Thoughts: Clockwork Princess, by Cassandra Clare

Thank you all for accompanying me on this journey. I feel much better now that I’ve written out my feelings on this trilogy. Also, spoiler alert ahead. All the others had spoilers alerts too, but this is the finale so spoilers are bigger.

The thing is, getting out all my frustrations on Clockwork Angel/Prince has made it a lot easier for me to just sit back and enjoy the pure ridiculous drama of the climax. And you know what? After her regrettable Jem blip in Clockwork Prince, I think Clare did the love triangle a lot more justice this time around. It felt like a proper triangle, where every side held up the others, and I do like the idea of being able to love more than one person, especially in YA fantasy, where everything is fated this and eternal that. See? She can do it when she tries!

Well sure, her secondary characters will always and forever be paired off with robotic efficiency, but still!

No real complaints about pacing – as I’ve said, she’s a good pacer – but a couple about plot. I found the secondary conflict between Charlotte and the Clave to feel a bit put on. It came across as really contrived just for the sake of heightening the drama, to ensure that at the end of the day there would only be a handful of absurdly young and inexperienced Shadowhunters available to face the vast clockwork demon army. In the first book, and even the second, the Consul (whose surname, yes, you will remember from The Mortal Instruments*) was clearly on Charlotte’s side. And now we’re supposed to believe that he wants her out because reasons. And those reasons are supposed to be that Charlotte who isn’t being all biddable like a woman is supposed to be.

Forgive me for asking how exactly she’s rebelling against anything here. Also, again, there are plenty of visible Shadowhunter women on the Council and arguing with all sorts of people. Women being in positions of authority is clearly not that big a deal. Is an Institute supposed to rank higher than the Council? We’ve still seen nothing of what they’re supposed to do or be, they’re still not acting like any kind of place where Shadowhunters would gather. Other Shadowhunters who live permanently in the vicinity (for instance, the Lightwoods) seem to live their own separate lives and don’t seem to report to the Institute or make themselves available to the Institute for large scale missions or anything. The Institute itself doesn’t seem to need to account for the Shadowhunters in its jurisdiction or be responsible for them. But what if that’s just because the Lightwood patriarch is a terrible human being and other Institutes are less toxic? Then all I can say is no one at the London Institute ever talks about it, and it’s not my job, as the reader, to be making these kinds of unsupported leaps of logic to ensure the world hangs together.

Awkwardly, when Tessa reassures Charlotte that she’s doing a good job running the Institute, my reaction was scepticism. Does Charlotte really run anything? The least you’d expect of a big city Institute would be, I don’t know, regular demon patrols? Checking up on the Downworlders? If they’re the Downworld police wouldn’t people come to them with grievances or crime reports? Shouldn’t they be doing something proactive? Anyway, this all leads on to the next point: what exactly is Charlotte doing that is so wilful? The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that Charlotte is being very traditionally feminine all through the books (to clarify, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it just contradicts what we’re told). She’s running a household and caring for kids, let’s be honest here. Even if Henry wasn’t always in the cellar being Generic Eccentric Inventor, his job would not be to run the household. We do occasionally see Charlotte fight, which is traditionally unfeminine in the human world but traditionally non-gendered in the Shadowhunter world.

As for making decisions on anything, the only really meaningful decisions she’s made are taking in Tessa and dealing with the hassle Tessa brings with her, which is all within her purview. There’s absolutely no evidence that Charlotte isn’t just babysitting the Institute or being a puppet Head. It certainly hasn’t changed direction under her leadership. It has no direction.

At one point the Consul seems to imply that he doesn’t like the idea of Charlotte being Head of the Institute during a crisis because then she will get glory, which is the stupidest reason for anything ever. He is the Consul. He holds the highest office available to Shadowhunters while not being Jonathan Shadowhunter himself or an actual angel, and everything that happens will happen under his reign. If he wants to be looked on kindly by history, then if he supports Charlotte’s correct decisions generously he will be considered to be a great leader. This isn’t hard to understand. I wonder if Clare is trying to make it so that he subscribes to “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven”, but he doesn’t go far enough in either direction. Better to do either of those things than be an incompetent idiot anywhere.

