August 12th, 2010

magical

On Vox: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This is an ARC that I picked up at BEA. Cassandra Clare is an author who is relatively new to me. I've read a short story of hers but none of her full length books. I was assured however that while this new series (The Infernal Devices) is related to one that she has out (The Mortal Instruments), I could start Clockwork Angel without reading the other one.

The Premise: This is the story of Tessa Gray. Tessa's aunt just died and because Tessa has no where else to go, she's moving from her home in New York to join her brother Nate in Victorian London. Unfortunately, as soon as Tessa steps off the boat, she's pretty much kidnapped by the Dark Sisters, members of the secretive Pandemonium Club, who tell her that she has to do what they tell her or her brother will be hurt. What they do is surprising - they train Tessa to shapechange. Tessa realizes that she may not be completely human, but what she is, she doesn't know. What she does know is that the Dark Sisters are training Tessa for the mysterious head of their Club - the Magister. Tessa manages to escape with the help of yet another hidden organization - the Shadowhunters, who protect humanity by policing the Downworlders like the warlocks, demons and vampires who haunt London streets.

Read an excerpt of Clockwork Angel here

My Thoughts: I was going to be lazy and just cut and paste the blurb for this book because I thought that it would describe the world and the premise better than what I could come up with, but on second thought I decided not to. Why?  Well, it implies a love triangle that I didn't really think was there for about 80 percent of the book. I think that it's pretty clear who Tessa is most attracted to, and while she cares about Boy #2  and they have their private moments, I felt like that relationship is mostly in the friend territory, until bam, near the end. So: a little spoilery, that blurb (but go read it if you just want to see who is in the love triangle, I'm sure you can guess).

Since this is the first book in what I assume will be at least a trilogy, there's a lot of what feels like set up for long running story arcs. Through Tessa we're introduced to a whole world and to several characters that work and live in the London Institute. Among the Shadowhunters are other teens - the volatile Will, the zenlike James (Jem), and the spoiled Jessamine who are under the guidance of Charlotte and Henry Branwell. Then there are servants around the age of the teens - Sophie and Thomas, and an older cook - Agatha. Most of the characters have a past, and Tessa, as the nosy newcomer, discovers their individual personalities and nuggets of their backstory.  There's a lot in this book that is hinted at and ambiguous, like a story sort of taking shape but leaving much hidden. The hints of the complex relationships between the characters is one example. The mysterious back story of every character is another (the best example of this is Will, but Jem, Jessamine, Sophie, even Tessa's past is shrouded in mystery). This is all while the Shadowhunters try to figure out who is behind the Pandemonium Club and what their plans are with Tessa. Once the story is over, we discover very little of our questions as readers have been answered. The many dangling plot strings and Mysterious Pasts peppered throughout the story feel like manipulation so you have to pick up the second book. Usually I don't mind being manipulated a little to read on, but Clockwork Angel seemed to take it to another level.

Setting that aside, the story was entertaining. Even with the length (the ARC is 476 pages, but big font), the pacing went at a fast clip with plenty going on. I can't go into much here without spoiling it so I'll just say there is lots of action - fights and chases, but also very interesting developments between characters. The world was described in lush detail, with lots of steampunky elements - little clockwork tokens, automatons, and Henry Branwell, an absentminded inventor, against a backdrop of the huge and amazing church on whose ruins the London Institute was built (there's a lot of description, but I liked it). Tessa also has the mentality of someone of that era. She quotes books she's read that come from that time, and was brought up thinking there are things that women do not do, although the Shadowhunters have her changing her mind on that. Jessamine's anger seems related to this too - wanting to just be a Lady - someone who stays a home and isn't expected to kill Demons. She and Will were the darkest and most interesting characters.  Jessamine for being unlikeable, but with the opportunity to grow, and Will for his tendency to push people away (sometimes cruelly if truth be told), although I think all the characters in this book had some depth.

Overall: Hmm. I had a hard time classifying how I felt about this book so I will settle for: diverting but feels like it's target is teens. It's fast paced and it has boys who are beautiful and a little mysterious, a plucky heroine who has something special about her, and I'm entertained and want to know what happens in the next book because it deliberately dangles carrots to make me want to. There's something that kind of bothers me in that, but I was entertained, so I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Clockwork Angel comes out August 31st

Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Wicked Walker - 4.5 stars

Websites:

The Infernal Devices

Originally posted on janicu.vox.com

adore

On Vox: On Childhood Summers Spent Reading

from about.comI listen to NPR a lot now as I drive to and from work. This week I was listening to All Things Considered and there was a segment which I thought was such a lovely personal tale of how Ralph Eubanks, now an author and Director of Publishing at the Library of Congress began his love of reading:

"The bookmobile began stopping at my house in the summer of 1965, one year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. As a boy, I took it for granted. A library on wheels was just part of the rural landscape. Isolated on a farm and oblivious to much of the turmoil of the civil rights movement, most Wednesdays I was finishing a book on the front steps when I heard the bookmobile's tires rush over the gravel in my driveway. The civil rights movement remained distant, even though I knew that because I was black, I could not go to our local public library.

Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Mississippi resisted enforcing it. But when my mother, a school teacher, asked for the bookmobile to stop at our house in the summer of 1965, the librarian did not hesitate even though schools were still segregated. By simply following the law rather than ignoring it, the bookmobile transformed me into a lifelong reader and eventually a writer."

Listen to his commentary here, or read it online.

It was wonderful listening to this. It reminded me of my own childhood introduction to reading and how much libraries and librarians helped cultivate my love of books. There weren't many English books where I grew up. We had a small school library which I loved but was only open when school was open. There was a British Council Library which needed a membership (and most of those were reference books so I rarely went). And then there was the row of used booksellers that sold tattered old mass market paperbacks in what was essentially a bunch of tiny shacks on the side of the road with books packed in so high that there was no room for more than a tiny gap to walk between them.  You could buy books there with a discount if you worked out a deal to return them. My mom would buy us stacks of series books - lots of Carolyn Keene mysteries which she bought along with a her Harlequin Presents. Those trips in a trishaw to get more books and then lying in bed reading them are a lovely part of my early memories of summer.

(Pictured here is a bookstore in India, but it's not exactly the same thing).

What are your memories of learning to love reading?

Originally posted on janicu.vox.com