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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review: "Clockwork Angel" by Cassandra Clare.

“The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel”

Author: Cassandra Clare.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Walker in the UK).

Pages: 496.

Summary (taken from Amazon): 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.

Cover impressions: Cassandra Clare is back and she’s brought some cogs with her. My review of the first book in her Mortal Instruments trilogy, “City of Bones”, was hardly the glowing review of the year, and anyone with a white belt in google knowledge can look up the less than clean history of Miss Cla(i)re and her fandom shenanigans. I bring them up here because, as I mentioned in my first review of her work, her work reads like fanfiction (with one whole passage of it taken from her most famous Harry Potter fanfiction, as you can see from here.) So I knew I’d never read the rest of her Mortal Instruments trilogy (now padded out to an upcoming 6 part series) but when the Mortal Instruments prequel series, The Infernal Devices, was announced and released to great fanfare, topping the New York Times children’s bestseller list, my interest was piqued. The added addition of the increasingly popular steampunk trend also intrigued me since there was absolutely no mention of steampunk in the first series and I wanted to see how Clare handled the topic.

The answer for the more impatient readers – she doesn’t handle it well. Actually, there isn’t much in this book that Clare handles well. The choice of Victorian London for the setting could have been interesting but instead of being given a proper insight into the city’s streets, atmosphere and way of life, we’re given a few generic descriptions that seem to have been taken from research notes without any care. A true setting feels alive, like it’s a character in the story, but here London feels lifeless. The Victorian setting also feels stilted and awkward. Clare doesn’t handle the language change very well as the dialogue reads as inauthentic in style as well as wooden and unoriginal in substance. Occasional name dropping of books from the period (and comparisons made to them) such as “Jane Eyre” does not make an authentic setting, nor does shoe horning in some clockwork creatures make this a Steampunk novel, as it’s been trumped up to be. Steampunk isn’t just about dirigibles, goggles and cogs, it’s about the entire world image it brings up and nothing about this weak attempt at setting the book apart worked effectively. It also doesn’t make sense seeing as this is a prequel series and the Mortal Instruments had absolutely nothing pertaining to Steampunk, clockwork creatures or similar technology. Let’s be honest; Clare’s trying to cash in on a trend and she fails miserably. If you want interesting YA set in Victorian times, try Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart quartet, or the adult Lucifer Box series by Mark Gatiss (also an excellent example of how to write a charismatic jerk the right way.)

Outside of the world itself, the characters are not only derivative and boring with all the Mary Sue connections one would expect from Clare’s writing, they’re the exact same characters as the ones from the Mortal Instruments series. I’m not even exaggerating; they’re exactly the same! Tessa is a carbon copy of Clary (oh, and Tessa Gray – Clary Fray... subtle, Miss Clare), boring Mary Sue super special prettiness and all, even though she shows incredibly moments of stupidity. She’s got this amazing ability and is super special even when compared to the other super special people in the book but is still barely capable of saving herself. I understand the difference in gender roles for the period but Clare sets up certain female characters as strong and capable of looking after themselves, so why not do the same for the supposed heroine? Will is Jace/fanon Draco through and though, because apparently being a complete jerk devoid of charm is still acceptable for a potential love interest in a half baked romantic element if he’s good looking (once again, the less than subtle undercurrent of beauty being the best thing ever is present and accounted for). The shadowhunters also still have the same holier than thou attitude towards humans/mundanes that they had in City of Bones, and yet nobody complains about it. Jem is Simon without the sense of humour and is clearly here just to be the nice, sweet alternative to Will so Clare can show how oh so different he is from Will, and Jessamine is Isabella, a.k.a. the token female character who exists to be a shallow bitch so everyone can see how much better Tessa is. Jessamine actually has some interesting moments, like her worries over never having a normal life, but any potential for depth is thwarted by terrible characterization. Fan favourite – and one of the few things I did like about City of Bones – Magnus Bane is here but with a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend and he barely makes an impact on the story. I was half expecting him to stand on a table and scream “Sexy cameo!”

