“Whatever you are physically,” he said, “male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy—all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. Whatever the color, the shape, the design of the shade that conceals it, the flame inside the lamp remains the same. You are that flame.”Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices
The Infernal Devices follows Tessa Gray, a New York born girl, as she discovers that she isn’t human. However, she can’t quite seem to discern what she is. Tessa has the ability to shape-shift; this ability drags her into the Shadow world where she is taken in by the inhabitants of the London Institute. There, she meets William Herondale and James Carstairs, a pair of parabatai that love each other more than they love their own souls. William Herondale has a dark cloud over his heart; he has a secret that forces him to keep those he loves at an arm’s length. James Carstairs is dying. After demons attacked his home in Shanghai and forced him to become addicted to a drug, James only has months to live. Tessa gets to know the two young men and she slowly comes to love both of them, splitting her heart and forcing her to make the ultimate choice. As Tessa struggles with matters of the heart, a dark force seeks to take her and force her to create a weapon that will result in the end of Shadowhunters, including those she has come to care about.
As a young girl, I read this trilogy many times. Its words and themes played a large part into shaping me into the person that I grew up to be. While reading through Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter’s chronicles, this was the trilogy I was most terrified to re-read. I worried that the words that had shaped me as a young girl wouldn’t hold up to the person I am now. When I started Clockwork Angel and felt myself falling into the familiar banter between Will and Jem, the absentmindedness of Henry, the strength of Charlotte and Sophie, and even the despair of Jessamine, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed. And I wasn’t. As a thirteen year old girl, this book shaped many of my views on love and helped me develop a moral compass; I didn’t realize the impact of this trilogy until recently and this new knowledge has helped me understand what I loved about these books the first time.
Tessa is a character that was raised by books. Everything she knows about the world comes from the pages of the books that she read growing up and this contributes to her innocence at the beginning. She believes in the worlds that books have the power to create, but she doesn’t truly know how the world works and that’s why these books serve to be her coming of age. Not only does Tessa fall in love and lose the curtain that shielded her from the truth of herself, she learns that the world doesn’t exist as it does in books. She learns this from Will and Jem. Their love triangle is beautiful for many reasons. For me, I saw that Clare didn’t want to create a typical love triangle. She wanted a story where three people loved each other equally and for different reasons. Will and Jem’s love can be either romantic or platonic; however, with the inclusion of the parabatai bond, their souls are tied together in a way that binds them through the years. Will is not himself without Jem and Jem is not himself without Will. If Tessa had not loved them both, she couldn’t have loved either of them. While there is the common trope of having one true love, Clare seeks to dispel that. There is no reason that one heart can’t be big enough to love two. Tessa loves both of these boys for who they are as well as their connection to each other. Will and Jem’s love for each other proves their goodness; they love each other enough to want to see the other happy. Two lesser men would’ve been jealous.
In terms of the plot, the main villain is a man called the Magister who seeks to create an army of clockwork monsters that want to destroy the Nephilim. In true Cassandra Clare fashion, the villain is extremely complex. He goes from being an innocent to a monster, serving almost to darkly mirror Tessa. When the Magister learns of the power that he can harvest, he chooses to use it for evil (i.e contributing to his loss of innocence and showing how the scale can tip in either direction.). Tessa learns of her power and she chooses to use it to save people. This shows the power of love, which Tessa demonstrates initially through the love of her brother and eventually through her love for Will and Jem. This is a war that is rarely fought on a battlefield. The games that the Magister play are manipulation and corruption; he seeks to take what is good and corrupt it as shown through his desire to acquire and marry Tessa.
This trilogy contains some of my favorite characters and lines. Clare is truly a master at using her words to pack a punch. She chooses to paint a picture instead of simply telling the reader what exists. It’s almost as if the reader can look inside of her mind. The characters each have their distinct personality, even the ones that are related. The backstories are consistent with the actions of the characters and even those that seem morally ambiguous have a redemption arc that is beautifully done. The story is not just plot driven but also character driven. Without the motivations of the characters, the plot could not advance and this is brilliant because the Magister can’t control the characters without knowing their motivations.
I’ve often said that I believe this is Clare’s magnum opus. She seems to set out with the goal of breaking down the stereotype of “one true love” and “good versus evil” and created a story that ultimately is shaped by love. There is so much love on the pages of these three books that it envelops and provides an almost cocoon of happiness and despair. The ending is bittersweet, adding to the idea that love, while magnificent in its own right, often ends in heartbreak and despair. In setting the book with Tessa as the main character, Clare demonstrates the importance of love in shaping identity (especially with Tessa’s brother Nate’s character arc). If I can ever recommend something with my whole heart, it would be this trilogy that has shaped my morals and brought me to some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life (including my current roommate and one of my best friends).