Artificial Angst: Clockwork Princess/The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare clockworkprincess

Published: March 19th 2013 by Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster

Source: local library

Synopsis: Tessa Gray should be happy – aren’t all brides happy?

Yet as she prepares for her wedding, a net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute.
A new demon appears, one linked by blood and secrecy to Mortmain, the man who plans to use his army of pitiless automatons, the Infernal Devices, to destroy the Shadowhunters. Mortmain needs only one last item to complete his plan. He needs Tessa. And Jem and Will, the boys who lay equal claim to Tessa’s heart, will do anything to save her.

My thoughts: I wrote a review for this series in True Blood gifs, but decided I shouldn’t post it because it didn’t fit the style of my blog (which is sad, because I love True Blood gifs—it’s like the writers produce dialogue with the idea of it being gifed for Tumblr). As much as I enjoy reading book reviews with lots of gifs, I’m not doing them. I’m just telling you why there ended up being a lot of True Blood references in this, even though I rewrote it in my usual style without the gifs.

I know this series is beloved by a lot of people. Several people had me thinking these books were going to be as good as vampire sex is supposed to be in the True Blood world. Smart people. People whose taste in books I respect.

So I broke down and read them.  I approached them with an open mind, as I do with all books I read. I wanted to like these books, but reading them was like getting Bill when I’d been promised Eric. After the first one, I knew these weren’t the books for me, but I decided to read the rest of the series for investigation purposes. I wanted to try to understand the appeal.  Unfortunately, after finishing The Infernal Devices series, I still don’t.

Cassandra Clare’s books just don’t do it for me. They are at best only mildly entertaining. I found the entire series contrived and boring.

WRITING

My main problem with Clockwork Princess (and all of Cassandra Clare’s books) is the writing style. I find it tedious and overwritten. Sure, you can pull out some good quotes. Since Will and Tessa are such bookworms, I like some of their speeches about literature. Some of the dialogue makes me smirk. Will’s snide, snarky comments are endearing. But I’m not convinced there is enough story to fill three books, in a discerning editor were to cut out a lot of filler, tighten the plot, and axe the unnecessary description.

I know some people find these books to be real page-turners. But in my opinion, the pacing is glacial. Especially because of the constant switching of POV, the story drags. I get whiplash from being spun around in so many characters’ heads with such frequency. Honestly, it’s kind of like watching an episode of True Blood in that respect. Clare bounces between characters and shows scenes from different points of view entirely too often.

Don’t even get me started on her use of adverbs. Dude, I love adverbs. But they should be used with discretion. It’s like parmesan cheese on your pizza. A couple shakes kicks up the flavor, but dump the whole container on top and your slice is ruined. Clare shakes out so many adverbs when she writes, it’s like the top fell off her shaker and they’ve just spilled out all over the damn place. I sometimes think that Clare got an extra nickel for each adverb she included because it’s the only reasons I can explain so many.

PLOT

I like steampunk and paranormal, so I thought there was chance I’d get into the story even though the writing style wasn’t my favorite (it wouldn’t be the first time an engaging plot convinced me to overlook lackluster prose). I do actually find the mythology and world-building behind Shadowhunters and Downworlders to be interesting, I just wish the stories that play out and the characters that populate this world appealed to me more. Unfortunately, I just don’t buy the drama.

The stakes don’t feel real, because I don’t believe Cassandra Clare will actually force her characters to make any big sacrifices (just like fandom writers are rarely going to kill off the favorite characters). There is a lot of talk about epic dilemmas in the series. There are big questions about Tessa’s origins. Jem’s death as a result of his illness looms as a possibility, seeming inevitable, from the beginning.  Will is built up to be an irredeemable asshole but ends up having a big change of heart after learning he’s not really cursed. But nothing very much happens to inspire changes in the characters. They are attacked by some magical machines a few times, they are blackmailed, Tessa makes a “big sacrifice,” Will runs off after her, there is the “showdown” and we get a long, drawn out “where they all ended up” epilogue.

I actually had to force myself to finish this book and was really irritated by the neat bow Cassandra Clare used to tie up everything at the end. Everyone’s paired off successfully and happily. There is little suffering or loss, which is unfulfilling to me as a reader when I’ve invested so much time reading. The ending felt like a cop out.

