Monthly Archives: June 2013

Review: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare



Tessa Gray descends from a boat from New York to Victorian England, expecting to meet her brother, but a very strange and sinister pair of sisters kidnap her instead. Tessa finds herself pulled into a “Downworld” of magic, spells, vampires and demons, as she searches for her brother. Rescued by an organisation calling itself The Enclave, Tessa discovers she’s the focus of some very unwelcome attention, beings that will stop at nothing to possess power she didn’t know she had.


I’ve never read any Cassandra Clare before, and the book starts off really strongly. I can see why people like her writing. I felt immersed in Victorian London, smelling it and tasting it along with Tessa. For the first few chapters, the book rattled along.


Then it all fell apart for a while. There must be close to a hundred pages of exposition after Tessa is rescued by The Enclave. She sits and wanders around The Institute, while everyone tells her what sort of world she’s fallen into.


And there’s a chapter which really bugged me: Two of the main characters interview a businessman to see if they know anything about Tessa’s brother, and other matters. It could have been covered with a reported speech conversation about as short as this: “We went to see Mortmain. He doesn’t know where your brother is, but he seems to know more than he should about Downworld.”


It didn’t need a chapter. It didn’t need a chapter that head-hops out of Tessa and into two other characters. Nowhere else in the book does it do that. It was about this point that I realised I was reading exposition and nothing much else was going on apart from Tessa falling in love with the (obligatory) two boys at the same time.


Hmmm, love triangle with supernatural creatures, where have I seen that one before? At least these two are the best of friends and don’t let Tessa come between them.


However, the pages of exposition were quite subtly done – It did take me seventy pages to realise there wasn’t much else going on – and by then the pace was picking up again, enough to keep me reading until the end of the book. There was a neat twist close to the climax that reverberated right back to the start of the book that kept things interesting.


One of the joys of the book is its strong sense of location and atmosphere. Clare writes wonderful little details – moonlight streaming through a window, the stench of The Thames, long shadows and dark corners – to wrap you up in the world. Although she does need to know that in England in summertime, twilight goes on for hours. She has Tessa looking out of a window at sunset and a page of dialogue later it’s dark. At least, I hope Clare thinks it’s summertime – we don’t get much daylight at eight pm in winter.


The characters are another of the strengths of the book. Will and Jem flash witticisms off each other like a comedy duo, lightening the mood with comic relief; Tessa gives as good as she gets back at them, refusing to back down when faced with the moody Will.


Will…he’s an interesting character, a brooding Heathcliff and a Byronic hero, a wastrel like Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Yet, like Sydney, you know his heart beats with passion and fire. I kept seeing Sydney Carton in every description of him – he does lean against things a lot, and has the same subtext of vulnerabilities, you sense. A 19th century Han Solo, waiting for his princess.

Jem was the yang to Will’s ying – sensitive, caring, passionate. Fragile to Will’s indestructible.


I never got the impression there was any contest between which of them Tessa would choose, so I couldn’t call the relationship they had a love triangle. Maybe a right angle one if it was; Tessa was always going to choose…ahh, but that would be a spoiler.


I knew going in that this was book one (Thanks for telling me on the cover – I hate books without a resolution that turn out to be trilogies), so not all of the questions were answered, not all of the villains dispatched or the threads wrapped up.


All in all, a skilful tale, filled with a great sense of place and atmosphere and witty dialogue. The exposition let the book down for me…it could have been fifty pages shorter.


I believe I read this is a prequel to The Mortal Instruments series, but I haven’t read them and didn’t need to to enjoy this one.


I’m in no rush to read Book Two or Three  (Why does everything need three books these days anyway?), but if I stumble across them one book-bereft day, I’ll probably pick them up.


Rambles: The Book Five that never was

Before I stared my current work-in-progress, I was thinking about ending the world in grey-goo nano-probes, a cloud that would cover the earth in a week and leave
nothing behind. (It would start in India – hence the first line below –  because the
idea of such a vast and packed country being empty was fascinating to me…and
how many times do we hear of something like that on the news and mentally hit mute?)


The idea was as far as I got with it, because nothing else was working about the
story; everything was coming up with a dead end. I was going nowhere with it,
and in the end bagged it and started again. Sometimes the stories get away, which is a shame. I really wanted to spend some time with these folks. (Mel, by the way, was going to be male.)


So here’s the never-got-past the first chapter of what was never destined to be.
Hope you enjoy it.

