Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess is the last book in a young adult trilogy The Infernal Devices. This review is going to proceed under the assumption that you all know the history of the main characters, mainly because explaining the entire world Clare has created would just take too long. The gist of the series is that our young heroine, Tessa Gray, is an American in 19th century London who learns through a series of events in the first book that she is a supernatural being with the ability to shapeshift into anyone whose personal belongings she holds. Will Herondale and Jem Carstairs are Shadowhunters, a race of people descended from angels who are tasked with protecting humans from dangerous things like demons, vampires, fairies and werewolves. Will and Jem are parabati, a kind of blood brother. They are nonsexual soulmates, if you will; their bond is made all the more poignant by the fact that Jem is slowly dying (the cause is explained in the first book but I’ve forgotten the details – he needs some opium-like drug to sustain life but it won’t keep him around forever). Will loves Tessa. Jem loves Tessa. Tessa loves Will. Tessa also loves Jem. Jem proposes to Tessa and she accepts. Will confesses his love to Tessa and she lies and says she doesn’t feel the same way and he vows to never speak of it to either Jem or Tessa again. In the meantime, there is a villain, Mortmain, who is after Tessa for some grand dark plan to ruin all Shadowhunters and basically take over the world. This is where we begin in Clockwork Princess: Tessa and Jem are prepping for their wedding and all seems well. Until it’s not.
Mortmain has bought up all the supplies of Jem’s drug in order to force Tessa to come to him and help execute his dastardly plan. If she joins him, he’ll send the supply of the drug that Jem needs to survive. They don’t follow through and the rest of the novel proceeds with the Shadowhunters and Tessa struggling to free themselves from the terror of Mortmain once and for all.
Cassandra Clare’s work has mixed reviews all around. She got her start writing Harry Potter fan fiction and moved into creating this and another series of books about the world of Shadowhunters and their enemies. Even if you weren’t aware of her roots, the Harry Potter influence in Clare’s work would be pretty obvious to anyone familiar with Rowling’s wonderful series. I loved Harry Potter, so of course I don’t feel like Clare lives up to Rowling’s wonderful writing and storytelling. However, I do enjoy these novels. Is her work as charming? Not by a long shot, but, it’s definitely entertaining and the Harry Potter series is the luxury automobile of YA supernatural lit, so it’s hard to live up to that anyway. Sometimes her work has been compared to Twilight. I don’t know that it’s really a fair comparison; while I enjoyed reading the Twilight saga I fully recognize that it is terrible writing that has set unrealistic and unhealthy standards in some teenage girls’ minds about love and relationships. Twilight is like eating calcium chews to satisfy a chocolate craving; it’s not really what you want but it’s there and chocolate-adjacent. Tessa is no Bella Swan. Yes, she is a point in a melodramatic love triangle but she also isn’t some helpless oaf under the spell of an emotionally disturbed stalking pedophile (I’m sorry but Edward is like 100+ years old and Bella’s 17 when they meet, so the label stands).
Tessa learns to fight, takes care of herself (as much as possible for a teenage woman in the 19th century), and doesn’t seem to be as helpless and insipid as Bella. She isn’t quite as badass as Hermione but she’s no slouch. Will and Jem are entertaining as the leading men in her life. Will is the damaged and broken bad boy with the heart of gold; Jem is the thoughtful, sensitive young man everyone loves. The other supporting characters are interesting, if a little too similar to each other. Mortmain as a villain doesn’t reveal his motivation for his destructive desires until this book, as far as I can remember, and is at times little more than a cookie-cutter villain.
I enjoyed this book like I do most of this genre of YA supernatural lit. It’s entertaining even if it’s not great literature. It’s melodramatic at times, but I’m kind of a sucker for that. Say what you will about it, but melodrama is pretty addictive (why do you think soap operas were so successful for so long?). One aspect of this book I don’t enjoy as much is the love triangle. I think this is really common in the genre these days and I see why – it’s definitely an easy way to create conflict. It’s just not that realistic, or, if I’m being honest, appealing. Who would really want to be in love with two people at the same time? And have them both be in love with you? The stress would kill me I think. When I’m dating a guy it’s hard enough to work on that – I can’t imagine juggling. Tessa does it respectfully for the most part, and doesn’t wreak too much havoc on the relationship between Will and Jem (which probably isn’t realistic I guess). It’s a really quick read and I am glad I read the series.
The finale of the trilogy is the weakest, however, and I am glad that Clare has decided to limit it to three books. Her other series now has four books and the last couple were diminishing returns and get more ridiculous as they are written. The final showdown with Mortmain wraps up a little too easily; the way in which he is vanquished seems like something that the group might have thought of earlier than was the case (they’re all fairly intelligent folks). This battle happens probably 100 pages before the end, so the wrapping up is a little drawn out and I found myself skimming a lot once I reached that point. All in all I think this book was pretty entertaining, especially for anyone like me who is a sucker for anything set in a Victorian England. The epilogue wraps up a little too nicely but I won’t spoil you with details. Let’s just say I don’t know that it’s realistic that everyone is that lucky. But I guess if we’re talking about angelic protectors, demons and warlocks, I can’t really quibble about realism, can I?