Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London’s Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.
Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa’s power for his own.
Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm’s length…everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world…and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.
Unlike The Mortal Instruments, Cassandra Clare’s prequel series is set in 19th century London. The main character is Tessa Gray, a 16-year-old American girl who has just journeyed from New York to live with her brother after her aunt’s death. She soon finds out that nothing–right down to the blood in her veins–is what she thought is was.
Tessa is thrown into a world of warlocks, demons, and Shadowhunters once she learns that she has the ability to Change her shape into any other person–a power that makes her the object of desire for the Magister, a formerly unheard of, but very powerful person in London’s Shadow World. She is shocked to find out that she is a Downworlder–some sort of demon/human hybrid, as she had no idea that she was anything but human.
As Tessa is struggling with her newfound identity and trying to escape the Magister and the clockwork creatures he’s continually sending after her, she is also grappling with typical teenage emotions. Will Herondale becomes an object of interest for her, but Tessa is unable to determine his feelings for her because every time they get close, he pushes her away by saying something absolutely terrible to her. In the meantime, she has Will’s parabatai, Jem Carstairs, to comfort her.
I’m not sure why, but I think the Shadowhunter world worked better in 19th century London than it did in 21st century New York. I really enjoyed the steampunk/Victorian setting, and it provided a lot of rich Shadowhunter history that I was dying to know about when reading The Mortal Instruments.
I found Tessa to be a wonderful main character. She was intelligent, compassionate, and had just enough baggage to be real. Will, much like his descendant Jace, has a nasty sense of sarcasm and a habit of keeping people at arm’s length, but he also has a terrible secret that keeps him from getting close to anyone, regardless of personal feelings. Jem Carstairs is empathetic, musical, and intuitive enough to allow him to get close to Will regardless of the way he lashes out at everyone. A lot of the other minor characters, like Charlotte, Henry, Sophie, and Jessamine, were also developed very well and I enjoyed them very much.
You’ll hear me say this a lot on this blog: one of my biggest pet peeves is when the bad guy doesn’t really have any direction or any reason for being bad. I refer to these types of villains as having just woke up one morning and eaten “evil flakes” for breakfast. No one does this, and it’s not believable. On the contrary, the Magister made a wonderful villain. He’s so clearly motivated by strong emotions of power, revenge, and hatred. I’m looking forward to getting more of his back story in future installments of this series. Villains always have a downfall.
The only possible annoyance I could even begin to come up with for this book was all of the character parallels between this book and The Mortal Instruments. Will’s character is clearly structured just like Jace, Jem is a lot like Alec, and Jessamine is more or less Isabelle. The only character parallel that I didn’t really draw was Clary and Tessa. I found Tessa to be a much more appealing main character than Clary. Clary was a bit of a whiner and was significantly more stubborn than Tessa. Tessa had kind of a quiet presence about her that I found more appealing as a character. Regardless, the character parallels didn’t really bother me a whole lot, so I didn’t really view this as a major negative.
I thought this prequel was just as good, if not better than The Mortal Instruments. This book was just all-around excellent. I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes Clare’s work, or Fantasy readers in general. I give Clare’s Clockwork Angel five out of five stars.