I’m giving Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare three stars, because it ably fulfills its function as the second book in the INFERNAL DEVICES series, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did Clockwork Angel. The writing is fine and the story moves well, but somehow our heroic characters just aren’t shown at their best in this volume.
After the debacle at the end of Clockwork Angel, Benedict Lightwood, patriarch of another Shadowhunter family, challenges Charlotte Branwell for control of the London Institute. His reasons are mostly couched in the language of sexism, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Charlotte’s husband Henry is a distracted genius who has to be reminded to eat; the Shadowhunters who live in the Institute are underage and one of them, Will Herondale, has set a new standard for “loose cannon” behavior. Then there is Tessa, the heroine of these books. Tessa has powers that seem to be more demonic than angelic/Shadowhunter, even though it has been determined that she is not a warlock (actually, this is a large logic question for me). She has been told by the villain that she half Shadowhunter, half demon. Tessa is the target of Mortmain, the man who invented and controls the demon-powered mechanical men who are menacing the Shadowhunters. Is it really wise to let her live at the heart of the London Shadowhunter community?
Tessa remains the smart, honest and courageous girl we met in Clockwork Angel, and Sophie, the Branwells’ maid, emerges in this book as a strong and wise character too. Jessamine, the disaffected orphan of two Shadowhunters, behaves in a manner completely consistent with her character. Her actions, which drive large portions of the plot here, are completely plausible.
Will is the tortured bad-boy in this series, and in this book we discover the reason for his bad behavior. When Will was twelve, he opened a container that held a demon captive. The demon escaped, but not before cursing Will. It is this curse that has dictated Will’s abominable actions. This is an important part of the story, but Will focuses his energy on solving his own personal problem (finding the demon who cursed him) rather than helping Charlotte meet the time-limited test that has been set for her if she is to maintain control of the Institute. One problem with the book is that Clare does not evoke the “ticking clock” enough. Once, Jessamine mentions that they have only nine days of their two weeks left, but there is no other counting down, no increasing sense of urgency. This is mostly because the focus of the book is the love triangle between Tessa, Will and Jem.
The book takes us out of the environs of London into Yorkshire, as Tessa, Will and Jem pursue the history of Mortmain. The titular Clockwork Prince never appears directly in the book, but the reader learns a great deal about him and his motivation. I wish Clare had devoted a little more time to descriptions of Yorkshire, because her physical descriptions are so lovely. This part of the book gives us more information about Will. It was all interesting but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was laying the foundation for the third book, not addressing the issues raised in this one.
Clare has mastered the spiraling-tension model of love triangles; an obstacle separates the couple, the obstacle is removed only to uncover a bigger obstacle, and so on. In this book, it really does seem that the death of a beloved character is the only way to remove the new obstacle between Will and Tessa. The bigger problem for me is that Jem, Will’s parabatai, is a much more interesting character and a better love interest than the self-centered Will.
The other small logic flaw is the issue of a “demon mark” on Tessa. Tessa has been carefully examined for a mark that would prove she is a warlock. All warlocks have a “mark.” Usually it’s green skin or slitted pupils like a cat’s, or in one case, tiny horns. Tessa has no unusual marks, except for the fact that her index fingers are nearly as long as her middle finger. Could this be a demon mark? Why hasn’t anyone commented on it?
For all these quibbles, Clare tells a suspenseful story. I felt bad that Charlotte and company resort to trickery and extortion at the end, rather than solving the mystery, but Benedict Lightwood is so arrogant that I only felt a little bad. The characters are strong and well-delineated; the dialogue is crisp and snappy; the misunderstanding between Henry and Charlotte about the nature of their marriage is believable. The book is filled with poetry, mostly Victorian (although a Shakespearean sonnet gets a nod), and Will and Tessa often discuss the novels of the time. This book does a good job of advancing the scheme of the Clockwork Prince, revealing more about Will’s background and developing the mystery of Tessa’s past.