Clockwork Angel is the first installment of The Infernal Devices series, a precursor to The Mortal Instruments series. The story is set in London in 1878 and it revolves around a young woman named Tessa & the London conclave of Shadowhunters. Tessa comes to London from New York to live with her brother Nathaniel, her only remaining relative. Upon arrival, she is taken by the Dark Sisters, who claim to have Nathaniel imprisoned, and is forced to comply with the Dark Sisters wishes in order to save her brother. Tessa learns that she has a very rare and unusual ability, one that is highly prized by members of a world she never even knew existed. She is rescued from the Dark Sisters by Will Herondale, a Shadowhunter, and is brought to the Institute where she meets Charlotte, Henry, Jessamine and Jem, all Shadowhunters. She is also befriended by the help, Agatha, Thomas & Sophie, who all have the Sight, which sets them apart from other humans, known as mundanes. Tessa adjusts to this new world and her new abilities rather well, perhaps out of necessity to retain her sanity, and does her best to aid her new friends in their attempt to bring down The Magister, the head of the notorious Pandemonium Club, a group of mundanes & Downworlders that is killing humans. Along the way, Tessa is thrown into a world of Shadowhunters, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other beings she only believed existed in fairy tales. She finds out that her life is truly not as she thought: her brother, her parents & her Aunt Harriet seemed to be knowledgeable about her abilities, and yet all was kept from Tessa, presumably to keep her safe. She does not learn the truth of her existence, but as there are two planned sequels, one can not expect to find all the answers in a single volume.
Tessa also learns that her new friends, soon to become her second family, have secrets as well. Jem's unusual appearance and mysterious illness are explained later in the story, but there seems to be more to Jem's family and background that has yet to be explored. How Will came to be at the Institute and his reasons for keeping everyone, including Jem, at arm's length are barely touched upon. Jessamine's family, too, seems to hold secrets, as she, like everyone at the Institute, is an orphan and under mysterious circumstances.
Readers of The Mortal Instruments series will find some familiar names in the story. Benedict and Gabriel Lightwood are, most likely, ancestors of the Lightwood family found in the modern series. Will is Herondale, most likely an ancestor of Jace. We also find Magnus Bane in this series. Personally, Magnus is a favorite of mine from The Mortal Instruments series and I look forward to learning more about him in The Infernal Devices.
I really enjoyed this book. I particularly enjoyed how the women are not portrayed as typical of the time period. Even Jessamine, who is determined to leave the Institute and live as a lady should, is fully trained and capable of combat. Charlotte runs the Institute on her own and Tessa, sheltered her whole life, seems to find her inner strength and courage as the story progresses. Although I am not generally a fan of 'historical' fiction, Clare seems to use the time and place setting as merely the background for the story, without imposing the rules of polite society to the point of restraining her characters. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next book in the series, Clockwork Prince, scheduled to be released in September 2011.