Clockwork Angel


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Book Review

This science fiction/fantasy book that dips into steampunk is by Cassandra Clare and is the first book in ” The Infernal Devices” series published by Simon & Schuster. This series is a prequel to ” The Mortal Instruments” series.

Clockwork Angel is written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

Sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray is an orphan. She lives with her aunt in New York in the late 1800s. When her aunt dies, Tessa receives a ticket from her brother, Nate, to join him in London. Two old women called the Dark Sisters meet Tessa’s ship, claiming Nate sent them. They kidnap Tessa and spend the next six weeks training her to use a supernatural ability she never knew she had. Tessa can Change, or take on the bodily form and thoughts of another person, living or dead. The Dark Sisters say they’re preparing her for someone they call the Magister. Tessa will marry him so he can have full access to her powers. Tessa escapes into their vast house. A dark, handsome young man named Will Herondale rescues her. As Tessa and Will make their way out, they discover a slaughterhouse filled with stripped, cut up human bodies and bloodstained knives and saws. The Dark Sisters appear, a battle ensues, and Will beheads one of the Sisters while Tessa is knocked unconscious.

Tessa awakes in the London Institute. She learns it is the headquarters of the city’s secret peacekeepers, a group of part-human/part-angel beings known as Shadowhunters or Nephilim. Shadowhunters are heavily tattooed warriors. They are able to conceal themselves with a magic called glamours. They’re mandated to protect the city from demons and other supernatural dangers. Charlotte, the head of the Institute, explains that Downworlders are people like vampires, werewolves, fairies and warlocks, who are at least part supernatural. Not all Downworlders are enemies of the Shadowhunters, but it is the Nephilim’s job to monitor their activities. While it’s unclear exactly what Tessa is, Charlotte explains that the girl’s shape-shifting ability means she’s a Downworlder.

Tessa meets the other inhabitants of the Institute, including Charlotte’s husband, Henry; a reluctant and snobbish Shadowhunter named Jessamine; and a sickly young man named Jem. Jessamine, Jem and Will are all orphans under the care of the Institute until the age of 18. Servants like Sophie, Thomas and Agatha are humans (or “mundanes”) with the gift of Sight who assist the Nephilim. When Tessa and Will describe what they’ve seen in their dealings with the Dark Sisters, Charlotte assures them that the Nephilim will investigate. She also invites Tessa to stay with them for protection, promising to help locate her brother.

The Dark Sisters are part of a group that includes mundanes and Downworlders called the Pandemonium Club. Members are not only involved in drinking, gambling and prostitution, but they delve into the world of magic and the occult. Charlotte and Henry pay a visit to a mundane named Mortmain, for whom Nate once worked. Mortmain admits to being a member of the Pandemonium Club and to having introduced Nate to it as well. He looks shaken as Charlotte warns him about the dangers of dabbling in the occult. Mortmain’s company makes cogs, the type Will found in the Dark Sisters’ home. He admits that a powerful Downworlder came to him looking for cheap machinery. Hesitantly, he names de Quincey, a vampire who has supposedly been an ally to the Shadowhunters. The Shadowhunters become convinced de Quincey is the one whom the Dark Sisters called the Magister.

The Shadowhunters discover more evidence that the Magister has already begun creating an army of automatons to destroy them. In an effort to catch de Quincey, they enlist the help of another vampire named Camille. Camille tells the Shadowhunters that de Quincey has parties in which he tortures and kills humans for sport. If the Shadowhunters can catch him in the act, they can punish him under the law. Tessa uses her powers to change into Camille so she can attend one of de Quincey’s parties and gather evidence. She discovers the mundane they plan to kill that evening is Nate. Once de Quincey has drawn Nate’s blood, the Shadowhunters infiltrate the vampire’s home. A battle ensues, and Shadowhunters destroy many vampires. De Quincey escapes, and the Shadowhunters rescue Nate.

As Nate’s condition improves, he tells the Shadowhunters about de Quincey’s plan to animate the automatons using demon energy. Charlotte, Henry and many of the rest of London’s Shadowhunters plan another attack on de Quincey. Will and Jem stay behind because they’re under 18 and not allowed to join the battle. When the older Shadowhunters have gone, Mortmain shows up and urges Will and Jem to go to the home of the remaining Dark Sister. He says she plans to cast a spell that night that will animate the automaton army with demon energy. With Will and Jem gone and the Institute largely unprotected, the real Magister, Mortmain, and his automatons attack. Nate, who has been working with Mortmain since the beginning, aids in the battle against the Shadowhunters. Since Mortmain wants Tessa for her powers, she pretends to kill herself. Will, Jem and the other Shadowhunters return to the Institute in time to save everyone but Thomas and Agatha. Mortmain vanishes. Charlotte asks Tessa to stay on at the institute and serve as a liaison between the Shadowhunters and the Downworlders.

