Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare, book 2 of the Infernal Devices series

After the last book, Clockwork Angel, Mortmain is still at large. He may be only human, but with considerable supernatural contacts Mortmain aims to capture Tessa and destroy the Shadowhunters - and who knows what else - with his army of clockwork automatoms. He is a threat to the Clave and all it stands for.

But things are not so simple - politics in the Clave threaten Charlotte’s position in the institute. Capturing Mortmain becomes not only a matter to protect themselves, but also to hold onto the London Institue. The quest for Mortmain takes them across the country, all the while wary of his agents and subtle, long term schemes.  And, more, Mortmain’s subtle conspiracy continues, with his friends and allies in the most unlikely places.

As if the threat to life as they know it wasn’t enough, Tessa is still ignorant of exactly what she is and what it means, as well as her brother’s betrayal and, of course, her conflicted and powerful feelings about Jem and Will. Made all the more fraught by the grave revelations of Will’s past.

This book felt padded. I’m not saying that’s intention, it could be the author’s writing style (I suspect so given the other books I’ve read). There is an awful lot of excess words here that you have to dredge through, There are specific issues but the basic is that 1 word isn’t used if 10 could possibly fit. It’s long winded, when things are described, they’re described in excessive detail and we have a lot of descriptions that are, frankly, unnecessary. Someone can walk across a room without us knowing how they do it, their surroundings, their gait or anything else. We can have a conversation without internal monologue, a blow-by-blow description of facial expressions or random irrelevant things the speakers are doing at the same time. If a character has been described it’s unnecessary to repeatedly re-describe them in later scenes.

And speaking of long winded - literary quotes. Maybe there are people who enjoy having the characters constantly refer to and quote classic literature and poetry, but to me it got very old - and very pretentious - very fast. In fact, not to be cruel, it felt like the author trying to impress us.

I don’t know what the excess verbiage and quoting was intended to achieve - but I don’t think it set the scene. There are some Paranormal Steampunks where you can feel the era, where the way the characters speak and act positively screams Victoriana. With a few lines of dialogue you can feel Victorian London all around. Whereas if you changed the clothing in Clockwork Prince there are only one or two scenes that would be out of places in a 21st century story.

At some level I think that Clare was trying to cover for the fact that the book essentially had zero plot.  When the characters weren’t quoting the classics, they were engaged in massive amounts of angst.  Even the adult characters at times got caught up in the moment and had their own private love ridden angst.  So prolific was the whole I must suffer for love routine that, Will, Tessa, Jem, Sophie, Jessamine,  Henry, Charlotte and even Magnus all had moments of extreme heartbreak.  If any of these characters were even remotely likable, I suppose this could have been vaguely interesting, but really, who can excited about a 17 year old who has barely begun to live going on about their one true love.  In fact, so caught up in the love angst are Will and Tessa that even though their lives are in grave danger they still have time to make out.  Yes, huge eye roll.  I know that this sort of thing is not unique to Cassandra Clare however, it still stands as yet another unremarkable moment in a simply boring book.

There was nothing original about this story whatsoever.  How many times have seen a love triangle involving one person on their death bed?  There is also a relationship based on misunderstandings which of course leads to more angst.  Instead of sitting down and having a conversation like sensible people do they privately angst that they are not loved. This of course was extremely manufactured, thus making it extremely tedious reading. Then of course there is the maid makes good, through the potential to marry well, Eliza Dolittle anyone?

On an ism front most was not really relevant because of sheer erasure, but there is an unfortunate point with Charlotte’s position in the institute being threatened. During the accusation she is criticised on the grounds that a woman can’t run an institute. I know some will point to this sexism as part and parcel of the times - but why? This is an alternate society, the Shadowhunters expect their women to fight, don’t treat them as delicate little flowers as one would expect in the Victorian era - so why this assumption of inability? This is further problematic because in the end, when Charlotte’s capability is accepted - there’s no retraction of the sexist accusation - no challenge of it even though the opportunity was there on a silver platter.

The character that is perhaps the most problematic in this entire series is Jem. Jem is portrayed as the noble drug addict.  Really?  Anyone who has had any experience with drug addictions will tell you that drug addicts, will lie, cheat and steal to get their drugs before hitting rock bottom.  Drug addiction ruins lives, it most certainly does not make one noble.  Furthermore, it is known that drugs alter ones personality and yet Jem remains unchanged by the whole experience. Jem is presented as a victim that we must all pity because his addiction was fostered upon him. On the whole, the portrayal of Jem seems to continually shift back and forth between drug addict or disabled person - especially with reference to his drugs (so an addict) or his medicine (with side-effects). It’s unpleasant to confuse the two and risks demonising disabled people who do depend on their medicine - despite sometimes unpleasant side-effects. I think that this is a point that really needs to be clarified in further series.

If I had to scrape together a positive about this book, and I really am trying, I have to say that I do like the world that has been created here - but it’s the Mortal Instruments world that was worthy of that praise - the Infernal Devices series hasn’t really added anything. And, sadly, the world isn’t really fascinating enough to hold my interest in this book. It was a hard read. The main plot was advanced despite the characters and was lost in reams of relationship angst and padding. The prose was overdone and the pacing pretty slow.

All in all, I’m sad to say, it was hard work with little return for the investment.