As a student, I had a seminar that focused on London and literature—a course that demonstrated how various writers from Ben Jonson to Dickens to Virginia Woolf to Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan used the city not just as a setting, but develop it as a character—a major player in the story. This was a concept I never really considered before, and I really liked it. It’s now something I always keep in mind when I’m reading.
My main attraction for the Mortal Instruments
series was not so much about the story or the characters, but for how Clare describes New York as this vibrant fluid living thing that’s constantly in flux. I thought that part of the story was actually well done. And when I discovered that she was going to base her new series in Victorian London, I couldn’t wait to see how her words would capture the city. Having now read it, all I can say is what a disappointment.
When I first started reading, I had a picture in my mind’s eye of Dickens’s London—as he described it in Bleak House. The rolling fog, the coldness, the thickness of the air—London as this living entity that is very much present in the story. Dickens’s London was certainly oppressive, the air filled with pestilence—I’m particularly thinking of Lady Dedlock’s death scene—but there’s also a kind of beauty to the city that’s ever present in his descriptions. Clare’s London, on the other hand, is flat and stagnant, like the painted setting of a school theater production of a play. Almost every time London is mentioned, Clare immediately employs the same five-word description: chill, dreary, gray , dull colored. That’s it! *
shaking fist in frustration*
A setting that had so much potential was completely wasted.
Without the setting, all that’s left was the story, and truly there’s not much substance there either. It’s like looking at various Victorian dresses: No matter how many accoutrements—all of the frills, jewels, and laces adorning the gown, underneath is the same basic pattern and silhouette. Clockwork Angel
is basically a Victorian version of City of Bones mixed with accents of Doctor Who
’s clockwork aliens and the Cybermen, the Blue Bloods’s conduits, the Star Wars
clone army, and Harry Potter
’s muggles and squibs—with the vampire Lestat making a guest appearance sporting a Slavic accent. ;-) The brief appearance of Magnus Bane also kind of made me giggle; he kind of reminded me of Alan Cumming’s dandy version of the libertine John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, in the film Plunkett and Macleane
And the editing… Oh Boy! Plashed when it should be splashed. And what kind of word is insectile? :-) Oh, and my favorite is when Clare’s describing Jem’s ethereal violin playing: “His cheek rested against the instrument, and the bow sawed back and forth over the strings, wringing notes out of it, notes as fine and perfect as anything Tessa had ever heard.” I just love that image of the bow “sawing” back and forth, producing those beautiful sounds. ? ;-) And I mustn’t forget to mention the very unreliable narration—where for the most part we’re seeing things from Tessa’s point of view, then all of a sudden we’re witnessing Will’s thoughts. It’s rather jarring to the senses. Also when Tessa’s first introduced to Charlotte Branwell, the narrator immediately refers to her as “Mrs. Branwell.” However, we’re reading the story from Tessa’s perspective and she doesn’t yet know that Charlotte’s married.
Levity aside, one aspect of Clare’s novel redeemed the book for me: the implication that Will is actually a figurative “clockwork angel”—an emotional automaton, constantly burying his feelings behind that cold outer mask. Though I must say, I really don’t think he could possibly end up with our heroine, Tessa. I have an idea, though I won’t mention it here. ;-)