Christian Beliefs

Tessa likens a wall caving to the walls of Jericho tumbling down in her old Bible story picture book. The Shadowhunters like that their Institute was once a church because it sits on consecrated ground. Jem bids Tessa farewell before a battle by saying “Mizpah” and quoting Genesis 31:49. De Quincey collects old Bibles because he says there’s hardly another book out there with so much blood on the pages.

Other Belief Systems

Will says Shadowhunters don’t require luck because of their heavenly mandate. “What does luck matter when God is on your side?” he asks with bitterness in his voice. Will’s life motto is a Latin phrase, which means, “We are dust and shadows.” Will suggests the writer Milton thought hell was a city. Will says he believes London might be hell’s entrance. In one instance, Will smiles the way Lucifer might have smiled moments before he fell from heaven.

Shadowhunters can sometimes recognize vampires because vampires can’t say the word God. When Tessa asks if being a vampire is a curse, Charlotte says it is more like a demon disease. Tessa then queries whether vampires are damned. Jem says it depends on what you believe and whether you believe in damnation at all. He believes in good and evil and that the soul is eternal, but he doesn’t believe in the fiery pit, pitchforks or endless torment. He doesn’t believe you can threaten people into goodness.

The Shadowhunters talk about several different types of demons. One, the Shax, is a type that would drag a victim to its lair and lay eggs in her skin while she was still alive. Charlotte warns Mortmain about a Marax demon summoned by a mortal playing in the spirit realm. The demon slaughtered the person’s whole family and left most of them hanging headless and upside-down. The Shadowhunters have a room where they keep trapped demons. Demons are stored in a box called a Pyxis. Demons travel great distances to come into this world and feed upon it. The Shadowhunters exist to prevent demons from ravaging it completely. At Mrs. Dark’s residence, Will finds a demon in a pentagram. The pentagram contains necromantic symbols of ruin and death. The demon taunts Will because no angelic power can breach the circle.

Will tells Tessa that a summoning spell and angel blood are the recipe for indestructible human warriors. He gives her a book called the Codex. In it, she reads about the Shadowhunters’ origins. They are descended from an archangel named Raziel. The black runic marks cut into their skin with a stylus-like tool are written in the language of heaven. The marks provide different kinds of protection including healing and concealing. After the battle at de Quincey’s, the Shadowhunters draw healing runes on each other’s bodies and their injuries vanish. Raziel gave the Shadowhunters powerful magic objects called the Mortal Instruments, including a tiny piece of land that humans couldn’t enter called Idris.

The Codex says vampires and werewolves are humans infected with demon disease. Warlocks are the offspring of humans and demons. The Codex has pictures of a Downworlder inside a pentagram. It tells how vampires employ subjugates, mundanes who swear themselves to the service of and provide blood to their vampire masters. Tessa reads about the Accords, a historic treaty between the Shadowhunters and Downworlders in which they agree to fight demons as their common foe. Groups such as Night Children (vampires), Lilith’s children (warlocks), Fairies and Moon’s Children were all present at the signing.

Will likes a London street filled with gambling halls, opium dens and brothels. Many such establishments are run or frequented by Downworlders. Downworlders often draw humans into their card games and trick them so the mundanes will be forced into servitude to pay their debts. The Pandemonium Club is one such establishment with an emphasis on occult activities. Members use demon drugs and summon demons and spirits.

When Tessa changes around the Dark Sisters, her body tingles and stings. Spirits speak through her as if she’s a medium. The Dark Sisters command her to draw out the spirits of the dead and animate them.

The Magister invents an army of mechanical creatures to fight the Shadowhunters. One such creature warns the Nephilim to beware; it says their angel cannot protect them against that which neither God nor the Devil has made, an army born of neither heaven nor hell. The creatures are covered in skin that has been harvested from dead human bodies like those found in the Dark Sisters’ house. It was rumored the Dark Sisters would pay handsomely for bodies of dead mundanes. The Magister plans to animate the automatons using a binding spell to infuse them with demonic energy. Mortmain is surprised by the physical appearance of the Shadowhunters, because he says the Nephilim in the Bible were hideous monsters. He tells them he is a long-time student of the occult.

