Clockwork Princess, by Cassandra Clare, felt like an overloaded cargo plane lumbering down a runway, trying to get airborne. This is the third book in Clare’s INFERNAL DEVICES series, the Victorian prequel to her MORTAL INSTRUMENTS books, and in this one the soap opera overwhelms the story.
The INFERNAL DEVICES series follows Tessa Gray, an orphaned American who came to London to live with her brother. Tessa was captured by demons and forced to use her unusual abilities for their benefit. Tessa was rescued by Will Herondale, a handsome, reckless Shadowhunter (superhuman demon-fighter) and Will’s parabatai or “blood brother,” Jem Carstairs. Tessa was brought to the Shadowhunter Institute in London for sanctuary. Her own heritage was a mystery. Is she a Shadowhunter herself? A demon? Something different?
This has been the central mystery of the trilogy, and in Clockwork Princess Clare wraps that up in a satisfactory way. The secret of Tessa’s clockwork angel necklace is perfectly managed, and the denouement is an incandescent climax on page 461 of my version. The book continues on until page 572 with nothing to add except a lot of angst about who’s marrying whom.
A lot of time is spent on affairs of the heart. In the first two books, Will, witty and handsome, was also cold and cruel, while the handsome, exotic, sickly Jen was kindness itself. It turned out Will thought he was under a curse that brought death to anyone he loved, so he pushed people away. By the time he was able to acknowledge his feelings for Tessa, Jem had asked her to marry him and she had accepted. Tessa, of course, loves Jem, but is in love with Will. She could end her engagement to Jem (we’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact that in Victorian England a broken engagement was a serious business), but Jem is dying and Tessa can’t bear to break his heart. If Jem dies before they are married, Will’s guilt will keep him from ever approaching Tessa. This would all be fine subtext, as our heroes concentrated on solving the mystery of the villain and the automatons he creates… but it isn’t subtext. It’s text. Our principles talk about it, and think about it, constantly. It’s exhausting.
Cassandra Clare develops a couple other romantic relationships, too, and one, Gideon Lightwood and Sophie Collins, is funny and heartwarming.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Shadowhunter Institute, struggles with a Consul, or Shadowhunter leader, who is so obstructive and obdurate that he forcibly reminded me of Cornelius Fudge. I kept waiting for Josiah Wayland’s true motivations to be revealed, but apparently he is just the clichéd, narrow-minded bigot that he seems to be, creating an unnecessary obstacle for Charlotte. He could certainly have been a real obstacle; for example, he could have been in league with the villain, or been misled by the villain in some way.
Wayland is not the only “Potterism” that shows up here. With Benedict Lightwood’s secret demon vices, he might as well have been named Malfoy. Large parts of this book felt derivative. Wayland is the worst, but the Christmas celebration, complete with a new ghost charged with guarding the Institute, felt like it came straight out of the Harry Potter novels.
I can’t discuss my biggest disappointment with the book without spoilers, but I will say this (to read the spoiler, highlight the text): the information about the Silent Brotherhood that is sprung on us with no development amounts to a “get out of jail free” card for one character and undermines whatever dramatic tension Tessa’s choice would have had. [END]
Clockwork Princess abounds with clever banter and wry humor, and Clare makes good use of the poetry of the Romantics, but the verve and energy that filled Clockwork Angel is conspicuously absent here. The small-group-of-geniuses-fighting-the-stuffy-establishment theme has gotten old, and Clare isn’t offering anything new here. I am starting to worry that this series has run out of steam.