Actually, I assumed Mortmain (the big bad, as if you couldn’t tell from his evil name) had got to the Consul at the first insinuation that he was against Charlotte. Clare has letters flying back and forth between Consul and Clave (or Council, I honestly cannot tell most of these governmental entities apart. I am not sufficiently dedicated to Shadowhunter motion!) so we get to see very early on that the Consul has taken against her for no reason. And if Mortmain had got to the Consul, at least that would explain his change of opinion. But no, he just thinks she’s wilful and doesn’t want her to make a name for herself because he is a child.

He appears to believe that Charlotte is perfectly fine as an Institute Head, evidenced by his telling the Lightwoods to make something up to discredit her, and he doesn’t appear to think she’s lying about the danger from Mortmain, so his refusal to act on it just makes him look stupid. His disrespect of women or Downworlders is just not presented realistically.

Another little worldbuilding thing – when we get the single lines of argument from the other Shadowhunters at the Council, we see that Shadowhunters from other countries have names which reflect those countries, and that makes it a little bit unfortunate that every single main-ish character has English-reflecting names (even James Carstairs and Magnus Bane, the biracial characters, have Anglo-friendly names despite the fact that Magnus is half demon, a quarter Dutch and a quarter Indonesian) and a bit odd that everyone would speak English as a lingua franca. Shadowhunter history is not necessarily European or Christian – Raziel, the patron archangel of Shadowhunters, seems to be primarily a Jewish figure and the name Jonathan, the first Shadowhunter, has a Hebrew origin – and it would have been cool to have that more deeply incorporated in the Shadowhunter culture.

Another interesting thing – when Sophie Ascends and becomes a Shadowhunter, she seems to be given the ceremonial/symbolic surname “Shadowhunter” (presumably reflecting Jonathan Shadowhunter) but we never see any other Shadowhunter-family people running around. Do only women Ascend and get married? When Shadowhunter-named men marry do they take the surnames of their “more established” wives? This isn’t a nitpick really, just a genuine question.

Clare’s insistence on pairing everyone off by the end of the trilogy is annoying. Though it’s nice to see, for instance, Sophie get to have her own happiness instead of just pining away for Jem and working classily living vicariously and dreamlessly through the glamorous and special Tessa, it all feels a bit too neat. And when it comes to the secondary characters who were introduced later on you can see the pairing coming a mile off and just ugh skip to the end if we really have to do this.

Customary language gripe: Clare goes all out with the languages in this one, adding fangirl-friendly phrases of Mandarin and Welsh into the story, which is bad form in general. There’s no need for it. It adds nothing for the reader who doesn’t understand those languages, and just opens up the writer to whole new worlds of potential pitfalls and mistakes. And most of the time characters speaking to each other in Welsh have to then repeat the sentiment in English or the listener has to consciously translate it so the reader knows what was said. Not all the time, of course – when Tessa asks Jem to speak Mandarin and he explains what he said (and later when he explains what he really said) this is obviously a totally different thing, especially because he deliberately lies about what he said. But most of the time it’s pointless. I mean, at one point Jem is wittering on to himself in delirious Mandarin and only non-Mandarin-speaking Sophie is around to listen, so we get a perfect transliteration of what he said with no translation. Is this an Easter egg for readers who understand Mandarin? Even if it is, it’s a poor portrayal of someone listening to someone else speaking a language they don’t understand. Clare is sacrificing story immersion for fourth wall breaking shenanigans, which is something she made a name for herself doing in her Draco Trilogy in her fandom days, inserting jokes and references from popular TV shows that the audience could have fun spotting.

And the Mandarin thing has an extra dimension of trickiness: there are a few different romanisation systems for Chinese languages, and Clare mixes them, which is a cardinal sin. She doesn’t mix them a lot, mind you – Jem’s various pronouncements are all in consistent pinyin, but he names the goddess of mercy on his drugbox “Kwan Yin”, which seems to be closer to the Wade-Giles romanisation (though from what I can tell it would be “Kuan Yin” in Wade-Giles? I know nothing about Mandarin!). Pinyin would be “Guanyin” or “Guan Yin”. There are names for her in other Asian languages which use the “Kw” spelling, but we’re told explicitly multiple times that Jem speaks Mandarin, so I’m judging it by that. I don’t think they spoke Malaysian Mandarin, for instance, in Shanghai.

