Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010
In Clockwork Angel, Clare returns to the world she created in her series, The Mortal Instruments. Clockwork Angel, the first installment in the new Infernal Devices series, is set in London, several hundred years before the events in City of Bones. Tessa, an American, is called to London by her brother, only to find him missing and herself a captive, embroiled in a dark world of demons, warlocks, vampires and Nephilim, those descendants of angels who strive to protect the world from the forces of evil.
The London Clave that shelters Tessa is also home to three orphaned Nephilim, each apparently with secrets of their own. The attraction between Tessa and fiery Will takes center stage. But the quiet, mysterious Jem also falls for her, as Will pushes her away. Which handsome young man will get the girl in the end? Can a Team-Jem versus Team-Will fan split be far off?
The setting in Victorian London allows Clare to explore the roles of women in society. Nephilim women are strong and independent, in contrast to the limitations placed on mundane women. Tessa is understandably confused and torn, while the third young Shadowhunter, Jessamine, longs to return to the safe, restricted role of being a mundane woman. This interesting theme deserved a bit more finesse in its handling because it has the potential to add psychological depth to the basic adventure story.
Fans of The Mortal Instruments will find many parallels in Clockwork Angel. Tessa is a Downworlder raised as a mundane, ignorant of the world to which she really belongs. Her birth, or creation, is shrouded in mystery and she possesses a unique power that no one fully understands, which one suspects will be essential in the fight to come. Characters bear familiar surnames, providing more background to families in the first series, and Magnus Bane also appears. Henry Branwell is endearing as a mishap-prone inventor, developing some of the tools on which Nephilim in The Mortal Instruments relied. Meanwhile, the Shadowhunters face a mortal threat, not from demons, but from an army of automatons.
There were a few disappointments in this book. The clockwork angel of the title has very little role in the story beyond hints at its mysterious and important purpose. The Shadowhunters also seem to be easily deceived. While partially explained by the young age of the Clave leadership in London, it is a bit hard to believe they are so easily fooled. They even ignore a very plain warning from a captured automaton.
Yes, this book is clearly derivative of the original series, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fans will immediately feel comfortable with the setting and premise. But knowledge of the earlier series is not necessary to enjoy this book. The melding of Steampunk to the supernatural genre broadens this series’ appeal. Clare has again succeeded in giving readers an exciting adventure with interesting characters. I couldn’t put this book down and eagerly await the next installment.