I have mixed feelings about the origins of Cassandra Clare's Shadowhunter books. As many know, the stories originated as some rather popular and often controversial Harry Potter fanfiction that abounded with plagiarism, including from Pamela Dean's The Hidden Land, which is one of my favorite fantasy novels. That said, I think that when Clare prepped the fanfic for publication, turning it into what is now known as City of Bones, she did a good job of re-working her original fanfiction ideas into something original, and the world of the Shadowhunters is a great backdrop for this young adult fantasy series--real, but littered with dangerous fantasy elements that can be more than a little dark at times, but in a way that tantalizes and intrigues. Tie-ins with other fantasy works, such as Holly Black's Tithe series, can make this even more of a treat for fans who have read the other works involved.
In Clockwork Angel, Clare moves her Shadowhunter stories to the Victorian era. Producing a new set of characters, she does some set-up for what happens in the original trilogy and the three other books that followed. That said, while a familiarity with the general mythology helps in reading this book, you don't necessarily need it. This is due to Tessa Gray, the main character. Tessa moves to London at the invitation of her brother, following the death of her aunt. Upon her arrival, she is promptly kidnapped by a pair of nefarious women known as the Dark Sisters, who hold her captive for six weeks while forcing her to use a power she never knew she had: the ability to take the form, including the memories and thoughts, of other people. The whole thing is pretty traumatizing to Tess, who is kept in line out of the fear that her brother will be harmed if she misbehaves. When she abruptly rescued by the young Shadowhunter Will, she's thrown full-tilt in the world of Shadowhunters, warlocks, vampires, and all sorts of other "Downworlders," and readers new to the Shadowhunter world can learn about it right along with her.
I enjoyed the overall plot of this book. There are a few minor twists--nothing that discerning reader wouldn't be able to figure out, if determined, but enough to keep someone just reading along guessing from plot point to plot point. There is, of course, the beginnings of a love triangle; I was hoping this wouldn't be the case, but evidently Clare found it successful enough in her original books to continue the trope on here. (Though honestly, I ship Jem/Will. This is unusual for me, but still the truth.) That said, I was a bit disappointed with Clare's use of the Victorian time period. Sure, there are references to candles and carriages, and there aren't exactly any cell phones, but I found the atmosphere of most period fictions to be largely lacking. Victorian society cared very strongly about manners and propriety, sensibilities that the Shadowhunters seem to have completely discarded, rendering their culture--despite being an ocean and more than a century away from the original books--to be almost identical. I was hoping Clare could really weave the time into her fantasy, much like Charlie N. Holmberg did in her Paper Magician series, or like Mary Robinette Kowal did in her Glamourist Histories, but I didn't find that to be the case. Honestly, other than a few mentions of crinolines and parasols for the ladies, the time is hardly discernible from our own. While the characters were likable--except Jessamine, who isn't really meant to be--I wanted something more setting-wise out of this; otherwise, what was the point of changing time periods? Locales would have worked just as well.
Also, I now want to read about Shadowhunters in Asia. Jem's background is absolutely fascinating and I would love to see future stories set in China during this time period. I think there's great potential there, but unfortunately I think it's potential Clare is unlikely to ever capitalize on.
Overall, though, this is a solid young adult fantasy, with a magical real-world setting that I think will appeal to most fans of the fantastic genre, and definitely to fans of Clare's other books. It's not hard to slip into and keep going, and I'll definitely be reading the other two books in this series, Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess. The setting could have been better utilized, but I think this was a strong book nonetheless.
4 stars out of 5.
Oh, and this book also fulfilled my "A Young Adult bestseller" category for the Popsugar 2016 Reading Challenge.