CHARACTERS

Jem is “the sick, sweet” stereotype and Will is the “bad boy to redeem” stereotype, and they never feel like more than their archetype. Jem is grossly nice and Will’s charm feels manufactured. Tessa is not all that memorable. It’s not that she’s particularly unlikable, it’s just that she inspires little reaction in me at all.

There’s a big cast of supporting characters, and they all get a big backstory. I just don’t think that they were all necessary or contributed much to the overall story. I like sweeping fantasy with lots of characters and subplots (ie Finnikin of the Rock) but I just don’t feel it worked in this case. It all felt like filler.

ROMANCE

I’m not one of those people who thinks love triangles are always bad. They can work for me. There are some series that make love triangles work and some authors who do give me that twisting the knife in the chest angst-y feeling for the characters, but this certainly wasn’t one of them.

I’ll use The Hunger Games as an example because I don’t think I’ll spoil it for anyone. I thought the way Peeta was used against Katniss was true drama and ironic in the best way. I thought Gale was a legitimate option, because I dig childhood friends turned lovers and they had a real connection. There was actual angst happening that felt organic to the story in The Hunger Games, but I just never got why Tessa inspired such drama on the part of the leading love interests.

You know what I’d like to read? A story about Jem and Will realizing their undying love for each other.

Forget Tessa. I guess it’s not surprising that Will and Jem both fall in love with her—I mean, have they even met any other girls while living at the Institute? But really, their relationship is what I found most compelling. I was not so secretly hoping for both of them to forget about Tessa and realize that their bond goes much deeper than friendship. Let’s be honest. Every time they go on about their parabatai connection, I was like JUST KISS ALREADY. I’m like True Blood’s Queen Sophie Anne. I’ve grown bored with straight boy-girl romances. But really, my own personal taste aside, I just think there should be more queer relationships in YA sci-fi and fantasy and I found the Will and Jem connection to be more believable in a romantic way than Tessa with either of the boys.

Basically, I ship Will and Jem.

I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard and could easily find some Will and Jem in fanfic. (I find it ironic that I’d likely prefer it, because Cassandra Clare’s writing already reads like fanfic.) Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with fanfic. It’s all about wish fulfillment and can be really fun. But I don’t want to pay for fanfic, and I won’t actually read it unless I already have a vested interest in the characters. All the characters in The Infernal Devices feel like cardboard to me. I just can’t care enough about them to read about their continuing or alternative adventures.

THE BOTTOM LINE

I read books for a variety of reasons. Most of the time I pick books I think I will like, but I also read outside of my own interest in order to better recommend books to library patrons. I deliberately search for lesser known books that have special appeal or merit, but I try and keep up with the big blockbusters, too. After putting in the time reading this series, I’m afraid I’m still mystified by their popularity. I just don’t see why this series is such a big deal, but I’m glad for successful series like these that get teens interested in reading and make enough money for publishing companies so that we can continue to see quality and variety in young adult literature.

I’m not trying to hate on Cassandra Clare and her fans. I like things that are of questionable merit (like True Blood). I intend to let others who aren’t in love with this series know that they are not alone.

Books I recommend to fans of The Infernal Devices:

  • Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  • The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

If they want steampunk, I suggest Leviathan. I thought there was going to be more “punk” in Clare’s steam era trilogy, but it’s more straight Victorian with a paranormal element. There are automatons, but they are magical rather than strictly mechanical. If readers want romance and angels and demons, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is my go-to suggestion. The writing is lush and descriptive and just so much better in my opinion. For older or mature readers, I suggest Gail Carriger’s adult series which begins with Soulless. It’s a fun mix of actual steampunk and delightful paranormal elements. It’s not YA but won an Alex Award. Though there are some urban fantasy titles in the adult fiction section I am more hesitant to recommend to younger readers, Soulless is neither more steamy nor more violent than typical YA and has a humorous tone that will appeal to teens.  For younger or less mature readers, I suggest Ettiquette and Espionage.

If you’re looking for second opinions, just visit the Goodreads page by clicking the title at the top of the post and you can see all the ultra fangirl reviews and a couple of ones from discerning readers who this formula happens to work for.

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3 thoughts on “Artificial Angst: Clockwork Princess/The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

  1. honestly, I have resisted reading her books because of the questionable things BUT like you said, SO many people love it that it made me curious. I think I might have a similar reaction to yours, I haven’t heard people really praise it. I spoiled myself for the ending and yeah, I can definitely see how it’s a cop out. I don’t know, we’ll see if I ever actually read this series. thanks for your honest review!

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