworlders—faeries, warlocks, vampires, demons, and other sorts of magical creatures. In order to keep peace in the world, the Nephilim—half-angel warriors also known as Shadowhunters—prevent the Downworlders from taking over the mundanes—people born without magic.

The world-building in this novel is solid, incorporating all levels of society in a wide range of characters, as well as giving a definite backdrop to the plot. Never was I confused or uncertain about where characters were. The author did an excellent job portraying Victorian London.

The characters in Clockwork Angels are interesting. Tessa, the main character, is a straightforward person. Despite social rules, she is rather willful, unafraid to speak her mind. She is willing to take action where others, such as Jessamine—one of the Nephilim—would rather sit by and let things happen as they will. But Jessamine has her surprising moments too, where she isn’t the frail, domestic lady that she so desires to be. The other Nephilim are unique, memorable characters—Charlotte, petite head of the Institute; her husband Henry, pitiful inventor; Will, arrogant, demeaning, morally deficient boor; Jem, ethereal and gracious gentleman.

There is romance in the novel, and those scenes do not disappoint. Won’t say more than that—except, finally, a decent kiss scene.

The plot itself is really well done. The twists and turns caught me by surprise, and though the beginning was a little bit slow, I caught myself unable to put the book down once I had made the halfway point. There, the story really picks up, and everything starts coming together, whereas it seemed a bit random and unimportant in the beginning.

Although I was disappointed that the steampunk element was so small, I really enjoyed the novel. The novel felt like something was missing, and I think that was because I was expecting more scientific steampunk rather than fantasy. I love Victorian England, steampunk or not, and Clockwork Angel delivers that amazingly. I cannot wait to read Clockwork Prince when it releases in December.

Reading Level: Young Adult
Format: NOOK Book, 496 pages
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (August 31, 2010)

Rating: ★★★★☆


  1. I enjoyed the novel, but thought Tessa was a pretty weak character for the first 2/3 of the novel. But I have wrote about that at length here:


    Let me know what you think!

  2. I loved it.The ending was great, I didn't expect it and didn't want it to finish. There were surprises throughout that keep you wanting more. I couldn't put it down.

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