Monday, 29 November 2021

The Infernal Devices #2 - Clockwork Prince


After devouring the first in the Infernal Devices trilogy, Clockwork Angel, I set straight into the second:

Love and lies can corrupt even the purest heart… Second in the bestselling prequel series to The Mortal Instruments, set in Victorian London. Tessa Gray finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, while her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. 

For me, this one didn't go down quite so well as the first. There was still some nice, atmospheric writing, and it starts out with a ghostly encounter down a back alley, which was engrossing. I'm a sucker for a bit of Victorian urban descriptive.

Old Mol, like many ghosts, was always looking for that talisman, the lost piece of her past that would finally allow her to die, the anchor that kept her trapped in the world. In her case, it was her wedding ring. It was common belief, Magnus had told Will, that the ring was long gone, buried under the silty bed of the Thames, but in the meantime she’d take any bag of found rings in the hope one would turn out to be hers. So far it hadn’t happened.


It was nearly midnight when Will returned to the Institute. It had begun raining on him when he'd been halfway down Threadneedle Street. He had ducked under the awning of Dean and Son Publishers to button his jacket and pull his scarf tight, but the rain had already gotten into his mouth - great, icy drops that tasted of charcoal and silt.


I wonder if you think of me and imagine my life here in the Institute in London? I doubt you could imagine it. It is so very different from our house surrounded by mountains, and the great clear blue sky and the endless green. Here, everything is black and gray and brown, and the sunsets are painted in smoke and blood.

But it's always asking a huge amount of the second book in a series to follow as brilliantly in the footsteps of the first. Clockwork Angel was a really nice mix of light romance and action, but I felt this one really slid all the way to romance at the expense of action, and it started to feel a tad sappy. Originally, I felt Tessa was nicely Wynne Jones-esque in her ability to fall in love whilst continuing to kick arse and retain her independent nature, but she seemed to lose a bit of that grounding here, and there's only so many times you can talk about how blue someone's eyes are, how black their hair is, and how brightly they burn before you need to move things along a bit. It was still engaging though, and the romantic dilemma at the end was well executed and suitably uncomfortable. 

My main gripe was the narration of the audiobook. The first book was very well read by Jennifer Ehle (former Elizabeth Bennet), who I thought did a really great job. This time around, despite the book apparently being written entirely from Tessa's perspective again, the publisher decided to mix it up by interchanging a male and female narrator. For me, this really didn't work. The change in narrator didn't seem to match with clear changes in perspective, and the voice artists clearly hadn't agreed on certain character traits. In the first book, one of the characters has a pronounced lisp, which seems to have disappeared entirely in the second book. I've also just started the next one in the series, where the male narrator gives one of the characters a pronounced Welsh accent that he didn't have before, and doesn't have when the female narrator kicks in. It just feels a bit messy and hard to follow. Either narrator, by themselves, would be fine, but this chopping and changing detracts from the overall story. The EQ on the male narrator also seems a little off. I listen on my phone a lot, so not the best speakers, and although his characterisation is great, he comes out a little mumbley in places. 

This Audible edition also appears to have been copied wholesale from an earlier audiobook format, as halfway through you get: End of disk one. The Clockwork Prince, disk two.

So, this is one of those series that I'd suggest reading in paper format rather than audiobook.

On the up side, I did learn a new word: aesthete, a person who is appreciative of and sensitive to art and beauty. And there were some poignant moments. I'm usually pretty immune to the immortality-means-outliving-those-you-love trope, just because I've gorged myself on it so many times, but these lines made it feel fresh again:

If I am immortal, then I have only this, this one life. I will not turn and change as you do, James. I will not see you in Heaven, or on the banks of the great river, or in whatever life lies beyond this one.

When Clare chooses to, she can drop some really heartfelt prose, which is perhaps why the sappy stuff started to feel a little laboured. When she goes for depth, she can really pull you under. 

I've already started the final one, Clockwork Princess, and it's picked up the pace again, so we'll see what happens. The characters are wonderfully distinctive, both in the way they look and the way they behave. It does keep you reading.

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