Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Review - Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

Summary; So-so urban fantasy, where teenage Tessa Gray arrives in Victorian London, discovers she is a shapeshifter, takes shelter with and falls for the Shadowhunters, all the while searching for her brother and trying to discover the identity of the Magister.

Magic is dangerous - but love is more dangerous still... When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray arrives in London 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. 

Whoop whoop. Hip-hip-hooray. Cassie Clare's done it again - churned out another mediocre YA fantasy, complete with recycled plots, poor description, a piss-poor attempt at steampunk, melodrama villains and characters plagiarized from her very own work. Welcome to the world of The Infernal Devices Trilogy, yet another attempt by Clare to pad out her original Mortal Instruments Trilogy. Gotta hand it to the woman, she sure knows how to keep a cash cow flowing.

If you happen to be a Londoner or historian, be prepared to punch everything in plain sight when you read Clare's depiction of Victorian London. Queen Vicky's London was a flawed and fascinating one - a far more intriguing setting for a novel than Clare's watered down version - brimming with hypocrisy, classism and misogyny. It was the wealthiest place in the world, yet had a massive crime rate and thousands of occupants were living in poverty. Sex was an unspeakable taboo, meaning rapists were rarely brought to justice. Society was incredibly racist, homophobic and oppressive. Yet to read Clare's London, a reader would be forgiven for believing that all anyone did was quote great literature, talk like a pretentious arsehole, be shocked and faint at pretty much anything, prance around in fancy dresses, or play-act at being a swashbuckling hero. In short, it's a caricatured and Disneyfied version of British history, one that reads like the extent of Clare's research was a series of cut-and-pasted Wikipedia articles. (AKA, Cassie Clare, quoting a few lines of Great Expectations does not a steampunk make!)

As well as barely attempting the basic definition of steampunk - reflecting a social commentary on said historical society - Clare seems happy to stick with poor caricatures of common Victorian cliches, made worse by the fact they're historical expies of the original Mortal Instruments cast; Tessa/Clary, Will/Jace, Jem/Simon/Alec and Jessamine/Isabelle. It's a genuine shame, as a couple of characters show honest potential as interesting heroes. Jem is mildly intriguing, but it's Tessa's foil Jessamine who seems like a potentially complex and compelling person, but again, she too falls victim to Clare's lazy development, and as a result, becomes a depressingly familiar stock character.

Clare's weak characterizations are made worse by her unrealistic romances. Like her early pairings of Draco/Hermione and Draco/Ginny from The Draco Trilogy, and Jace/Clary from The Mortal Instruments, Clare attempts another smart-ass-bad-boy-is-redeemed-by-cute-girl romance, this time in the form of Tessa/Will. It still hasn't worked. Will is an unappreciative wanker, Tessa lets him walk all over her, and somehow, this is supposed to create burgeoning romantic chemistry. (Once again, Clare's supporting cast unintentionally end up as more sympathetic than her designated heroes). Despite the occasional good one-liner, Tess and Will have zilch compatibility with one another, and if I hadn't been overly familiar with Clare's romance formula, I would have been surprised when I found myself reading their first kiss.

Unfortunately, the deriving from her earlier works doesn't stop with the romances and characters. The plots are glaringly similar, as well as kick-starting the plot with both heroines searching for a missing family member (Clary - her mother, Tessa - her brother), they discover their families are entwined in the supernatural world, end up learning that they are way too special to be boring old humans and instead become super-speshul powerful magical beings.

It's not only derivative of her own writings, it's derivative of the stock formula of the average teenage urban-fantasy novel of today. For a woman publishing her fourth novel, it is appalling storytelling and a depressing sign that Clare's writing has not yet matured since her infamous days of The Draco Trilogy.

However, there is the occasional saving grace that makes ploughing through the novel possible. One of the more enjoyable components of the Mortal Instruments was the mythology of the Shadowhunters, the Nephilim and the Downworlders. The adoptive family of the Institute too is occasionally touching. (However, I can't buy the idea of 23-year-old Charlotte being the governor of the Institute).

Still, a mildly interesting mythology, appearance of Magnus Bane, and occasional good one-liner can't save a derivative and poorly written novel. Clockwork Angel is a rip-off of a rip-off, and for this reason, I am not planning to set aside anytime for Clock Prince and Clockwork Princess.

2/5. It's got a couple of entertaining moments, but honestly not worth it unless your a hardcore Cassie Clare fan.

1 comment:

  1. Okay seriously, I'm just going down your blog and every post is so interesting to me that I need to comment! Aside from my fanfics, I'm currently writing a Victorian steampunk novel called Meridian. It has a few supernatural characters and when I was doing some research to see what was already out there, I found this book. I think on her website it let me read the first 100 or so pages for free, and I closed the window within 10 or so pages. I couldn't finish it. I had thought the plot seemed promising, but the writing didn't cut it.