Sixteen year-old Tessa Gray’s search for her missing brother — once a member of the Pandemonium Club — leads her into Victorian-era London’s dangerous supernatural underworld, where vampires stalk the gaslit streets of London, werewolves slink in the shadowy lanes of Whitechapel, and warlocks hold masquerade balls for demons and Downworlders in opium-smoke-filled ballrooms. When Tessa discovers that she herself is a Downworlder, she must learn to trust her natural enemies, the demon-killing Shadowhunters, if she ever wants to learn to control her powers and find her brother. Torn between beautiful Will, a Shadowhunter hiding his true nature, and the devoted Jem, whose own deadly secret is slowly destroying him, Tessa must draw on all her strength to save her brother and keep herself alive in this deadly new world.
Here’s the scoop:
Tessa has the ability to change in to any person, living or dead, and this power makes her a useful weapon in the fight between the Shadowhunters (good guys descended from angels and humans) and a bunch of other supernatural crazies (warlocks, vampires and faeries too). Tessa has no idea that her power, or even this strange new world, existed until she’s kidnapped. Up until she’s rescued by Will Herondale and the rest of the Shadowhunters, she’s believed it all to be a terrible dream (I know, uh, hello? It’s not a dream if you’re awake). She makes a deal with the Shadowhunters, agreeing to share information about her kidnappers and the mysterious Magister—who actually had Tessa kidnapped so he could marry her (Dreamguy!)—if they keep her safe and help her find her older brother Nate, who has gone missing.
Whew! It sounds like a lot of crazy back story, but it’s not.
Tessa is an interesting character because though she lives in a time when the roles of men and women are very clearly defined, girlfriend ain’t no damsel in distress. She’s proper and ladylike, and yet she brims with odd questions and constant challenges for her hosts. She volunteers to be in danger for the sake of finding her brother, and she isn’t afraid to speak her mind. What I also appreciated about her was that she wasn’t a girl who tried to get by on her beauty. She doesn’t believe herself to be attractive at all (though some of the boys in the story do not agree with her assessment. Know what I’m sayin?) and so she views herself not above or below the men around her.
One of the strengths of this book are the tortured characters. Each has their own unique burden or mysterious past waiting to unfold. Tessa is fearful for her brother’s safety. Will, the cocky, fearless Shadowhunter, seems to try always to keep everyone at a distance by painting himself in the worst possible light. Jem, his best friend, is kind and even-tempered, but suffers from a secret illness that leaves him weak and pale. Will is fiercely protective of Jem and while at times he seems tender and kind to Tessa, moments later he’s cold and angry. And bonus: Will and Jem have fancy pants accents since they’re Brits (so what if it’s only in my head. That, my friends, is where all the
crazy good action is). So even when Will is rude, he sounds effing brilliant because British accents make everyone sound smarter.
The writing is good. It’s detailed and never stuffy. Clare gives lush imagery without bogging you down in extravagant wording. It’s also written in the third person, so although the narrator spends most of her time with Tessa, the reader is able to see what is happening with many characters instead of hearing only the thoughts of the main character.
What’s also fun about this is the whole steampunk angle. Reading about Victorian era London, complete with insane robotic machines, vampires and warlocks is a refreshing change from Austen (ok, I never really get sick of her) and most modern-day paranormal stuff. This is the first book planned in a three-part series (and the author leaves us with a freaking cliffhanger. Thank you Cassandra Clare for the fact that I couldn’t sleep last night. My husband also thanks you for the rambling and complaining I did about the next book not being out yet). Even better, the series is a prequel to the much loved Mortal Instruments books (which I have not read, but judging by this story alone I will).
Crush Intensity: 5/5 I would sleep with this book under my pillow (esp. since Will, my fav. character is on the cover).
The Way I See It:
I love Emma Stone. I think she’d be an amazing Tessa because she has that perfect balance of femininity and toughness. Plus I loved Zombieland, so I’m sold.
Get used to this face. I pick Henry Cavill for alot of my fake casting. Do I really need to explain why? I didn’t think so. If we had a time machine he’d be the perfect Will. Or without a time machine. Either way, perfection.
Hunter Parrish has that innocent look about him that I somehow picture Jem having. Plus I think he’d look cool with a cane. That I can’t explain. It’s how my brain functions. Work with me here.
He seemed to realize she was staring at him, because the cursing stopped. “You cut me,” he said. His voice was pleasant. British. Very ordinary. He looked at his hand with critical interest. “It might be fatal.”
Tessa looked at him [Will] with wide eyes. “Are you the Magister?”
He tilted his hand to the side. Blood ran down it, spattering the floor. “Dear me, massive blood loss. Death could be imminent.”
“Are you the Magister?”
“Magister?” He looked mildly surprised by her vehemence. “That means ‘master’ in Latin, doesn’t it?”
“I…” Tessa was feeling increasingly as if she were trapped in a strange dream. “I suppose it does.”
“I’ve mastered many things in my life. Navigating the streets of London, dancing the quadrille, the Japanese art of flower arranging, lying at charades, concealing a highly intoxicated state, delighting young women with my charms…”
“Alas,” he went on, “no one has ever actually referred to me as ‘the master’ or ‘the magister,’ either. More’s the pity.”