Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare is about a young girl, Tessa, finding out her true identity as part of a diabolical plot and that of the Shadow World in Victorian London. Her journey brings her in contact with hidden world of the Shadowhunters, a warrior breed that maintains the law of the Accords for the world that includes Downworlders, vampires, werewolves, and warlocks, and the Nephlim, which include Shadowhunters, and the hunting of demons.
As a prequel to the Mortal Instruments Series, the book takes on a familiarity in style, characters, and plot. There is a temperamental moody hero, Will, who is driven by a dark secret, a prediction. The heroine is a strong willed, though fragile, and has an optimistic view of the world and will therefore fall for the hero. The Institute in London is also similar to that of the New York of the modern day, in that it was created to house many but only a sparse few live in the building. As a prequel I would hope to learn something new about the the world that Clare has created, but nothing seems to change. The problems with the Nephlim and Downworlders in trust since the signing of the Accords, their agreement with the Downworlders and themselves, is as fragile as it will be 150 years later. And Shadowhunters still seem as sparse in the early days, as they were described in the earlier series, which takes place later. The story could have been told just as easily in the modern time as in the Victorian period, since many aspects of that world; the politics of the mundane (human) world, fashion, and technology, do not impact the etiquette or manners of the Shadowhunters in the least. As for the addition of the automatons or clockwork servants, these could be used in any time period, though it’s purpose seems to be related to the popularity in the steampunk genre in fiction and trying to give the story an sense steampunk aesthetic, without investing too much in the style, since the automatons could have easily been substituted with a type of robot for the modern time.
There are also several references to Charlotte Bronte and her book Jane Eyre, though for those familiar with the novel, the references are empty and don’t flavor the story as much as one would hope. Nor are there any parallels to the story of Jane Eyre in style, characters, setting, or plot to make the references valid. The voice of the novel is very American and lacks the sophistication of others writing urban fantasy in the Victorian time period. The reasoning used for setting the prequel in this time period, seems to be more due to the popularity at this time in steampunk fiction and fashion than a necessity to the story being told.
As for the story, it has the same style, pacing, and character development that Clare did so well in the former series, though the lack of something new being explored is a disappointment. For new readers, I would encourage them to choose the time period they like the most, and pick the series accordingly, or at least don’t expect to be surprised by the story a second time.