Cogs and Shadows

Clockwork Angel
Cassandra Clare
Margaret K. McElderry Books
512 pages

Western and action. Romance and comedy. Fantasy and science fiction. The blending of genres in stories is a delicate art and some combinations require a great deal more care than others. Cassandra Clare steps forth with her book, Clockwork Angel, offering a bold new blend that’s sure to make readers sit up with surprise and attention: steampunk and gothic fantasy. Fans of vampires, ghosts, and ghouls may cry out, “She got automatons in my fantasy!” Lovers of steampunk will wrinkle their nose and utter, “What’s all this vampire junk doing in my clockwork adventures?” But lo and behold, Clare blends the two seamlessly, leaving readers with a lingering sense of curiosity as to how this union so effortlessly drew them in.

Summaries pulled from the book jacket do little to truly explore the strange, new London that Clare has penned. It mentions adventure. It mentions romance. Yawn; what young adult book, shoved thoughtlessly in the catch-all ‘fantasy’ section of the bookstore or library, doesn’t contain these elements? Don’t be fooled. Despite this lackluster advertisement, the opening chapters draw the reader in with the competent weavings of an accomplished author. The main character, Tessa Gray, arrives to a London to start life anew. As soon as she steps off the boat, she enters a cacophony of nightmares and surreal fantasy. In a manner reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, Tessa is drawn almost immediately into a dark and frightening world about which she knows nothing.

Some portions of the book may also spark the same feeling of unbalance that Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and Coraline, is master of. As Tessa is thrust rudely into her new surroundings, we see nothing—immediately—that trumpets of the occult or the mechanical, yet small details arouse our suspicion: the unnatural strength of her maid, the strange “sessions” of trying to remember people she never knew, and her mysterious ticking locket, to name a few. Clare pushes her play of Freud’s uncanny on us until her fantastical world is sprung on both Tessa and the reader in a daring action scene that could make anyone grin.

And, of course, there is action and romance, as the jacket promises. The romance is a bit reserved, and there are times where the book’s YA placing is more than apparent. More mature readers may wind up rolling their eyes slightly during these moments of physical attraction thinly veiled as budding love, but the sometimes tender, sometimes emotionally dark displays of the other protagonist and love interest, William Herondale, are still titillating nonetheless. Where Tessa may fall a little flat as a character at times, Will is there with his passionate and tragic personality to reinforce her and keep the pace of the story moving smoothly. The action and adventure of the story is very satisfying, the major fight scenes pleasing on an almost visceral level.

Whatever your literary hook, Clockwork Angel has a barb ready and with your name on it in this ultimately tantalizing story of a girl, a boy, a group of “occult police,” monstrous clockwork creations, and the fate of the world.

Andrea Martin is a University of Wisconsin-Parkside graduate, now living in Greenfield, MA. When not penning up reviews, she is writing for her role-playing game, Naruta.