And herein lies the biggest problem with this book. Clare is ripping off her own series. She’s just lifted characters from her original series and stuck them in a Victorian setting, hoping that petticoats and the London setting will hide her weak writing (also, I got really pissed off at super special American Tessa constantly going on about how terrible London was compared to lovely New York. Whining is still not a viable character trait in my book), although to her credit she has stopped using as many stupid similes as she used to so there’s no mind-boggling references to octopus tendril hair or the like. There are huge chunks of clumsy exposition as Clare shoves in mythology from the Mortal Instruments to make this series seem as if it’s a continuation of the world instead of a straight up cut-copy-paste job and the plotting is dull, derivative, predictable and loaded with plot padding material that's inherently useless to thge actual story, much like City of Bones, which in turn was derivative same old repetitive nonsense borrowed/lifted from her fanfiction. Going all the way back to her fandom days, Clare has proven herself to be a mediocre writer at best and a thief at worst. It’s not just that she plagiarised the fanfiction that made her famous and may or may not have played a huge part in getting her a book deal. It’s not just that her first book series was a giant rip off of her fanfiction that she ripped off of other works. It’s that her next venture, where she could have proven herself to have some creative ideas, often a saving grace in derivative plotting and writing, and just copied something she copied from something else. Essentially, Clare has written a fanfiction of a fanfiction of a fanfiction. And that’s why I cannot give this book anything higher than 1 star.

There will be people who will enjoy this series. Maybe they’ve read the Mortal Instruments, maybe they haven’t, but the writing style is easy enough to read, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read and some people might enjoy the extremely light dashes of so called Steampunk. But for me this book was a complete waste of time. I do not use the word ‘hack’ very often for a number of reasons – it’s overused and often loses its meaning, there’s a wide spectrum for definition when it comes to good and bad writing, et cetera – but when a writer is as lazy as this and clearly cares about nothing beyond jumping on trend bandwagons and making money, then I can say this with complete confidence:

Cassandra Clare is a hack.


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R.R. said...

I'm really surprised. I've had a number of people tell me that CC had actually improved in this novel... but if she's just rehashing characters and plot, then what's the point? That's just lazy and poor writing.

Personally I knew I was going to pass this book up even before your review... this just solidifies the fact that I won't be wasting my time.

Alex Merges said...

>> Essentially, Clare has written a fanfiction of a fanfiction of a fanfiction.

Why am I not surprised? And why can't I stop laughing?

I do like steampunk, and I want to get into it more. Actually dressing up as something relatively steampunk-ish for Halloween. It looks like if I really want to immerse myself, the best course of action would be to avoid this at all costs.

And can I say that the cover looks like an infernal mess? Because the cover looks like an infernal mess.

Anonymous said...

As soon as I read the synopsis I thought the same thing as you: this girl has no original ideas of her own. She's just picking things that are popular, and pasting them over the top of formulaic storytelling. Steampunk? Vampires? How about people write something new for a goddamn change!

fromthisgirl said...

I don't use that word often either, but I was repeating it over and over last night to my husband when we got into discussing this book for the hundredth time. She's just so awful at this and I don't understand why she keeps writing.

I'm going to finish this book, but I'll be complaining the entire way. I'm nearly 200 pages in and I still don't see the point in it ever having been written in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, agreed, agreed. I am so heartily sick and tired of that awful Draco character she writes over and over again, actually making him less likeable with every incarnation. Victorian London as a backdrop was just an excuse for her Mary Sue to wear corsets. As I ranted on my own LJ, WHY did she set it in 1870s London, and then NOT USE THAT FACT? It could have been modern-day London for all the description we were given.

The gender stuff could have been interesting, but as she appears to be sexist herself, CC couldn't have handled it more clumsily.

Oh, by the way, she's just had a book deal for 2 more novels in the original shadowhunter trilogy as well, so there are more to look forward to! With luck she'll get to write these characters over and over again for the rest of her life!

Anonymous said...

Haven't read her stuff and only just found out about her rep. Her title reminds me of Philip Reeve's series Mortal Engines. Of course, I'm just comparing the titles. His third book is called Infernal Devices. And get this, his series actually is supposed to be steampunk. I'm curious enough to read it and see if Clare found inspiration from Reeve.

TS Brookhouse said...

Yikes. And here I thought she might've been getting published because her writing was actually decent. ._. Considering the long list of writers out there whose works are little more than cruel and inhuman arborcide, I guess I shouldn't be that surprised.

