I’m late to the Cassandra Clare party — most readers of steampunk and urban fantasy have been reading her for a while. When she popped up as second in popularity only to Patrick Rothfuss on my Goodreads list of fantasy TBR’s, I decided it was time to give her a read.
Clockwork Angel is about a group called the Shadowhunters, angels in human form who fight demons in Victorian England. It’s also about sixteen-year-old Tessa, who loses her parents in New York and comes to join her older brother Nathaniel in London, only to be abducted by the Dark Sisters. It turns out Tessa has a magical power that no one else has — she can take on the appearance of another human being, living or dead, and even understand their thoughts or experience their memories. The Dark Sisters force Tessa to learn how to use this power, under the threat of harming her brother. They are preparing her to wed the very sinister-sounding Magister.
What is Tessa and how did she come by these powers? The book doesn’t explain much but I’m sure that’s being saved for later sequels. Tessa is rescued from captivity by the Shadowhunters, or more specifically by dark, brooding and oh-so-complicated Will. Her mission to find her brother intertwines with the Shadowhunters’ mission to figure out who is killing people in the streets of London and using their bodies to create strange clockwork people. This “family” of Shadowhunters — Charlotte and Henry, Will and Jem — take her in, protect her, and promise to help her rescue her brother. The question is whether they, like the Magister, really just want to use her powers for their own ends.
If I sound like I’m mocking the book a little, I am. It’s a good read. It’s inventive, action-packed steampunk with angels, demons, vampires, warlocks, and clockwork men that look just like humans. I thoroughly enjoyed it — in fact I think I gave this book five stars when I finished it. But once I put it down it all seemed a little silly.
The characters come off as more stereotype than fleshed out human (or non-human) beings. Tessa is a little on the melodramatic side, Will is way too tormented, and Jem too angelic. Charlotte is the “tough mom” and Henry as “bumbling scientist” didn’t do much for me, nor did the whole idea of these folks living and working together as a family. And the Dark Sisters — why does one evil sister always have to be tall and thin, and the other short and stout?
I did enjoy the setting in Victorian London. Clare clearly spent some time thinking about the characters’ surroundings and the science, medicine, and conventions of the time. But again, some of that could have been much better written. Tessa’s sqeamishness about – gasp – women wearing pants seemed silly given the perils the characters are facing.
You may be thinking, but isn’t this a book written for teens? Tessa is a teen and Amazon says this book is for 9th grade and up. I say it doesn’t matter. If I put this book next to YA reads like Sabriel by Garth Nix or Ship Breakers by Paulo Bacigalupi, they win hands down. Will teens like this book? Probably. Will I recommend it to my nieces? Probably not. This book is vastly better than Twilight but not as good as other YA fantasy I’ve read and enjoyed.