Clockwork Prince is the second installment in Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series, a companion and prequel series to her Mortal Instruments series. It was released in December 2011 by Margaret K. McElderry Books. The next title in this series, Clockwork Princess, is due out in September of 2013. The previous title, Clockwork Angel, was released in 2010 and has won numerous awards.
Infernal Devices is a young adult steampunk romance series set in Victorian London. Our protagonist is Tessa Gray, with her trusty sidekicks/love interests being Will Herondale and Jem Carstairs. In Clockwork Angel, the world is introduced and the main conflict is presented. Clockwork Prince, then, is all about the gathering of information and the beginning attempts at addressing the series-wide conflict. Tessa and company set out to find the evil villain, a magic wielding mad scientist named Mortmain, and solve the mystery of just what kind of magical creature Tessa is. Meanwhile, Tessa must choose which of her companions to give her heart to.
The most striking thing I noticed about Clockwork Prince is that Clare is really not pushing herself as an author. She’s found a workable and sell-able format, and she’s sticking to it unashamedly. Enough of the plot design of this series is loaded with standard tropes that I’m honestly impressed the whole thing doesn’t feel unbearably trite. Clare lifts a great deal of inspiration for her own work from the books she has her characters read, especially those written by the Bronte sisters and Charles Dickens. Plot points are illuminated by relevant quotes from works such as A Tale of Two Cities and Hamlet, to name just two of many. Those plot points also match up against some of the themes and flashpoints of the works being quoted. As a reader, I found the constant referencing to other works by the characters to be both melodramatic and like being hit upside the head with the cluebat when I already got the idea without the extra help!
Beyond that, while the writing is good enough mechanically, I found much of the word-smithing to be lazy and less effective than it could have been. That’s not to say that there are glaring grammatical errors, but there are several places where prose could have been tightened and modifiers better placed. I also did not understand in several scenes why information was not presented in a more tight and effective manner.
There are things I liked, honestly!
The most stunning skill Clare has as an author is writing characters. I’ve read this story before in innumerable permutations by several different authors, and you likely have as well. What makes Clockwork Prince worth reading is clearly defined, communicated, and relatable characters. I was carried through this book by the personal growth and personality challenges of the characters. More than just the external conflict, each of the three core characters is deeply flawed and has serious internal conflicts that they have to work through.
The world of the Shadowhunters and Downworlders is also interesting. Clare has taken traditional fairies, demons, angels, vampires, and werewolves and put them all around the same metaphorical table in a believable way. There’s a sense of long traditions and complex histories, even if Clare hasn’t explained them all yet. That ability to communicate that a world is bigger than just what the author is showing you is key in fantasy and science fiction, and Clare has it. Using all of these skills together, Clare manages to hook you as a reader and draw you in.
Why you should read this book
If you’ve enjoyed other pieces of Clare’s work, you’re liable to like Clockwork Prince. It’s a fun, quick read that entertains even if it doesn’t offer a great deal of challenge. However, if you’re thoroughly sick of teenage soap operas, this is not for you.