Anonymous said...

@ indra2013 - I thought that too! I haven't actually read Clockwork Angel (the pretty cover nearly had me, but my to-read pile is tottering dangerously as it is), but I *have* read the Mortal Engines series. I'm fairly sure Clare won't have 'borrowed' from it - it's arguably steampunk (mixed with a bit of cyberpunk for good measure) but it's not set in Victorian London, the female protagonist is not unutterably beautiful (quite the reverse) and while there is a romance subplot running throughout, it never intrudes on the actual plot (and actually resembles a teenage romance, not 'we are destined to be together, the stars and gods all say so'). *cough* 'Kay, I'm going to stop gushing about Mortal Engines now.

I have to say, this blog is helping me stick to my New Year's sort-of-resolution about not buying/borrowing books until my to-read pile is looking less... menacing.

kokonut_soda said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful review. Well, actually, what I mean is thank you for this wonderfully accurate review. You don't know how much it annoyed me to go on Amazon and see how many 5 star reviews this book got. I seriously don't understand how people can swallow that load of crap that she calls a book and say that it's a good (even a decent) book.

Anonymous said...

A-effing-men. This book was god-awful. I hate Clary, and I hate Tessa. I did read TMI, however, and I liked Jace, even if he is fanon-Draco (I'm a canon-Draco fan)- he's hot and snarky but has a heart. Will, on the other hand, was just a complete asshole who wasn't funny or clever or appealing in any way. Jem had to be the only character in the book that I actually gave even the mildest damn about, and he was barely there.

Thank you for telling the truth about this steaming pile of shit.

Anonymous said...

I agree and disagree with you. I really like the whole idea of the Shadowhunter thing in general, but Cassandra Clare is shit at making anteing sound good. It's like she's bought some sort of beginners guide to writing successful books or something and has in her mind that all her plots and all her characters have to be the same.

I think if any other author (Stephanie Meyer not included) could take the basic shoreline and could breathe life into it, just to add a bit of oomph, I think I would really enjoy it, rather than forcing my way through it.

RogueFiccer said...

Will makes Jace look good, and that's saying something. How can CC think a kid who boasts about whoring and boozing is a guy worth being into? His main ambition is to catch dragon pox, a majikul STD. Real attractive. [/sarcasm]

She says she went to London to research the city for this trilogy (which will probably end up being a series of indeterminate length like MI) and read lots of Victorian fiction to get a feel for the era. *snorts* I've been to contemporary London and--well, you're an idiot to use it as a model for Victorian London. She also tried to emulate the style of a Victorian novel and failed miserably. Tessa is a complete idiot and Claire couldn't seem to decide if Tessa was going to be a wilting Victorian maiden or a contemporary female who knows her own mind and her complete failure to portray Tessa as anything other than an annoying danger to herself and others reflects that.

CC pisses me off because she's a plagiarist and a hack and totally undeserving of being on the NYT bestseller list. If I was forced to choose between her crap and SMeyer's, I'd endure hers, but that's the only positive thing I can say. No, there is something else. Sporking her crap is a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

Um the Gray/Fray thing is actually like that for a reason.
Isabelle and Jessamine are different. Isabelle embraces her power and Jessamine wishes she had none.
Clary is very irrational, Tessa is not.
You sound you like you just skimmed over the summary.
None of you sound like you really understood the book

Crystal said...

Having a different opinion than you about the book does not mean they didn't understand it.

Anonymous said...

"None of you sound like you really understood the book"

well i think i understood the book pretty damn well because there's not too much to understand. it's really simple book with no real deeper message, complex characters or something like that whatsoever.

also if you really like something you cannot observe it as objectively as the person with no emotional bond to it. what i'm trying to say is that maybe you understood the book differently, the way you wanted to understand it, the way it seems to make sense and have some real message.

the thing i don't understand is why everyone loves tessa. okay if you like simple, plain, self-insert characters you go and do your thing, but seriously though. why.

and please stop kissing the ground under clare's feet it's just ridiculous. and pretty pathetic if you ask me. but again, if that's what you like to do, do it, but think it seriously through first. she is a bully and plagiarist with no real talent in writing. think who's cock you suck okay.

anyway, thank you so much for this review, it seriously made my day!

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