Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare is the first book of The Infernal Devices series, the prequel to the Mortal Instrument series, which is currently being adapted into a movie.
I don't usually mention covers when I review books but I will make an exception for this one. Although I had never heard of the Mortal Instruments or Cassandra Clare before, the moment I saw the cover of Clockwork Angel in the bookstore, I knew I had to read the book. Luckily, the cover wasn't the only great thing about it.
The story opens with Tessa, short for Theresa Gray, arriving in Southampton to meet her brother who sent for her. Having nothing left in New York, she crossed the pond in hopes of a new life in England. She is met at the port by two sisters who claim to have been sent by her brother. She soon regrets trusting them as she is taken prisoner and forced to master dark powers she didn't even know she had. What follows is an unbelievable tale of magic and mystery.
There is a constant sense of immediacy in the story. From the moment Tessa goes to the Institute, the action progresses so rapidly that neither Tessa nor the reader have time to stop and question the newfound order of things. The urgency of the current events forces them both to go forward without looking back. This creates an amazing pace. Tension builds and when something seems about to be resolved, we discover that the door we unlocked only led to more locked doors. The plot is straightforward and the many subplots (character background story, the love triangle, etc) help fleshing the story and making the characters more believable.
While on the subject of characters, I must say that Clare is very good at creating them. All of them have a very distinct voice and personality. I really like Tessa because although she is a bit helpless at the beginning of the book, she grows to be a very strong girl. The two boys of the story, Jem and Will, are like the two sides of one coin; the story would be uneven if one of them was missing. Love triangles usually annoy me but this one, between the three main character, is exploited nicely to serve the main plot. Also, Tessa does not spend her time hesitating between the two of them, misleading one then the other, which is definitely a redeeming feature. I personally root for Jem, but I have a feeling my choice is not going to be very popular with Tessa. The only character I have a hard time understanding is Jessamine, but I have a feeling her motivations will be revealed later in the series.
I would say that one of the weaknesses of the series is setting. Although Clare does describe London and the Institute, for some reason, I have a very hard time picturing them in my head (and I've watched enough BBC and Victorian era series to easily be able to.) It's as if Clare invests so much in the characters that she forgets to give life to the surroundings. The rapid succession of events makes the book feel like it's a movie, but one in which the sets have been replace by pale shadows of a city. Another thing that annoyed me was Will's beauty. It's not as bad as Edward from Twilight, but I get that our hero is pretty; no need to repeat every other page.
Clockwork Angel is a YA novel, thus the language is light and accessible. Nevertheless, Clare uses precise and more researched words when necessary, which prevents the reader from feeling that the prose has been dumbed down. Although many of her characters have regional accents, the author does not over do it. She uses regionalisms sparingly but still manages to convey the background of the characters.
Demons and angels are a recurring theme in YA literature (Darren Shan is another great author whose stories involve demons) yet I found Clare's approach refreshing and enjoyable. I totally immersed myself in the story and couldn't put the book down. As I write this, I only have about 100 pages left to read in Clockwork Prince, the next volume in the series.