“Reports are coming in of a chemical accident in India—”
I switched the radio from the news to another preset, but groaned when I did. It was dad’s classical music station, and they were playing The Imperial March from Star Wars. So of course dad turned it up and started humming along, slapping his hands on the steering wheel as he maneuvered through the heavy traffic close to the airport.
The subdued middle section of the march started, and he really got into it.
I rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath. “Oh, God, dad. You are. So. Embarrassing.”
I flicked my fingers over my phone without looking at him, concentrating on texting Jessi
and finding out how far she got with Callum last night.
Dad glanced at me before going back to his driving, smiling as did. “Is there a problem, princess?”
I sighed. “You know the problem, dad. You and Mel are so weird.”
“Hey, Empire was one of the best films ever made.” He imitated the gravelly voice of Darth Vader. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
Oh boy. Now I pushed his quote button. “Please. Spare me the quotes as well,” I said, but I smiled.
Mel and dad (in case you didn’t guess), were utter Star Wars nerds. Not just Star Wars, but Star Trek as well. In fact, name any sci-fi like that, and they were all over it.
It was kind of endearing…but also seriously embarrassing. Here’s an example: They named me
Leia. Yeah, that’s right…as in Princess. As though genetically gifting me with red hair and freckles wasn’t bad enough.
I was grateful I didn’t have a brother named Luke, or I’d have to put up with a lifetime of I am your father quotes. Mel and dad even got married to The Imperial March and called it “their song.” They were utterly beyond help. I was terrified to bring friends round from school.
There was a squeal of brakes and the seatbelt tightened across my chest. I looked up from my texting to see the back of an enormous black four wheel drive jeep cutting across three lanes of
motorway, only a few metres away from the front of our little car. I swore, but
dad took it in his stride, not even blinking at my language or the jeep. “Missed his junction, I guess.”
My heart decided it liked it in my chest after a few minutes, and finally slid back out of my throat. In front of us was a tunnel with the words Welcome to Heathrow written across the entrance. My heart did that throat thing again, and dad must have seen something in my expression. “Nervous about going on a plane for the first time?”
I nodded as the tunnel swallowed us. Dad flicked on the lights of the car, despite the strip lights lining the roof. “I’m glad we left Mel behind. Imagine the blubbering, and we still
have hours to go before we take off.”
I nodded again, looking down at my phone. u did wht wth clm? I asked Jessi. “We’d be drowning in it.”
“Car full of water.”
“Good job I brought my swimming costume.”
“Open the car door and get swept away.”
Dad pulled into a car park, found a spot, and killed the engine. I took a break from talking to Jessi and looked at him. Red hair fading to grey at the temples, crow lines around the bottom of
his eyes. “Ready?” he asked me, undoing his seat belt.
I took a deep breath. “Bring it on.”
He smiled. “The USA won’t know what hit it when The Bentham’s arrive. Let’s go, princess.”

Review: Tethers by Jack Croxall


Karl and Esther, both 13 years old, both bored by their restrictive Victorian lives, stumble across a mystery in the village where they live. It quickly leads them from their quiet land-locked lives to the coast of the UK and then back again to its heart before the climax, making some friends and very dangerous enemies along the way.

Jack Croxall has a pleasing, old-fashioned style of writing, an almost “Famous Five” feel to his words and language. The pacing is perfect, shifting the book forward at a nice clip and not lingering too long. I needed to keep reading!

The characters of Karl and Esther are fleshed out and full of life – their flaws and imperfections as well. I love that Karl can’t climb through windows as elegantly as Esther, nor can he sword-fight as effectively. Esther isn’t just a passive Victorian girl either, going weak at the knees at the first sign of danger, but is a kick-ass heroine in her own right. I loved the reaction of Karl when he sees the ocean for the first time; it really made me connect with the character.

The secondary adult characters were all nicely done as well, but I kept expecting them to have their own agendas. Perhaps an unwritten rule of YA is “Never trust anyone over the age of 30”, and I kept expecting a heel turn from them. I got the impression they were holding a lot back from Karl and Esther. Karl would announce a discovery or a clue, and the two men traveling with them would nod and smile as though it was expected. They put me on edge, and I was expecting something dark from them.

The accents of the characters dialogue were nice, apart from Scot Shona, who didna speak like this, but did speak like this. That was a flaw I would have liked fixed; everyone else speaks in a realistic voice.

I would have liked the two teens take on more of the danger themselves, but the adults take a lot of it. It is a YA book after all, and I don’t read YA for the grown-ups to have all the fun. On the other hand, it was nice to have at least competent adults on hand, and the kids did manage to do most of the important stuff.

There were a few typos I noticed, and a few grammar errors – a run on sentence here and there and a missing speech mark – but nothing that bumped me out of the story.

A delightful, fast-paced read with an old-fashioned feel to the structure. I enjoyed it a lot.