The Clockwork Prince is the sophomore novel of Cassandra Clare’s new series Infernal Devices. Set in Victorian England, it tells the story of Theresa “Tessa” Gray, a ‘warlock’ with no mark, who after the events of the first novel lives in the Institute with Shadowhunters.
It’s always a challenge to write in a setting and/or time you don’t live in and Clare has bravely attempted both. Her research definitely shows as she mentions fashions and even street names of Victorian London. However, at times I felt the dialogue was too modern and punchy, and at times too American. Before you take this a indictment of the book however, it is worth noting that as a writer for a YA audience sustaining the language and customs of the time is difficult. We’re more self-aware now, more outspoken and bold and able to stand up for ourselves, women have more rights and sex and desire is less taboo and is a key theme of YA.
Writing for this audience while keeping in touch with the restraint and decorum is hard and I think Clare’s effort is commendable. Her dialogue is highly cinematic and punchy, she has a great gift for it and this makes her characters more alive and the entire book more visual. Clare does manage to balance the natural teenage onset of lust and love with the social customs well and even when characters act in a way acceptable now, but I imagine beyond scandalous then, she does remember to insert the right amount of self-loathing afterwards.
Love triangles are a staple of Clare’s writing; while the Simon-Jace-Clary mess in the Mortal Instruments never truly felt much of a competition as it was obvious she should be with Jace, sorry just being blunt here, in this series its stronger than ever. As a reader, I emphathised with Tessa’s troubles with her attraction and pull towards both Will and Jem, both great in their own ways.
While Clockwork Angel set up Will as the one for Tessa, oh does Clare pull the rug from under your feet here. This is the book of Jem, the book of falling for adorable James Carstairs. What is even more commendable is the way even when you root for Jem, you feel a genuine sympathy for Will. By the last fifty pages, prepare for your head, heart and emotions to be all over the place as you shift from one extreme to the other. The final section in particular has a real pathos.
As for the plot itself, it’s snappy and makes many kickbacks to the poor position of women in Victorian times. Clare’s women are unusually bold and strong for their time, way way ahead by decade, yet relateable. The main plot concerns the search for the villain of the last book and for a character whose actual appearance is little more than a cameo, his presence is well portrayed and looms over the novel as we learn his history and motivations. I look forward to the next novel and progression of this as my only criticism is that this aspect of the novel at times lagged a little and felt like build up to the next book. That said, for fans of urban fantasy and Cassandra Clare’s other writing, this is well recommended and a fun, pacy read.