Review: Cassandra Clare's "Clockwork Angel"




Clockwork Angel is a fun, fast read. It's not a perfect novel by any means, but you're guaranteed a few hours of escapism (escapism of the best kind, Victorian London + clockwork robots).


So I have rule (though since it's not written in stone, I suppose it's more of an enforced pattern). It's about keeping the momentum going with reading fiction; once I finish reading a mammoth "literary" novel I need to follow it up with something short, whether that means a short story collection, a novella, or, let's be honest, young adult fiction. It's a good exercise I think, because while young adult books rarely have prose that will set your intellect on fire, successful YA authors tend to be better at creating tight plots with strong forward momentum;  you enter the world in question from page one, and you can dip in and dip out without sacrificing enjoyment. (Or you can finish them in one sitting, which is also satisfying).

Clockwork Angel sets itself in Victorian London, where babe in the woods Tessa has travelled to join her brother Nathaniel, her only remaining family. As soon as she arrives, she is captured by the cartoonishly evil Dark Sisters, who hide her away to train her to use an ability she didn't know she had.

When she escapes, she falls into the care of the Brotherhood of Nephilim, supernatural warriors charged with keeping the peace between "Downworlders" (vampires, werewolves, etc) and humans. It's a nifty conceit, because Tessa literally knows nothing about any of these beings, so Clare gets to have fun introducing long familiar tropes to the viewer through Tessa's eyes.

Which brings me to the main criticism of the novel, that Tessa is a "blank-page" character, borne with no personality of her own but has one impressed upon her through the course of the novel. I think there is some merit to that, but it didn't overly trouble me. And once we do get a sense of what she's truly made of, I was satisfied that I hadn't wasted time concerning myself with her fictional fate.

It was sort of odd that I enjoyed the book really, given that at any given point before the last 1/4th, I wouldn't have been bothered if any of these characters were run over by a bus. But by the end, I did care about Tessa and her adopted family (though in the case of "tormented bad boy" Will, I still hope for some sort of horrible death, preferably by cliche).

It's been a long time since I've read a novel that had a cliffhanger ending, that didn't tell a self-contained story of its own. In fact, Harry Potter is the last one I can think of. Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart Trilogy, which this book reminded me of on more than one occasion, still told perfectly whole stories while tying in to a larger mythology. It's frustrating because the next book's not out until September 2011. But Clockwork Angel was certainly enjoyable enough that I look forward to the next book, and the one after that.

If you've read the books, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Where do you think the next novel will go?


When I heard the name Cassandra Clare, it rung a bell that I simply could not place for ages. I did a little bit of research, and she is in fact THAT Cassandra Claire, of the legendary Harry Potter fanfic-world meltdown. This bothered me a little while I was reading the book, I re-familiarized myself with the fact of that case, and have concluded that it's a combination of honest mistake and fandom politics run amok. So I'm over it.

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4 Responses to “ Review: Cassandra Clare's "Clockwork Angel" ”

  1. This is a wonderful review, and I'm glad you alerted me to it. I think part of the problem for me was that I had such high expectations, having heard all the fuss about Clare's previous books. Both Will and Tessa frustrated me to no end, but I think you're right that in the end Tessa does redeem herself somewhat.

    I've been finding the cliffhanger thing to be increasingly common in YA of late (Kirsten Scott's "She's So Dead to Us" is probably the most blatant example I've seen, particularly since it's not advertised as part of a series), and I hope it's not a trend that continues--it feels like a cheap marketing trick to me.

  2. The setting was one of the main aspects of this book that had excited me, and yet, I feel as if Clare didn't really dive into the time period at all. She did a nice job, yes, but it still felt as if the setting was mostly ignored half the time. She just scratched the surface of it by mentioning different clothes and mannerisms. But, either way, I thought it was an enjoyable read - it's very fast paced with various twists and added suspense that makes it a page-turner.

    I was not a big fan of Tessa. I felt the same as you did on the idea that she lacked a true personality. I hope that it will be further developed in the future books. I liked Will, though. He's hiding something, obviously, and I feel like that is what makes him act the way he does. Plus, he completely reminded me of Jace, from The Mortal Instruments, and I loved Jace. Although I believe I have to say Jem was more of my favorite. All in all, I feel as if the book could have been better. It wasn't as good as I had been expecting compared to Clare's other novels.

  3. I actually haven't read any of Clare's other books, so I can't compare. I see what you mean about the setting not being used to its full potential, but there are some beautiful descriptions of London near Blackfriars Bridge. But I figure the setting will come more into play in the sequels.

    This book definitely had the feeling of a 'middle' novel rather than a great introduction. You can't tell where it's going. But like I said, I'm intrigued enough to keep with it.

    Though I hate the cliffhangers, I agree it's marketing hoodwinkery.

  4. Thank you for the insightful review. It is well done and well thought out. You present a great point of view, plenty to think about. I do have to agree with your point of view that I didn't ALWAYS like the characters -- but I felt like the author carried it off in the end.


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