Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

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.

My Review:
This book would be classified as both paranormal romance and "steam punk." For those of you who don't know what that means (I didn't until I started going to workshops), it's literature that takes place during the Victorian era-- during the time of the steam engine. Most of the books have some sort of mechanical element to them. A good example of this would be the latest Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr.

I really liked Cassandra Clare's first series, The Mortal Instruments, so I knew that I would like this companion series (takes place in same world, but with different characters and in a time period). I assumed that it would keep my interest, assumed that it would be well-written, and that the characters would be compelling. And it was all of those things.

One thing I struggled with, however, is that she changed the POV irregularly. Most of the time, the story is told (3rd person) through the main character Tessa's point of view. But a few times she jumps into other characters' heads.

Generally, books are told from one or two points of view because that allows the reader to get to know those characters-- to experience the story through their eyes. The limitations with this kind of writing is that the reader should know everything the viewpoint character knows. They should discover things at the same time. You can't be inside a character's head for an entire story, and have that character perform some crazy action and say, "I knew I was going to do that all along." The reader feels cheated and thinks, "What? When were you thinking that? I was in your brain this whole time, and I never saw you have those thoughts."

The problem with Clare's story is that she puts you in their heads without revealing their secrets. It puts distance between the readers and that characters because it feels almost as if the character is aware there is someone inside his head, so he's not going to think about specific things. Those "secret" specific things, I might add, shape and direct most of what the characters do.  Having said that, (and I took way too much time explaining it), I didn't think is was a significant detraction from the book, just something I stumbled over.

My only other critique is not with her book specifically, but with most books in a series that are written by a popular author. My personal opinion as that they leave their books too open-ended. They have enough of a following that even the first book of the series doesn't have to have a lot of closure because they know the second book will get purchased. With first time authors, most books (even in a series) have to be written as "stand alones" because the printing of a second book may depend on the success of the first. And nobody really likes to read a book all the way through and not get closure on the story-- at least in part.  But hey, if I ever have four books on the NY Times Best-Seller list, I may take a few liberties like that myself...

Overall, I would recommend this book to others. I wouldn't have a problem with any teen reading it-- there are some sexual references, but it all takes place "off stage" and nothing is described in too graphic of detail. It's a quick read and I think she does a good job of representing the time period while still retaining modern-day sensibilities (although I'm not an expert on this-- so others who know more about the Victorian age may be bothered by it).

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