Book review: Cassandra Clare’s “Clockwork Prince”

Cassandra Clare has certainly made a name for herself ever since gaining popularity – and a certain level of infamy – as a writer of Harry Potter fanfiction.

Not only did she start a bestselling series with her “The Mortal Instruments” books, Sony Studios has just recently cast Jamie Campbell Bower of “Sweeney Todd” and Lily Collins of “The Blind Side” as Jace Wayland and Clary Fray, respectively, in the upcoming movie adaptation of her work.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Aside from the plagiarism debacle that hounded her during her days of writing fanfiction, her latest series hasn’t been met with as much fanfare as “The Mortal Instruments”. “Clockwork Angel”, the first in her new “The Infernal Devices” series, has received lukewarm reviews at best from fans and critics alike.

In “Clockwork Prince”, the second book in her “The Infernal Devices” series, Clare returns to the adventures of Tessa Gray, William “Will” Herondale, and James “Jem” Carstairs in Victorian era England. Will this new book signal a return to form? Or will it just be further proof of her slow decline?

After narrowly foiling the plans of the nefarious Axel Mortmain in “Clockwork Angel”, the Shadowhunters of the London Institute still find themselves under constant threat. Because of Mortmain’s almost successful takeover of the Institute, its leadership has been brought into question and with it, Tessa Gray’s safety. The Shadowhunters are given one chance to redeem themselves – find Mortmain in two weeks or surrender their leadership of the Institute.

And it is not just her physical safety that Tessa finds she has to worry about. After being so cruelly rejected by Will in “Clockwork Angel”, Tessa finds herself developing feelings towards Will’s much more amiable friend, Jem. But even as she considers the possibility of a romantic relationship with Jem, she still finds herself hopelessly drawn towards the mysterious and dangerous Will.

As the web that Mortmain has spun draws ever and ever tighter around her, Tessa discovers that she has little time left to unravel the mysteries of her past and resolve the affairs of her heart. Will they be able to find Mortmain before it is too late? And will Tessa make the right choice – or just end up breaking her heart in the process?

The one thing that readers grumble about with regards to “Clockwork Angel” was its shoddy and unimaginative rehashing of the group dynamics that made “The Mortal Instruments” such a hit. Here again was a love triangle between two Shadowhunters and a Downworlder, with the only difference being the Victoria-era setting of “The Infernal Devices”.

Early on in “Clockwork Prince”, it looks as if Clare is trotting down that well-worn path once again. Will Herondale is agonizing over his feelings over Tessa Gray in much the same way that Jace Wayland did in “The Mortal Instruments”, and it’s very tempting to just dismiss the book early on.

Thankfully, Clare seems to have learned from previous mistakes as she scales down the interactions between Will and Tessa that so closely mirrored those of Jace and Clary in “The Mortal Instruments”. In “Clockwork Prince”, Clare brings to the fore other characters which give the book its own distinct character and personality.

The bigger role that Jem plays in the narrative is a welcome development, as we get to see a different side to one of the more intriguing characters that Clare introduced in “Clockwork Angel”. In “Clockwork Prince” we see Jem’s inner struggle and turmoil, something that Clare only hinted at in the previous book. Seeing how Jem affects the Will and Tessa relationship make for interesting reading, and will probably cause some spirited discussions among fans of the series.

Clare also makes better use of her book’s setting this time around, mining the gender and class tensions present at the time and further differentiating “The Infernal Devices” from “The Mortal Instruments”. It’s such an obvious aspect of the era to take advantage of that one wonders why Clare didn’t make use of it in the first book. It is the introduction of these new dynamics that make “Clockwork Prince” a lot more unpredictable than the book that came before it, and that can only be a good thing for an author that has been accused of mostly rehashing her previous work.

If there’s anything in “Clockwork Prince” to be disappointed about, it’s the lackluster way with which Clare tries to work in the steampunk angle that she first introduced in “Clockwork Angel”. Mortmain’s mechanical monstrosities are relagated to the background, and one can’t help but wish that Clare had developed this idea as well as she had the other elements of the book.

“Clockwork Prince” also doesn’t bring anything new to the greater Shadowhunter universe that Clare has created. While it’s entertaining to connect the dots between this series and “The Mortal Instruments”, none of the revelations here are particularly illuminating or exciting.

While a definite step up from “Clockwork Angel”, “Clockwork Prince” isn’t going to win Cassandra Clare any new fans. It may win back some of her old ones, and all things considered, that may not be so bad after all.

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