Not Just for Kids: ‘Clockwork Prince: The Infernal Devices, Book Two’
The Infernal Devices, Book Two
Margaret K. McElderry Books: 498 pp., $19.99; ages 14 and up
Whether it’s the overly tight corsets or the smell of dark magic that hangs in the air “like sulfur mixed with the Thames on a hot day,” there’s something about Victorian England that heightens tensions, both romantic and paranormal. In “Clockwork Prince,” the second installment in a prequel trilogy to the bestselling “The Mortal Instruments” series, Cassandra Clare demonstrates her relentless authorial alchemy, blending societal restraint and an otherworldly battle into a steamy steampunk drama.
Set in 19th century London — 150 years earlier than the “Mortal Instruments” books, which take place in modern-day New York City — “Clockwork Prince” picks up where “Clockwork Angel” left off. Sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray is not only continuing to search for her brother, she’s weighing her affections for rival suitors — tall, dark and hunky Will Herondale and his sickly but sweet best friend, Jem Carstairs. Tessa is living under the same roof with both men, having been rescued by the Shadowhunters, a group born from angels who live in a mansion training their members for an inevitable war with demons.
Tessa is desired romantically not only by her housemates but by an evil Magister who envies Tessa’s power to take the shape of other people and access their minds and memories. The Shadowhunters have taken in Tessa hoping her powers will help them prevail against the demons, but the Magister has a more nefarious, and unknown, plan that somehow involves Tessa and a clockwork army of robot warriors. The Shadowhunters just need to find out more specifics. Since the Magister broke into their mansion and killed its servants, he’s disappeared without a trace, leaving the Shadowhunters with no clue as to his whereabouts, only the knowledge that he’s bent on destroying them.
The Magister is avenging the death of his warlock parents, who were accused of creating a weapon that could destroy the Shadowhunters. His now-deceased father was apparently in possession of a book of spells that would allow him to reanimate the dead.
While this grisly, good-versus-evil backdrop is the driving force of the book, it sets the stage for many romances that twist the story and keep it spinning. The main romance, of course, is the increasingly complicated love triangle centered around Tessa. One glance from the blue-eyed and long-lashed Will “could make her tremble,” but his words often make her feel worthless.
Will admits he’s crushed Tessa “as brutally as I could,” but it isn’t out of cruelty, as Tessa believes. Like Edward Cullen in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight Saga,” there’s a noble reason for his seemingly mean-spirited standoffishness, but it isn’t known in time to prevent Tessa from becoming secretly involved with Jem.
Clare does a masterful job of keeping the friendship between Will and Jem as solid as blood brothers even as they remain blissfully unaware of each other’s advances on the same woman. She bolsters the book’s main bodice-ripper story with several other clandestine, illicit romances between “mundane” servants, Shadowhunters and demons. She’s especially fond of interrupting intense romantic moments just as something’s about to happen, which ups the ante and allows passions to simmer.
Though Tessa often pinches her cheeks and bites her lips to add color to her face, readers are likely to do the same as they read some of the not-quite-sex scenes taking place behind closed doors in “Clockwork Prince,” which isn’t to say it’s a Harlequin romance. Far from it.
Clare spent six months steeping herself in English Victoriana before beginning the “Infernal Devices” trilogy, and that knowledge is artfully displayed in the back-and-forth banter of fellow bibliophiles and potential paramours, Tessa and Will, as well as at chapter openings. Each begins with poetic snippets from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Browning and other, lesser-known wordsmiths. Clare’s own language is literary without being highbrow. Her characters’ dialogue is formal yet reveals deeper, unsaid emotions.
The entire story is a buildup to war, but it’s the keeping and revealing of various secrets that propel it forward as Will attempts to undo his reputation as a carousing playboy, Tessa learns more about her brother and family, and the Shadowhunters uncover the Magister’s personal history and understand his motivations and ultimate intent. There are a multitude of characters and intertwining plots in this intricately woven story; it’s difficult to keep them straight for the first few hundred pages. Clare, however, leaves no mossy stone unturned as readers travel from the chilly confines of the Shadowhunters’ mansion to the tawdry inner-city underbelly of warlock opium dens and quasi-brothels in this lead-up to a major showdown.
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