Book review: Cassandra Clare’s “Clockwork Princess”

Twenty-thirteen may just turn out to be Cassandra Clare’s year.

Not only is the movie adaptation of her debut novel “City of Bones” set to go up on screens in a few months, the popular young adult (YA) author has also just signed a contract to write three more books set in the same universe of Shadowhunters and Downworlders she first introduced to the world back in 2007.

This year also marks the publication of “Clockwork Princess”, the final book in “ The Infernal Devices” series that tells the story of Victorian-era Shadowhunters beset by a mechanical threat that may just be too much for them to handle.

But unlike the hugely successful books in “The Mortal Instruments” series, “Clockwork Princess” has its work cut out for it. The past two books in “The Infernal Devices” series — “Clockwork Angel” and “Clockwork Prince” — garnered sharply divided opinions from fans. Will “Clockwork Princess” reign supreme over the books that came before it and give Clare  a rollicking start as she embarks on a new series? Or will this conclusion to “The Infernal Devices” be definitive proof that it’s time for Clare to depart from the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders?

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Ever since Jem and Tessa’s engagement at the end of “Clockwork Prince”, things have become tense and awkward at the London Institute of Shadowhunters. Will has taken to training his younger sister Cecily in the ways of Shadowhunters to distract himself, while Cecily plans to bring Will back to their home in Wales. Jem and Tessa are happy in their engagement, but Tessa cannot shake the feelings of love that she also has for Will.

Aside from those problems, the London Institute also has to deal with Charlotte Branwell’s pregnancy at a most trying time, and the budding romance between Shadowhunter aristocrat Gideon Lightwood and lowly maid Sophie Collins. All of this is happening while the villainous Axel Mortmain still remains at large.

The situation reaches a breaking point when Mortmain finally strikes, hoarding the medicine that keeps Jem alive as well as staging a daring attack on the London Institute that results in the capture of Tessa. Now the fate of his best friend and the girl he loves lies on the shoulders of Will Herondale. But what can one teenager do against an army of clockwork soldiers?

After the less than stellar reception that “Clockwork Angel” received from fans. “Clockwork Prince” introduced a few changes to Clare’s storytelling that certainly worked in its favor. In “Clockwork Prince”, Clare utilized the inherent gender and class biases of the time to inject some new life into her narrative and further differentiating “The Infernal Devices” from “The Mortal Instruments”.

It’s a storytelling decision that Clare continues in “Clockwork Princess”, and it is happily still effective in this final book. Clare even adds a dash of epistolary storytelling in the book, and fans of epistolary novels may be amused by this nod towards one of the more popular forms of storytelling of the Victorian era.

Unfortunately, these stylistic decisions fail to disguise the fact that “Clockwork Princess” doesn’t quite bring the events to the climactic finish one would except from a final book in a series. The tension doesn’t really build at any point during the novel, and Clare doesn’t succeed in making it feel like her characters are in any sort of danger.

Part of this is the fact that “The Infernal Devices” share so many links to “The Mortal Instruments”. Readers are already partly aware of what happens to this characters, if their  descendants in “The Mortal Instruments” are anything to go by. How can you worry about their fates when you know that they live long enough to have descendants?

Considering how Clare has also been criticized by how the characterizations of certain characters in “The Infernal Devices” hew so closely to those in “The Mortal Instruments”, it’s also unintentionally funny how certain character are actual ancestors of the characters they seem to have been rehashed from.

There is also the unfortunate similarities that the climactic scene in “Clockwork Princess” shares with “City of Glass”, the third book in “The Mortal Instruments” series. When readers are already pointing out that you do the same thing over and over again, using the same deus ex machina you used in a previous book isn’t going to help in disabusing them of that notion.

Another thing that drags down “Clockwork Princess” is the multiple endings that clog up the final chapters of the book. Clare seems unable to leave some of the character’s fates to the reader’s imagination, even tacking on an epilogue set in the characters’ distant future. It wouldn’t be such an egregious decision if the characters were standouts, but as it is, readers will finally just be itching for the book to end rather than read through even more pages.

After all is said and done, “Clockwork Princess” is a lackluster ending to a series that was on already shaky ground to begin with. It’s not a good sign as to the future of Clare’s books. Hopefully, as she returns to the present time with her latest series, she’ll get back some of the storytelling punch that made the first three books in “The Mortal Instruments” series such entertaining reads.

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