So there may be a kind of reason Jem doesn’t use the pinyin romanisation (bearing in mind that he’s speaking anyway, and not writing the name down) – Wade-Giles would have been the romanisation system used at the time the books are set, as pinyin was only developed in the 1950s. But consistency is the key, here. After all, he is speaking the pinyin-romanised sentences too. I don’t know if Clare is aware of the discrepancy or if she felt Wade-Giles has a more orientalist/less politically-correct feel for the dialogue (I get that impression, knowing very little about Chinese, just because of the time period it was used in and the fact that it’s fallen out of favour now except with some academics, according to Wikipedia). Either way, it’s a jarring note and a good reason not to translate random chunks of dialogue willy-nilly.

And final linguistic point: accents! Clare has a pretty diverse cast in terms of accents, which is great, but she doesn’t really do much with it and it might even hinder her at times. Cecily and Will are from Wales, as I’ve said before, and very rural, Welsh-speaking Wales at that (remembering that this was before the Welsh language revival). In a flashback we’re told by Charlotte that Will has lost most or all of his Welsh accent, which means he had one, and that Cecily, who has never left her home before coming to the Institute, must still have one. It’s unclear how long the Herondales have lived in Yorkshire but a) not for very long and b) Cecily still speaks fluent Welsh at home, it’s implied. Cecily’s accent or lack of one is never described, nor is Will’s. His accent doesn’t get stronger when she arrives at the Institute, which you’d expect it to, nor does Cecily comment on his lack of accent, which you’d expect her to if Will’s accent doesn’t come back.

We aren’t actually told anything about anyone’s accents even when it would be interesting, even when it would tell us and the characters a lot about any given speaker, even when a character would absolutely notice an accent. No one uses different vocabularies or registers, from working class maid Sophie to Shanghai-raised Jem to Welsh country girl Cecily (whose ridiculous eloquence at 15 years old is particularly egregious). It’s all just sort of “posh Victorian English”, as if that isn’t a class and background marker as much as any other accent.

And my final point of all, the Jem twist. I have read the Mortal Instruments but had totally forgotten the spoilers anyway, well done me. It did occur to me that Clare might be pulling some kind of trick when Jem “died” offscreen, because that sort of angst is her bread and butter, but I admit I was mostly convinced. And how did I feel about it? Eh, sort of cheated, but only because the Silent Brothers are creepy-looking and Jem is so pretty and I am so shallow. Though his getting out of the Silent Brotherhood unscathed felt totally too convenient. I was still pleased though.

Wait, actually one more thing. Jessamine. Jessamine was totally shafted. Punished for not wanting to be a Shadowhunter and for being a shallow, silly girl, and the last minute change of heart, on Clare’s part as much as Jessamine’s, was cold comfort. There was even a whole potential subplot where the Consul seemed to want to use Jessamine’s return against Charlotte and it was never even made clear whether Charlotte was disobeying the Consul by having her back at the Institute or whether the Consul was betraying her. As Jessamine was killed off before even reaching the Institute’s door, this plot thread fizzled out and went nowhere. This should really have been noticed by someone, unless Clare has become Too Big To Edit. Getting rid of the Consul’s line about how Jessamine shouldn’t be going back to the Institute could have been deleted without losing anything of value.

Right. All of my nitpicks are laid out, and I’ll sign off by saying Clare is pretty good with character when she’s not letting her darlings run around unchecked. The ends of her series have some decent falling action, and generally feel earned, whatever nonsense has happened along the way. It has been an intense, silly, infuriating, melodramatic journey, and I’m relieved and disappointed in equal measure that it’s over.

Final verdict: better than the Mortal Instruments but she is going to have to build this world at some point if she wants to keep setting stories in it.

*There may be a couple of new names mentioned very, very briefly in a scene where the Council is meeting and lots of people are shouting at each other, but apart from that, it continues to be a small world, after all.

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