Steam punk meets young adult fantasy in Cassandra Clare’s latest trilogy. Still set within the world of Shadow Hunters, this time she transports readers into Victorian London and introduces them to Tessa Gray, a young woman from America who has come to London to be reunited with her brother. Unbeknownst to Tessa, her brother Nathaniel has been caught in the shadow world of demons, warlocks, vampires and werewolves. Abducted by two warlock sisters, she soon discovers that she’s got the ability to transform into anyone at will, and that everything she knows about her life so far has been built on a lie.
Tessa is then rescued by a young shadow hunter named Will Herondale and his parabatai (blood brother) Jem Carstairs. Shadow hunters are descended from angels, have extraordinary strength as well as other powers drawn from different runes that they tattoo on their bodies. They are sworn to protect the world from demons and other threats to mankind’s existence. Every major city has an Institute where shadow hunters can live while they fulfill their duties, and Tessa is soon brought to the London Institute, despite not being a shadow hunter, both to keep her safe and to keep her from being used as a tool by the mysterious Magister.
This trilogy adds layers of history and background to what readers already know of the Shadow Hunter world and as such, these books are best enjoyed by first reading The Mortal Instruments, the six-book epic that first introduced us to this world. Although the world building in these books are still adequate, it relies heavily on the fact that most readers would have already read the previous books and would be able to recognize the significance of certain groups, characters and events.
Cassandra Clare attempts to make this book different from her previous offerings first by changing the time period to the Victorian era and by injecting a little bit of steam punk in the form of the “clockwork devices” that are a speciality of the book’s main villain. With the former, she misses more than she hits, as she’s not quite able to capture the feel and essence of Victorian London. The characters’ choice of words, expressions and even their attitudes towards things feel very modern. For example, it would be a stretch to believe that teenagers regularly “make out” during the era where London is remembered to be at its most conservative.
As for her attempts to dabble at steam punk, the clockwork devices never quite live up to their promise. Its not clear whether its because of how they were described or because they were only utilized in the action scenes which require them to fight shadow hunters, but they never quite fit into the narrative of the books. In some situations, they almost feel like an afterthought rather than a major part of the plot.
Where the books shine the most was when the author stuck to what she knows best: the shadow hunter world. Readers, and fans most especially, will enjoy finding out how these characters tie in to the characters already introduced in The Mortal Instruments. In addition, despite the fact that this trilogy contains the sadly overused love triangle trope, Cassandra Clare avoids the mistake that most of her contemporaries make by focusing too much on the romantic elements at the expense of individual character development. Will, Tessa and Jem to me feel like three dimensional characters even outside of their little triangle. Although there are still the requisite teenage angst, drama and lengthy professions of love, it was served in doses that are bearable to someone who’s passed the stage of adolescence (like me!).
The trilogy is more of a slow burn, and the action only really picks up in the latter half of the second book. The payoff is in the final installment of the trilogy, which is packed with moments that will tug at the heart of even the most jaded of readers. I think that no matter what Cassandra’s original intentions were when she wrote this book, this ended up being a book about Will and Jem and their unique parabatai bond (where can I get me one of those??). I for one am fascinated by this concept and I’m happy to see that the next trilogy explores that in more detail.
And despite the epilogue feeling like some kind of wish fulfillment on the part of the author, there is no other ending that would have made as much sense (or would have pleased the fans more). Overall, the combination of fantasy and romance layered with the complexity of human relationships provide a rich reading experience that fans of the YA genre will enjoy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Guest contribution by Miss Blabbaholic. This blog is about music, travel, life in London but mostly its for people who share my passion for books.