Will and Tessa debate whether hell is hot or cold. Jessamine mockingly asks Tessa if it’s dreadful being so evil, if she’s worried she’ll go to hell and what she thinks the Devil is like. Charlotte says if the world were not full of monsters, there would be no need for Shadowhunters. Some people, such as Thomas and Sophie, have the hereditary power of Sight. Will applauds a famous warrior queen who killed herself with poison rather than allow herself to be captured by the Romans. Shadowhunters use glowing stones called witchlights to see in the dark. Jem says he prays to Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion. It’s said she hears and answers every prayer of suffering as best she can.

Authority Roles

Charlotte is a warrior and a compassionate caregiver to the other Shadowhunters. She tries to help Tessa piece her life back together. The vampire de Quincey breaks the Shadowhunter Accords by torturing and killing mundanes for fun. He lies to the Nephilim. The Magister, Mortmain, turns Nate against his sister and creates an army of automatons to do his bidding. He is a ruthless mundane and a student of the occult.

Profanity & Violence

The Lord’s name is frequently used in vain. The words b–tard, b–ch, whore, bloody, h—, d–n appear several times each. The Nephilim swear as frequently as other characters. Shadowhunters also use phrases like “By the Angel,” or “Thank the Angel” or “How in the Angel’s name…?”

Shadowhunters slay demons, which explode in a shower of ichor and guts. Jessamine destroys a goblin with her parasol weapon, leaving a trail of blood. Will cuts off Mrs. Black’s head, which bloodily rolls and bumps along the floor. When Mrs. Dark’s spells to revive her sister fail, she carries around the severed head. The text includes a gory description of the slaughterhouse where the Dark Sisters were harvesting body parts for the automatons. Having changed into a murdered girl’s body, Tessa feels the girl’s pain and fear as a blade slashes through her skin and draws blood. Nate admits to murdering his aunt by sending her a box of poisoned chocolates. Jessamine talks about growing up with parents who were Shadowhunters. She watched people lose arms or eyes in fights with werewolves, track blood through the house, fight demons in the middle of the night and choke down holy water to ward off an infection from vampire blood.

A vampire named de Quincey tortures and murders mundanes for sport at his parties while his guests salivate and applaud. The black sorcery he uses is forbidden under the agreement between the Shadowhunters and Downworlders. At de Quincey’s party, a vampire woman cuts her subjugate’s throat just below the jaw with a small, sharp tool. He stands still as she presses a glass against his throat and blood runs into her cup. The party ends in a bloodbath. Blood pours like a fountain from an injured vampire. Will bites de Quincey. Vampires explode in dust and blood, and flesh melts off of people’s faces and hands.

Sexual Content

Camille tells the Shadowhunters that another vampire is her lover. She also mentions a former lover whom de Quincey killed because vampires and Moon’s Children were forbidden to have relationships. When Sophie declined a former employer’s sexual advances, he cut and disfigured her face. Jem says wherever Will is, there are half a dozen girls claiming he’s compromised their virtue.

A Shadowhunter says looking for an entirely reliable informant is like looking for a chaste mistress; if they were virtuous, they would be of little use to you in the first place. Will says Charlotte’s aunt propositioned him once. He says he might have consented if she didn’t frighten him so much. Vampires make subtle references to their attraction to all beautiful things, including members of the same sex. Charlotte says the house in which the Dark Sisters kept Tessa was a Downworlder brothel catering to mundanes with unusual tastes.

One of the men on the Shadowhunter leadership committee has a reputation for consorting sexually with Downworlders. While investigating a former brothel, Jem and Will joke about expecting to see ladies of the night on the balcony or nude statues. They say they might still be able to catch syphilis. Will and Tessa engage in a few passionate kisses. To Tessa’s shock, Will suggests they use her room for sexual exploits. He could never marry her, he explains, because she’s a Downworlder. She refuses his advances and leaves.

Discussion Topics


Additional Comments

Alcohol/drug use/gambling: Many at the Pandemonium Club gamble and drink alcohol laced with demon powder. Will makes frequent, off-the-cuff references to his gambling and use of alcohol and drugs. Will has a reputation for drinking and carousing, though Jem suggests it may be somewhat inflated by Will himself so he can maintain a certain image. The maid gives Tessa brandy and water to calm her. Nate uses alcohol in excess, and his gambling lands him and his family in serious debt.

Jem is an opium addict. He explains that the British smuggle massive amounts of opium into China, particularly his home city of Shanghai. A demon that had a grudge against Jem’s mother injected massive amounts of demon poison into Jem when he was 11. When the Shadowhunters in China finally reached Jem, his body was so addicted that he could only stay alive by taking opium. No other cure has been found.

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